The Chinese embassy has accused UK parliamentarians of undermining Beijing’s attempts to improve Sino-British relations. No, that is not satire. The same regime which slapped sanctions on MPs who spoke out against egregious human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims has claimed it is in fact Westminster standing in the way of a cohesive and collaborative relationship with Beijing.
Last night, Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle revoked an invitation for Chinese ambassador to Britain, Zheng Zeguang, to speak at an event in the Houses of Parliament. For his boldness, the decision was branded “despicable and cowardly” by Beijing.
In March this year, Beijing imposed sanctions on five Tory MPs and two peers, including former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Tom Tugendhat, who were both handed travel bans for their work to call a spade a spade and label the persecution of Uyghur muslims genocide. As Tugenhadt pointed out at the time: “Britain puts sanctions on individuals who violate the human rights of Chinese citizens. China puts sanctions on individuals who defend the human rights of Chinese citizens. The contrast is clear.”
China’s creeping power in Western countries, frightening crackdowns in Hong Kong, increasing aggression over Taiwan and efforts to bully all of those who stand up to them should make it clear that attempts to tread down a path of diplomacy has failed. US President Joe Biden suggested a face-to-face summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping last week, but his attempts to break an impasse in US-China relations after the Trump administration were shunned by the Chinese Communist Party.
The face off with China comes down to the politics of the playground: there is nothing a bully fears more than someone standing up to them. Those who do are given the diplomatic cold shoulder but those who quiver in the corner have little to gain from a relationship with Beijing, so swift is its enmity when you act against the CCP’s interests.
Take Beijing’s actions against Alipay as an example. For years, Jack Ma’s success has had the aura of mythology. China has reaped the rewards of capitalism and innovation – up until the point at which it saw a better use for the financial services behemoth. Earlier this week, regulators in Beijing forced Alipay to split off two of its divisions. A new joint venture, partly owned and funded by the state, will take control of user data. Businesses in the City who play nice with China to keep their pockets heavy should be wary of the sting if they dare cross them, or perhaps follow Sir Lindsay’s lead: if you don’t play by our rules, we won’t play yours.