In my dealings with China over many years, I have learnt one hard fact: they do not play by the same rules as other countries. They play dirty.
When I went to Beijing as Transport Minister, I was warned by the Foreign Office not to take my phone or my laptop as it was assumed the Chinese would suck all the information out of the devices if I did.
At the residence of the British Ambassador, I asked him a question about the political situation. He ushered me into the garden and advised me in a low voice that it was almost certain the residence was bugged, and to be very careful what I said.
In China, government policy is very tightly controlled and they do not play by the rules – they play dirty
The visit itself was tightly controlled. A request to travel to Tibet was abruptly refused and the official meeting to agree a document on transport co-operation was more heavily choreographed than Strictly Come Dancing.
This included, just like in the days of the emperor, a row of Chinese officials sitting at right angles to the minister in hierarchical order, none of whom said a word.
It was no mere pantomime, however; this was in deadly earnest. China’s Communist regime has no time for debate, let alone opposing points of view. It despises democracy and wants to see it replaced as the natural form of government.
Covid-19 is not the only contagion spreading across the world from China. Beijing is dedicated to eliminating opposition to its own cruel approach, including criticism expressed in Britain.
China’s Communist regime, led by Xi JinPing (pictured), despises democracy and wants to see it replaced as the natural form of government
This mean, self-interested cynicism is already changing the way we live and it is time that Western democracies like ours took off their rose-tinted glasses and saw the regime for what it really is.
We must come together as a free world to tackle it before it is too late.
They know all about this in Hong Kong, of course, where the candle of democracy, already flickering, is about to be extinguished.
Last week, China’s National People’s Congress drove a tank over the freedoms promised in July 1997, when the Union Flag was lowered for the last time and the territory was handed back to China.
With its 2,980 members, the People’s Congress is supposedly the world’s largest parliamentary body. But all power lies with one man – Xi Jinping.
The candle of democracy is about to be extinguished in Hong Kong (pictured) by the Chinese regime, as can be seen by the widespread protests over the last week
President Xi may look harmless, but he is anything but. All power in the country rests with him despite 2,980 members in the People’s Congress of China
He might look like Winnie the Pooh, but he is far from cuddly and the thousands of members are simply a pathetic collection of rubber-stamping robots.
You can be sure that any country that invokes ‘the people’ is one where the people are nowhere near the levers of power. They are simply there to serve the machine.
Today, Xi’s government has a surveillance state that makes George Orwell’s 1984 look tame.
Data on hundreds of millions of citizens has been assembled, from their medical histories to their takeaway orders, their methods of birth control to the history of their train journeys.
Cameras are everywhere, especially in regions populated by minorities like the Uighurs and the Tibetans, places which are so heavily policed, you can see one checkpoint from the next.
The official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, has claimed the state’s surveillance network is now ‘capable of identifying any one of China’s 1.4 billion citizens within a second’.
So be warned. It is now common for foreigners arriving at a Chinese airport to have their phone taken away for 15 minutes while personal information and contacts are copied and a secret surveillance app installed that extracts emails and texts.
Many foreigners who arrive at a Chinese airport have their phone taken away for 15 minutes to verify personal information, correspondence and contacts
A new social credit system due to be rolled out from this year will record every action by a Chinese citizen and award and deduct points according to the behaviour expected of them.
Even an activity as harmless as what the Americans call ‘jaywalking’, or crossing the road irresponsibly, will generate an automatic warning text and lose you points.
In the southern city of Shenzhen, a jaywalker can be publicly shamed by appearing in real time on a video screen by the side of the road, along with their name, address and ID number.
In Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, facial recognition is used to control how much toilet paper you can have: 60cm (2ft) each, and if you need more, you have to wait nine minutes.
Until recently, I served for many years as the President of Tibet Society, the world’s oldest Tibet support group. I am also closely involved with its native Uighur community.
What the Chinese government is inflicting on these minorities within their borders amounts to cultural genocide – and I do not use the phrase lightly.
In the North West Province, Xinjiang, more than a million Uighurs have been locked up in concentration camps for no other reason than that they are Muslim.
There they are forced to learn Mandarin, to praise Xi Jinping and the Communist Party and deny their own religion. They are forced to drink alcohol and eat pork.
They are then, according to a US Congressional report, sent across China to work as what amounts to slave labour in factories producing goods for companies like Coca-Cola, H&M, Adidas and Nike.
Outside the concentration camps, meanwhile, mosques are demolished and children are removed at an early age from their parents so they can be brought up to be ‘good’ citizens.
In Tibet, a harmless expression of identity such as celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday can result in arrest, imprisonment and torture.
In Tibet (pictured), a harmless expression of identity can result in arrest, imprisonment and torture
The atheist Communist regime has even decreed that Buddhists, including, of course, the Dalai Lama, cannot reincarnate without their permission.
The latest humiliating intimidation is to impose ‘guests’ upon Tibetan families. But these ‘guests’ are from China’s majority Han ethnic group, who invite themselves to stay and act as spies within the household, including pumping children for information.
I went to the Chinese embassy in London to argue the case for a more humane approach towards the Tibetans.
It was a fruitless exercise, akin to talking to a speak-your-weight machine. Tibet has always been part of China, the ambassador told me.
Yet we in Britain know that is totally untrue. Because, unlike any other country, our diplomats were present in independent Tibet. We signed treaties with Tibet to which China was not party.
Until it was invaded by China, the country had its own currency, its own stamps, its own foreign and defence policy, its own government.
So almost alone, we refused to recognise Chinese sovereignty, until 2008, that is, when idiotic Labour Ministers gave in.
I asked them what they had got in return. The answer was nothing. They hoped it would encourage a more amenable Beijing in future.
But all the Chinese did was to open the till, bank the concession, and shut the till again, before carrying on as normal.
I don’t think people in this country realise just how deep and wide Chinese influence now runs. I was in Malaysia about a year ago, a country that was once a British colony. It now looks like a Chinese colony. Beijing’s influence is everywhere. That of London and Washington, nowhere to be seen.
With an economy that will soon be the biggest on the planet, the Chinese can afford to buy the silence of those who find the regime distasteful. Abroad, they are allowed to behave like a 19th Century colonial power, stripping poor countries of natural resources and securing oppressive political influence, often for very little in return.
Under Xi, China has no qualms about engaging in widespread cyber activities to destabilise other countries and steal their economic secrets. Their military capability has increased hugely and now poses a real threat to the nation’s neighbours.
With the help of countries it has bought off, Beijing has managed to get itself appointed to the UN consultative group to select experts to investigate human rights abuses.
What a sick joke. This is the country that shoots its own people if they dare to demonstrate, and then sends a bill for the bullets used to kill them to their surviving relatives.
When the established facts are unpalatable, Beijing simply invents its own. Their virus of lies has now infected our universities.
Around this country you can find Confucius Institutes on university campuses. The Chinese government would have you believe that these are innocuous cultural bodies.
But when I undertook a detailed analysis of their activities, I found that their classes banned talk of the three Ts – Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen. I found maps that wrongly showed Taiwan as part of China.
More insidiously, I found that universities keen to receive Chinese money were caving in to Chinese pressure, for instance to remove pictures of the Dalai Lama.
In the United States, some Confucius Institutes have been made to close because their activities have been deemed incompatible with the values of a free democratic state. But not in Britain, where insidious self-censorship permeates our Government.
Criticism of China’s appalling human-rights behaviour is almost never mentioned any more. Prime Ministers no longer meet the Dalai Lama so as not to upset the murderous regime.
When Tim Loughton and I, at the time both Government Ministers and both long-standing Tibet supporters, were invited to meet the Dalai Lama privately, we were instructed by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, not to do so as it was not conducive to good relations with the Chinese.
Tim, who was a good Children’s Minister, protested in a letter to the Prime Minister and shortly afterwards was sacked.
The charge sheet against the Chinese government is long and bloody – too long to list in full.
But we must not forget massive environmental destruction in Tibet, last week’s aggressive and ominous military incursions into Indian territory, the damming up of rivers now seriously affecting water flow into that country, an aggressive territorial expansion that is claiming rights over almost all the South China Sea, and a stated intention to bring Taiwan fully under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary.
There is a hard lesson that we in Britain need to learn, and quickly: the only thing the Chinese government respects is strength.
The charge sheet against the Chinese government is long and bloody – too long to list in full
That is why their strategy is to strengthen themselves by weakening us, and countries like us. They see democracies as feeble and will have nothing but contempt for the way Britain is opening the doors of its 5G network to Huawei or sharing its nuclear secrets with China General Nuclear as part of deals to renew our creaking energy system.
Can you imagine a British company ever being given privileged access to the Chinese nuclear industry?
Enough is enough. China is powerful, too powerful, but its destructive behaviour can be stopped.
First, we must do much more to protect our critical national infrastructure, even if that means paying a bit more to achieve this. China should certainly be nowhere near our telecommunications and nuclear industries.
Second, we must ban UK companies, universities and research institutes from supplying technology to Chinese companies, all of which can be safely assumed to be fronts for the Communist regime.
Third, we must work together with other democratic countries to put human rights back on the international agenda, including prominently in the UN Security Council.
We should move to prohibit countries with appalling human-rights records from sitting on any UN body set up to deal with human rights.
More than one million people are locked up in Chinese concentration camps in the North West province in Xinjiang – just because they are Muslim
We should call for an independent investigation into Chinese behaviour in Tibet and Xinjiang, where the Uighurs are.
Fourth, we must adopt our version of the America Magnitsky Act, aimed at corrupt associates of Vladimir Putin. This would allow us to list Chinese officials we know to have committed or facilitated human rights abuses, expel them if they are in the UK, and seize their assets.
Fifth, we should demand the right for our diplomats, our journalists, and indeed everybody else, to wander freely across China, just as their people have the right to visit anywhere in Britain. And until that right is provided, the right of Chinese diplomats to do likewise in the UK should be curtailed.
Sixth, we should require Confucius Institutes to operate to acceptable honest standards or close them down. They should be subject to much more rigorous independent oversight.
It Xi Jinping and China’s regime continues to run unchecked, it will damage our way of life irreparably, as it intends to do
China has presented us with a poisonous cocktail unprecedented in modern world history – a nation with contempt for human rights and a hunger for world primacy which is backed by unparalleled technical capabilities and unsurpassed wealth.
If unchecked, it will damage our way of life irreparably, as it intends to do.
We have recently marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day. One of the lessons from the 1930s is that when a pariah state emerges, it cannot simply be passively ignored. It needs to be challenged or the inaction of others merely feeds the monster.
It is time for the democratic world to unite to stand up to the gangster government in Beijing.