crispin hull on china

At some stage western democracies are going to have to tell the Chinese Communist Party that enough is enough and do so with more than just sanctions against a few individuals.

The US and European nations have imposed the sanctions against individuals in protest against the Chinese Government’s “mass arbitrary detention, torture, separation of families, forced labour and violations of reproductive rights” of the Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, in the words of Human Rights Watch Australia.

The Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, warned this week that if Australia joined them, China would “respond in kind”.

It appears sanctions are working. Notice, Cheng did not threaten further trade sanctions. After all, every trade sanction against Australia’s exports is also a sanction against China’s imports.

China will only ban or obstruct those goods and services which it can replace fairly easily. It is running out of them. Banning Australia’s wine is one thing; banning iron ore is another.

Commentators often say sanctions do not work, citing how sanctions against Rhodesia and South Africa were easily got around. That’s true. Rogue traders could easily divert enough oil and other items to keep the Rhodesian and South African economies going.

But it would be a much bigger, if not impossible, task with an economy as big as China’s. Western democracies should bear that in mind when it comes to crunch time.

And crunch time is getting closer, as some disturbing historic parallels suggest.

Last month, the Chinese Government effectively cancelled democracy in Hong Kong in breach of China’s treaty obligations. All candidates for election to the Hong Kong legislature must now be approved by the Chinese Communist Party.

The party is now 100 years old and has ruled China for more than 70 years. In the past eight years under the leadership of Xi Jinping the party has shown a dangerous increase in fascist tendencies. The most significant are Xi’s effective leadership for life; repression of any opposition; and the fusion of party and state.

Xi has got ever more daring in grabbing territory and power. The big fear is that he will try to take Taiwan, a dream of the Communist Party ever since the Nationalists moved there and set up government after their defeat in the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Taiwan is a democracy. It would be a bitter blow to the forces of liberty and freedom if the communists took it over. Western democracies should have a well-thought-out response and not drift into having to choose between doing nothing or catastrophic war as in 1939.

Here are the parallels. Hitler took power and made himself Fuehrer for life. He then, bit by bit, broadened German reach, testing the democracies each time, but not pushing them over the brink. He breached international agreements on militarisation of the Rhineland; he took Austria; and he took the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Each time Hitler made some flimsy justification. Poland was next.

China has breached international agreements on Hong Kong; turned disputed reefs into islands in the South China Sea and thereby taken fishing and economic rights from other nations in defiance of a UN arbitration ruling. It then turned the islands into military bases and launched “fishing vessels” into other nations’ territorial waters. It then nibbled away at territory on the Indian border.

Each time the Chinese Government made some flimsy justification. Is Taiwan, like Poland, next?

Hitler engaged in racial “purification”. He first expelled Jews from their homes and businesses and then escalated that into murder and genocide. Aryans took Jewish property – land, apartments, furniture and artworks. Then he arranged propaganda films showing Jews living contentedly in camps.

Hitler’s lebensraum policy was to take territory westward from the Slavs for Aryan Germans.

The Chinese Government sent Han Chinese into Tibet to take over Tibetan lands and property, persecuting and jailing Tibetans. They are doing the same thing in Xinjiang.

The Chinese Government arranges propaganda stunts to deny the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, as the ambassador did this week.

But the evidence is there. The only difference in the historic parallel is a matter of degree.

Another parallel, by coincidence, is the Olympic Games. Hitler used the 1936 Berlin Olympics to show off his regime and pretend that Germany was still part of the family of nations. Western democracies fell for it. They also went along with the 2008 Beijing Olympics because China had joined the World Trade Organisation and Xi had not come power. The hopes that China would take part in a rules-based international order had not yet been dashed.

Once bitten, western democracies should be twice shy with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. China has been seeking sponsorship from multi-national corporations. Those corporations should be wary if the backlash and boycotts against Georgia’s voting laws are any guide. Boycotts and sanctions can hurt and change behaviour.

Which business wants to be associated with games put on by a genocidal fascist government?

The Winter Olympics should not be conducted as if everything is normal in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

Going back to the historic parallel, if western democracies continue with business as usual, it will be an invitation for further aggression and human-rights breaches. And that further aggression points in one direction – across the Taiwan Strait.

Western democracies should draft a plan for massive sanctions. And companies outside the sanctions-imposing democracies who trade with China should have their operations in the democracies frozen. It would hurt the democracies’ economies in the short term but would work. Once an economy goes really sour the masses get restless – the one thing the Communist Party fears more than anything.

Many say that China has pulled millions of people out of poverty. True. But authoritarian communism was not necessary for that. People only came out of poverty once Mao was dead along with his destructive collectivisations, Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. It was only after Deng Xiaoping turned to more capitalist ways that hunger was pushed back.

Many also say that the US has behaved badly in throwing its weight around. True. But that does not excuse what the Chinese Government is doing. And certainly the vast majority of the Chinese people would be horrified if they knew what was going on.

Indeed, western democracies’ concern for the Chinese people should press them to be ready with powerful sanctions at the earliest sign of aggression by the Communist Party against Taiwan. For war, which would inevitably turn nuclear, must be out of the question.

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 10 April 2021.

Crispin Hull BA, LLB (Hons) | Property Convenor  |  ANU School of Legal Practice Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the ACT, on the Register of Practitioners kept by the High Court of Australia


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