Artillery Row

We’re all China hawks now

If Dominic Raab was expecting to be attacked from the left, he was sorely mistaken

There are not many things to agree on in the House of Commons at the moment. The Dominic Cummings row angered almost all of the opposition and a big chunk of the Tory Party. And the scrapping of the virtual parliament and remote voting has angered many government supporters, most notably Robert Halfon, who has claimed it would turn MPs into “parliamentary Eunuchs”.

But it seems China’s treatment of Hong Kong has brought out a rare moment of consensus. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the Commons today that the new security legislation being imposed on Hong Kong “lies in direct conflict with Article 23 of China’s own Basic Law” and “with China’s international obligations freely assumed under the Joint Declaration.”

There are two MPs who are ethnically Chinese,: Alan Mak (Conservative), and Sarah Owen (Labour). Owen, from the 2019 intake is linked to Momentum and has criticised Tory MPs in the past few weeks for being “Sinophobic”. Both were not there.

Far from defending China, Labour and Tory backbenchers were pressing Mr. Raab to go further against them and asked, why he wasn’t going to stop Beijing?. A number of times the Foreign Secretary had to remind MPs that the best he could do was build an international response to the move and that the British Government was fairly constrained in its response: “The bottom line is we can’t force China”.

Labour’s Liz Twist asked him what he meant when he had been quoted as saying: “There can be no return to business as usual in Sino-British relations”. Raab replied that he had been making the comment in relation to the need for a “sober and clear-sighted” independent review into the origins of Coronavirus. If this seemed a weak response, consider the fact that China slapped punitive tariffs on Australia last month after the country spearheaded a motion calling for the very same thing at the World Health Assembly.

After being strongly urged by Labour backbenchers to do more against Beijing, Dominic Raab may have been expecting the Labour front bench to call for more moderation at a time of global crisis, but he was to be disappointed.

The biggest China hawk of all seemed to be Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy who wasted no time in ripping into Britain’s perceived inaction. She pointed out that the joint declaration has been repeatedly undermined since 2012 but Britain had merely “tut tutted”. She asked Raab why he hadn’t pressed for an independent inquiry into police brutality in Hong Kong and on Huawei she criticised how long it had taken for the government to accept the potential threat it poses to national security. She even asked the Government to rule out new Chinese Nuclear power plants after Hinkley and demanded economic sanctions in relation to Hong Kong, concluding: “It’s time for Britain to be far more proactive”.

Speaking afterwards Tory MP Tom Tugendhat suggested that the opposition front bench was “standing up to Communist tyranny for the first time in a political generation”.

It was notable that nobody in the chamber today voiced opposition to enacting proposed “Magnitsky laws” on China, sanctions against foreign individuals who have committed human rights abuses. “I just want more oomph from him!” declared Labour’s Chris Bryant. “Bring forward the blasted Magnitsky legislation!”.

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