On Sunday Morning, Andrew Marr interviewed the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, and unlike other grovelling interviews, Marr actually grilled the ambassador and did his job. This was a particularly poignant interview as Marr showed the ambassador footage of men being blindfolded and chained whilst being escorted onto trains in what is believed to be Xijiang, the scene of China’s re-education and persecution of the Uighur Mulim minority.
The Chinese ambassador looked visibly uncomfortable and seemed to try and play off what was being shown to him by claiming that it was normal for ‘prisoners to be transferred in this manner’ in his country. An eyebrow raising statement if ever there was one. Naturally, the British public didn’t seem to take very well to what he had said, as evidenced by some of the comments on the BBC’s official video of the interview.
This marks quite the change in how Britain seems to be handling China, be it on the diplomatic front or in press coverage of the nation and it is a welcome change. Five years ago, George Osborne and David Cameron hailed a golden age of relations with China, a statement that seems remarkably naive looking back on it. Now however, instead of simply allowing a desire for a free trade deal after Brexit to shape responses to China’s actions, Britain both as a government and as a society is responding with gusto to Chinese transgressions.
Be it through offering millions of Hong Kongers citizenship in Britain, or declaring against China’s Huawei’s role in their 5G networks, the British government has taken a firm stand on the basis of principle against what is increasingly being viewed as a tyrannical and out of control China. With a back bench group of China sceptic MPs led by Tom Tugendhat pushing for more actions against China, British citizens can be sure that the government will not stop there.
This accompanies a petition that reached 100,000 signatures started by radio presenter Maajid Nawaz to get the UK government to impose sanctions on China for its treatment of the Uighurs. A further sign, if any was needed, that the British Public are not quite so blind and amoral as some of the political elite would like us to believe.
But why does this matter?
Well, it shows that Britain has not forgotten its role as a leading country in the world. By taking decisive action regarding Hong Kong and Huawei, the British government has shown it will not put economic interests ahead of national or human rights interests, and as such Britain will not be selling itself out unlike the Germans. Secondly, Maajid Nawaz’s petition and the signatures it received show that the British public are not so amoral that they would casually stand aside whilst China forcibly sterilises its citizens and marches them off to unknown locations on trains.
Britain wants to be a global leader, it wants to stand on the world stage with its head held high. This is an important step towards that. We must continue to stand up to China and show them that we will not be cowed by them and their transgressions. We must fight and we must show we have a backbone.