Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

A New Cold War?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st May, 2020

UyghursIn recent weeks, both houses of the US Congress almost unanimously passed a Bill calling on the Trump administration to enact sanctions against China for its human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Republicans expect the President soon to sign this into law. The main individual target is Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party’s regional secretary, whom the Bill accuses of gross human rights violations against the local Muslim population, many hundreds of thousands of whom have been detained in re-education camps in what some international human rights groups have termed cultural genocide. This is not the first time that China’s Han-dominated regime has tried to eradicate the religious beliefs and cultural norms of a minority ethnicity, of course; the military occupation of Tibet in 1959 caused a flood of refugees over the Himalayas to Nepal and India, while those who remained behind witnessed their heritage being largely destroyed, especially during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Josep BorrellIn the case of the Uyghurs another disturbing element has been the use of forced labour in detention centres and in factories across the country, with several major Western companies in fields such as fashion and electronics complicit in this abuse through their supply chains. The US Bill specifically calls on US companies and individuals working in the region to cut ties that involve forced labour in Xinjiang. This move in Washington coincides with the stated determination of the European Union to be more “robust” in its dealings with China. At a virtual meeting of the bloc’s Foreign Ministers on Friday, the EU in particular expressed its “grave concern” over China’s new security law relating to Hong Kong, which it said was not in line with Beijing’s international commitments. However, the EU — whose member states are divided about how strongly they want to stand up against China — stopped short of approving any sanctions against China.

Hong Kong demosThe issue of Hong Kong is particularly sensitive in Britain, the former colonial power. Now the UK is no longer a member of the EU it has to decide its own line on disagreements with Beijing. But in London, too, there are divided opinions, for example regarding the wisdom of letting the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei be integrated into the country’s 5G network. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is close to US President Trump, however, and the latter has become increasingly strident in his criticism of China, whom he particularly blames for the COVID-19 pandemic and for allegedly manipulating the WHO. Other Western governments have also increasingly expressed concern about what they see as China’s projection of disinformation since Xi Jinping consolidated his hold on power — a tactic previously mainly associated with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This does all lead me to wonder whether a new Cold War is in the offing. The last one, between Washington plus its allies against Moscow plus theirs, ended with the collapse of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the new one would be between Washington and Beijing, with a disparate group of nations lining up on either side. But whereas the US could with justification claim to have “won” the last Cold War, its chances this time are perhaps not so bright. Despite Donald Trump’s bluster about Making America Great Again, he has presided over his country’s decline on the international stage, while China, despite recent economic setbacks, partly related to COVID19, remains on the ascendant.

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