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By Alexander Baker
On Wednesday 30th November, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Benedict Rogers, Ethan Gutmann and Yaxue Cao to discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in China. The discussion was centred on the recently published report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission on the crackdown on human rights in China, and how the West should respond.
Benedict Rogers, author and human rights activist specialising in Asia, opened the discussion with a brief summary of the Conservative Party report – ‘The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China, 2013-16’, and proceeded to explain how the evidence in the report had been collected from dissident testimonies and written statements, as well as two three-hour hearings in Parliament. He concluded by questioning the direction in which Sino-British relations are heading and by highlighting the dangers in prioritising Britain’s economic interests over its moral duty of upholding human rights worldwide. Rogers referred to Germany as an example of a country who had both strong trade links with China, but which was nevertheless openly critical of the human rights situation there, as a possible model of emulation.
Benedict Rogers proceeded to read a statement written by Angela Gui, who unfortunately could not be present at the event. Gui, daughter of the recently kidnapped Gui Minhai, a bookseller in Hong Kong, stated that the circumstances under which her father disappeared pointed not only to a crackdown on human rights domestically, but showed that China was increasingly disregarding international law. Gui Minhai disappeared in Thailand and was legally a Swedish citizen, meaning the abduction could never have been grounded in any legal framework. Gui’s statement also acknowledged that as a Swedish citizen, her father’s case had been far more successful in gathering international media coverage, while many Chinese families who share similar predicaments are unable to speak up. Gui urged Western governments and media to speak up for those Chinese families that cannot, and also criticised the prioritisation of economic interests over human rights. ‘Choosing to pretend that the easy way is the only way,’ is the main issue that Britain will need to address if it wants to prevent the deterioration of human rights in China.
The panel was then addressed via video link by Yaxue Cao, a Chinese human rights activist and founder of chinachange.org. Yaxue Cao praised the recent Conservative party report, but went on to discuss the increasingly hostile attitude with which the Chinese authorities deal with international pressure with regards to human rights. Yaxue pointed out that in some cases, China has ceased to pay attention to international pressure altogether, and state media had even gone so far as to openly accused foreign powers of funding Chinese human rights lawyers and dissidents in an attempt to overthrow the Chinese government. Yaxue then focused on internet censorship, stating that the State was employing an increasing number of censors and social media propagandists to control China’s netizens.
The last speaker to address the audience was Ethan Gutmann, the award-winning China analyst and human-rights investigator, who focused specifically on the issue of organ harvesting within China. Gutmann charted the growth of this illicit industry from its inception in the 1980s, and pointed out how minority groups, such as the Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and members of the Falun Gong are systematically targeted by the authorities. Gutmann continued by pointing out that despite the assumption that the practice would stop by 2008, as China prepared to host the Olympics, the organ harvesting industry actually continued to grow in secret. Despite the official line that regulations on organ transplants had been revised to stem the practice of illegal harvesting, Gutmann argues that regulations were only applied to civilian hospitals, and that military hospitals, in which the vast majority of the inhumane practices were taking place, were left completely untouched by any reforms.
Gutmann concluded by stating that several countries had banned so called ‘organ tourism’ to China, and urged the British government to do the same. He agreed with the other panellists that Britain could not enter a ‘golden age in relations’, by conducting trade deals while simultaneously ignoring the deteriorating human rights situation in China.
For a full transcript of this event click here