Reflection on Vince Cable’s article “Shouting at China over alleged Uighur genocide won’t help” in The Independent

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I am at disbelief at Vince Cable’s assessment of the atrocities faced by the Uighurs people and the allusion of self-censorship based on emotional feelings in his article in The Independent yesterday.

The Uighurs are indeed facing a crisis and consequences of genocide that requires international attention. The 38th parallel between North and South Korea can sometimes be comparable to a pristine natural reserve, but one will not celebrate such as an achievement. The economic progress in China may also be a beauty. However, it is pushed forwards by the same autocratic regime that self-inflicted a famine causing the death of 1/3 of its population. Should then the fortune of economic progress be a remedy in consideration of atrocities and corruption by parties in the Chinese regime?

Vince noted he accepted sterilisation occurred to Uighurs in Xinjiang, however denies it amounts to genocide. I disagree with this interpretation. Indeed sterilisation is an occurrence to support the One Child Policy. Yet, the Uighurs population is noted to be put into forced sterilisation programmes in facilities where they do not have the freedom to venture about or out. These are the concentration camps appearing around Xinjiang noted by satellite pictures and filmed by the BBC.

Vince’s argument is that because there are other races and people of different beliefs who are caught up with the acts of sterilisation, therefore when ethnic Uighurs faced internment at facilities and then are put through sterilisation, ergo the lack of genocide. If this interpretation is correct, then one can apply a denial to Auschwitz because more than one group of people are being systematically mistreated and killed. I find the notion of denial disturbing and will utmost disagree to any denial of genocide.

Vince also emphasises disbelief of the situation in Xinjiang because he has not visited the place. Our virtue has taught us to comprehend history without having to be a visitor of the place. We should be capable of contribution to a liberal, democratic society based on the betterment of the human race by not repeating the atrocities of the past.

Perhaps, the only right thing in Vince’s article is the mention that the Trump administration is hardly a good bearer in its conduct to learn from the past. For us to build a fairer and brighter society, we should be capable of learning past misdeeds and preventing them from being repeated without being put into the situation physically.

People in a free society should not be afraid to point out atrocities. We should not be tempted to weigh the feelings of culprits in the evaluation of justice. I find a strong clash of ideology in Vince’s presentation of arguments in The Independent that we should be less intrusive in pointing out the human rights situation in China.


* Nicholas Chan is a Liberal Democrat member training in Criminal Law. He is Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Hong Kong.

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  • Matt Wardman 30th Jun '21 - 1:40pm

    I’m in two minds here, and I recommend that readers read Cable’s article in the Indy as well as the above – both are complementary and contradictory.

    I think Cable’s underlying thrust is about what can be done in practical politics to achieve change, and whether using language about ‘genocide’ will help – in the context of a relationship with an authoritarian country of 1.4bn people where life has been cheap for the duration of the current regime, and arguably equally long before that.

    On the Hong Kong actions of the Xi regime, we had an easier and clearer protest / mitigating action to take – offer a form of sanctuary – and we have done that.

    The support / silent / opposition to China’s mass detention policy at the UN is revealing – it’s a straight Western democracies + 1 or 2 others / states heavily influenced by China by the Belt and Road policy (afaics) / others. The silent group is most interesting. I’d say tt’s about the politics of sharing a small room with a large elephant, and who can actually stand up on their own.

    Is more achieved by switching to stronger language universally (at present aiui the UK parl has said “genocide”, but in a non-binding resolution? Or by seeking to engage with China, and pursuing lower profile initiatives?

    Should we be doing what we have done on eg Tibet, or the Russification of national areas of Russia?

    The EU has aiui frozen talks on their aimed-for Trade Deal when China put retaliatory restrictions on certain EU politicians after the EU did that to China, and the EU Parliament is now making ‘how dare they’ spluttering noises.

    But China remembers imperialist actions from the past – the Opium Wars were in lifetime of some of our great grandparents (also in China), and will be an easy rallying call. They involved the UK, France, Russia and later Germany and the USA. The record there is not impressive.

    I would be interested to hear from Nicholas a policy for what he suggests Western should actually do to achieve his desired outcome, and why it could work.

  • A Chinese Canadian Senator has been making the same points as Vince
    “Canadians are saying to Chinese friends that we don’t want them to make the same mistakes. We do so not because we have a superior moral position, not because we have the answers to the problems they are trying to solve and not because we want to embarrass China. We do it because of the pain we feel over what happened in our own country and for what we can learn from each other in not making such mistakes again.”

    In his speech, Woo drew parallels between Canada’s history and how China is treating the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Canadians wouldn’t tolerate mass arrests, forcing people to attend schools, sterilizing women or relocating villages, he said, “except that we did all of those things, and we did them throughout our short history as a country, most appallingly to Indigenous peoples, but also to recent immigrants and minority groups who were deemed undesirable, untrustworthy or just un-Canadian.”

  • Nicholas Chan has written a powerful article. As a long standing member of Amnesty International I share Nicholas’s misgivings about the direction of travel of Sir Vincent Cable on something so fundamental to the meaning of liberalism.

    Given Joe Bourke’s touch on Canadian history, I gently suggest Sir Vincent should reflect again on the principles which lay behind the Midlothian campaign speeches of W.E. Gladstone nearly 150 years ago :

    “Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love; that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation; that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its unmeasured scope”.

    Speech in Dalkeith, 26 November, 1879.

  • Paul Barker 30th Jun '21 - 3:09pm

    How many times have we heard the phrase “Never Again” whenever anyone is talking about the Nazi Holocaust ?
    The Chinese Communist Party have been building Concentration Camps for a Decade now & yet the World does nothing.
    It is unclear if The Camps represent Mass Murder or “just” the attempt tp wipe out an entire Culture. We do know that a million people have dissapeared – whether they are alive or dead isnt known by anyone outside The Chinese Communist Leadership – a few dozen old men.
    Its worth pointing out that The Nazis didnt start with Mass Murder – they worked up to it slowly as they saw that no-one would stop them.

    Where I agree with Vince is that Shouting alone isnt enough, we need an International strategy to contain Chins Military & Economic might, we need to start organising Economic Boycotts of Chinese goods & services, something we can all do as Individuals right now & we can start Re-Arming.
    This is all going to be painful but if we dont do it we are making the same mistakes our Grandparents made in the 1930s.

  • nvelope2003 30th Jun '21 - 4:40pm

    The problem is that potential allies of the West have not behaved with due regard to modern notions of what constitutes decent civilised conduct.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jun '21 - 5:16pm

    Might it help the Uighurs who have, among other misfortunes, that of living in a part of China which is geographically vulnerable to invasion, if the « West » ceased to indulge in « sabre rattling » and « false flag » interferences in other countries?
    Please look at and consider what we have done to the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

  • George Thomas 30th Jun '21 - 9:06pm

    I think some credit should go to the headline writer who could have made a different choice to generate far more attention.

    Can’t help but think what my reaction would be if I were one of the Uighurs people who appear to be treated this way, but I guess Vince’s point is that even if we’re thinking of them we need to be mindful that our words will be read first and perhaps only by the Chinese government. However, when Tories stand up next to say “yes, child poverty figures are rising in the UK but it’s only technically poverty” I don’t think Vince has a right to criticise them anymore.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '21 - 9:57pm

    An in some ways constructive attempt by Cable that fails. He is far to keen on trade and climate change as the most significant issues.

    Both are less important than dignity and the current issue that is many issues, corona virus.

    On these China fails more than cable’s efforts to airbrush them.

    Nicholas writes well, here in defence of human rights. And David replies brilliantly in reference to William Gladstone!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • john oundle 1st Jul '21 - 12:13am

    And only a couple of months ago the EU was planning to reward China with an enhanced trade deal.

  • Robin Grayson MSc FG 1st Jul '21 - 8:42am

    Much of China’s stance in the modern world is on Gooogle Earth. Look closely. Inside the vastness of modern China is a huge replica of Taiwan’s fighter defence base as part of a bombing range. Look again and see the scaled down painted model of a a route into disputed territories on the China-India border, and search in the Chinese army newspapers to find it illustrated as ‘Our Victorious Army Preparing for Battle’ as the helicopter teams memorise the invasion route. Check the history of independent Mongolia to find the record of soviet tanks and aircraft assisting Mongolian cavalry to conquer a slice of territory which Mao and Stalin agreed should stay inside independent Mongolia which it does. Read up on the Crimea to learn that much of it was Russian territory gifted by President Kruschev of the USSR to the Ukraine as a symbol of everlastiing peace and friendship. Look again at Google Earth to see the immense castles in China built to deter the Soviet Union from capturing western China, and the hundreds of military strongpoints of ‘The Great Wall of Russia’ to deter Mao from grabbing Siberia. Modern China, like everywhere else, needs modern borders that are fully recognised, but this never happened except for its long border with modern Mongolia. China is therefore vulnerable to power grabs by old rulers too scared to embrace democracy but willing to perform genocide on peoples living in a vast area of world importance for its huge oil reserves. Until gurus of the west do their homework properly, the west will be endlessly prone to appeasing to genocide as shown by Vince Cable who should know better.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jul '21 - 2:10pm

    Most countries as they modernise adopt an improved rights culture because their citizens demand it. What concerns me is that China shows little sign of moving in this direction. This also effects other countries over which they have influence.

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