The UK must get serious about dealing with China and develop a clear policy, says Lord Alton

 Westminster, (Parliament Politics Magazine) – During a debate initiated by the Bishop of St. Albans the House of Lords has examined China’s policy and human rights violations. 

Among other things, we challenged the Government to explain away the £770,000 it is spending every day to store 120 million items of PPE in China. That’s more than £280 million over a year.

It is just one example among many – the 1 billion lateral flow tests we have bought from China is another – and which point to why we now have a trade deficit of almost £40 billion with China. 

I have now asked what the total cost has been incurred in storing these items and how much longer we intend to go on paying these exorbitant sums to the CCP regime

Such examples also illustrate how we have failed to address fundamental questions such as national resilience and dependency. 


They also point to the continuing failure to implement a coherent strategy in dealing with China. 


It’s more than a year since the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee described the situation as “a strategic void”. 

It was bad then, it’s worse now.

The Committee’s report, “China, Trade and Security” described UK China policy as lacking strategic cohesion: confusion that has been reenforced at the recent G20 Summit.


During the leadership election Rishi Sunak said that “for too long” Western leaders had “rolled out the red carpet” and “turned a blind eye” to the CCP’s “nefarious activity and ambitions”. He was right.


Liz Truss upgraded the UK’s recognition of China from “systemic competitor” to “threat” – as have our allies in the USA – and described China’s actions in Xinjiang as “genocide”. She was right.


But at the G20, Mr.Sunak, was no longer citing the words of the  Director General of MI5 that  China represents “the biggest long term threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security” preferring to simply describe the CCP regime as a “challenge.” 


Russia, North Korea and Iran are all designated as a threat, not a “challenge.”  So why not China?


Little wonder that Sir Iain Duncan-Smith MP, a former leader of his Party, warned the Prime Minister that it “now looks like we’re drifting into appeasement with China.” 


 And the appeasement comes at quite a price.

In achieving that £40 billion deficit we have been spending British taxpayers money to buy goods made in a State that uses slave labour to undercut its competitors and is credibly accused of genocide. In turn, it increases our dependency and emasculates resilience.

It’s as if we had learned nothing from the consequences of Germany’s dependency on Putin.

It begs the question, what has changed, in the extremely short period between Liz Truss leaving and Rishi Sunak arriving in No 10 to justify this U-turn in relation to China? 


Have the atrocities against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities been stopped and proven not to be true? Has Hong Kong seen the restoration of democracy?

Surely No 10 can see that ignoring the new realities and drifting back to the Cameron-Osborne Golden Era would be a huge error.


It would also be a betrayal of all those who suffer at the hands of the CCP – persecuted religious minorities, journalists and human rights defenders, those who have had the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, suppressed.


It would be a betrayal of those driven out of their homes in Hong Kong and rightly welcomed by the Government to the UK; and a betrayal at of the estimated 50 million victims of the CCP. The Italian scholar, Massimo Introvigne, says that “No organisation in human history killed more human beings than the CCP.”


And we know that the CCP now has Taiwan in its sights – raising considerable concern about Ben Wallace’s remarks on November 1st to the International Relations and Defence Select Committee.

He said “It is in China’s plan to reunify Taiwan to mainland China…it is not a secret. Britain wants a peaceful process towards that.”  Wants?

The 23 million free people of Taiwan have never been part of the PRC. Why should we aid and abet that process?  Why should we suggest there is something inevitable about this? Since when has this objective been Government policy?

A clear strategy for dealing with the CCP would build on Greg Hands’ welcome recent trade visit to Taiwan and would make clear our belief in self-determination. It would also hit hard those who destroyed Hong Kong’s “two systems one country” which offered a way forward. 

At a meeting I chaired in the House last week, addressed by Bill Browder and by young Hong Kongers, pleas were made for Magnitsky sanctions against those who have abused human rights, upended democracy, subverted instructions, corrupted the rule of law. 

There can be no “business as usual” with a regime that even this week will stage yet more political show trials in Hong Kong.

Such trials have become the norm under the new national security regime, with the verdict of Jimmy Lai’s “fraud” trial and of Apple Daily journalists coming with the verdict of the trial of the 90-year-old Cardinal Zen and the other trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.



Baroness Hale, former President of the Supreme Court, has rightly warned of Hong Kong’s “unacceptable laws” and said that British Judges should search their consciences about whether to vacate their seats in the Hong Kong courts. 

In this fight between dictatorship and democracy we must stand by our legal, moral, and historic commitments to Hong Kong.

A coherent China strategy would also involve challenging the CCP’s subversion of international jurisprudence and international bodies.


Only a few weeks ago, we saw how the CCP can silence the UN Human Rights Council – the body that was tasked with accommodating dialogue about human rights violations – of which China is a Member, rather like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. 


On 6 October the Human Rights Council rejected a proposal – of which the UK was a co-sponsor – to merely have a debate on Michele Brachelet’s findings that ‘serious human rights violations’ – including ‘crimes against humanity’ – against the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities may have been committed in Xinjiang.


The proposal was defeated 19 votes to 17 with China’s position supported by those other great champions of human rights – and members of the UN Human Rights Council – Eritrea, Pakistan, Sudan, and Cameroon. 


Study the links and note that many of those opposing a debate now have substantial belt and road indebtedness to China. As is so often the case, follow the money.


The Government should not leave this matter here and should table a resolution in the UN General Assembly. 


And closer to home: we await the Manchester Police report on the assault on Bob Chan, a Hong Konger who was attacked while protesting outside the city’s Chinese Consulate. That attack and reports that the CCP are establishing overseas “police stations” in the UK should set alarm bells ringing.

Tom Tugendhat, the Security Minister should carefully examine those proposals along with the ambitions to create a mega PRC embassy on the site of the Royal Mint.

That deal led to 200 British Citizens who live there having the freehold of their homes sold over their heads to the Chinese State. 

After after what happened in Manchester – and what happens every day throughout China – it’s little wonder those families say they are scared, angry and that they have been utterly ignored.  Michael Gove should consider calling in and carefully examining this application. 


He should also look at how the Royal Mint deal was brokered, how much money has passed hands, and establish what was the independent valuation of the value of the site. 

As it wrestles with these and many other connected issues – from the ownership of our nuclear power stations and semiconductor, microchip, industry to 5G and telecommunications – we need to develop a coherent strategy. 

The Government could make a start by using the Procurement Bill – completing its Lords stages next week before going to the Commons – to at least ensure that goods linked to Uyghur Genocide can be stopped from coming into the U.K. – everything from the 1 million surveillance cameras, already here, to garments made with Xinjiang cotton. 

It would be a welcome signal that the Government understands the threat posed by the CCP to the UK’s national interests and that it has finally started to fill the strategic void.


Lord David Alton

David Patrick Paul Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, KCSG, KCMCO is a British politician. He is a former Liberal Party and later Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who has sat as a crossbench member of the House of Lords since 1997 when he was made a life peer.