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Vince Cable’s troubling views on China

Why is Cable so keen to deny the vast ethnic prejudices of the Chinese regime?

Artillery Row

In April I highlighted a bizarre statement shared by former UK Business Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable on the anniversary of  Karl Marx’s birth. His tweet read:

You don’t need to be a Communist or even a Socialist to recognise the positives as well as the evils in Lenin’s rule. Not least, his New Economic Policy established pragmatic market socialism which eventually succeeded in Deng’s #China

Deng’s China, infamous for its masterminding of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, is an odd object of veneration for a veteran Liberal Democrat. Yet, with the Party currently cast into electoral oblivion and Cable hardly likely to resurrect them, I did not expect his antics to disturb my peace again any time soon.

Cable’s new book, Money and Power: The World Leaders Who Changed Economics, due for release in February 2021, goes a long way in clarifying his troubling views on Chinese policies, past and present. The book’s purported aim is avoiding war with China, which sounds fair enough, right? However, Cable goes far beyond discouraging unnecessary hawkishness.

Money and Power: The World Leaders Who Changed Economics, by Vince Cable.
(Atlantic Books, 4 Feb. 2021)

In a sub-section titled “What About the Minorities?” Cable writes, “The current concerns are over the Uygurs of Xinjiang. In the past, Tibetans have also experienced brutal attacks on their identity.”

Cable thinly papers over the tragic realities unfolding under the incumbent Chinese regime

In one clumsy swoop, Cable thinly papers over the tragic realities unfolding under the incumbent Chinese regime. Firstly,the issue of the Uyghurs is not simply a “lack of tolerance” but outright aggression. Since 2017, over a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities have disappeared into a vast network of “re-education” camps in the far west region of Xinjiang. Those who avoid the camps are subject to surveillance and intimidation by CCP authorities. As Newcastle University Professor Joanne Smith Finley told AP earlier in June, “It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but slow, painful, creeping genocide … These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uyghur population.”

It is doubly odd that Cable implies that Tibetans are the only other minority in China whose situation is precarious. China is a vast multiethnic nation, constructed of more groups than “Han”, “Uyghur” and “Tibetan”. In September, The Guardian reported on ethnic Mongolian protests across northern China in opposition to Beijing’s plans to forcibly replace the Mongolian language with Mandarin in some school subjects. In April, hundreds of African immigrants were harassed and evicted in Guangzhou as authorities sought to scapegoat them for a local Covid-19 outbreak. Chinese media has long faced international condemnation for its racial stereotyping, particularly of black people. Cable even had the nerve to suggest that the crackdown on Tibetans is something of “the past”– a claim all leading human rights groups have consistently proved otherwise.

Cable’s (possibly wilful) ignorance is further exposed when he declares: “The Chinese authorities response is that they have no problem accommodating religions, as such Christianity and Islam, and have done … Nor do they discriminate on grounds of ethnicity.”

I have already detailed the vast ethnic prejudices of the Chinese regime that Cable seems so keen to deny, and “accommodating” is far too generous a word to describe the Chinese government’s attitude toward religious groups, even putting aside the abuse of the broadly Muslim Uyghurs.

‘Unofficial’ churches are routinely subject to demolition, and their members to surveillance and prosecution

This year, China issued a five-year plan in which Christianity will be further forced to “comply” with “Chinese values”. Since July 2020 authorities in Shanxi, China, have ordered those receiving government assistance to replace religious symbols in their homes, including icons of Jesus, with images of Chairman Mao & President Xi Jinping. Refusal to comply results in the assistance being taken away. “Unofficial” churches are routinely subject to demolition, and their members to surveillance and prosecution. Like Christians, Falun Gong sect has suffered suppression for decades, and a 2019 ICC investigation found evidence that Chinese authorities had been arresting members as a precursor to forcibly harvesting their organs.

During a London School of Economics event on Tuesday, Cable – now a Professor in Practice at the university’s Institute of Global Affairs – proudly reinforced another of his book’s theses, namely, that China’s hardline policies are merely the result of a different but equally respectable framework of human rights to the West’s. He seemed to suggest that most opposition to Chinese state power was the product of naive social democrats and hawkish Trumpians seeking to alienate a financial and ideological competitor.

Is Cable aware that many Chinese residents, ex-pats and exiles themselves are critical of the CCP regime? After all, it is they who are its primary victims, not westerners. Cable also nonchalantly dismissed the China Research Group and Labour MPs currently expressing concerns over Chinese human rights abuses as “Neocons”. Does Cable seriously believe that someone like Coventry MP Zarah Sultana, who once provoked outrage over extreme comments on Tony Blair and George Bush is motivated by covert neo-conservativism in her highlighting of Uyghur persecution?

Along with fellow speaker Linda Yueh, Cable even went on to praise the Chinese legal system’s handling of issues such as Hong Kong protests. Cable lauded the Chinese system for its comparable sophistication with the Soviet one which “would’ve just gone and shot them all.” Does Cable realise that if one needs to compare China with the USSR to position its legal system as progressive, it is clear the depths to which one’s moral bar has sunk?

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