Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab making a statement in the House of Commons in London (AP image)
LONDON: Pressure is mounting on the British government to start applying its new powerful global sanctions regime targeting individuals involved in human rights abuses against officials in the Chinese government and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.
MPs from across the political spectrum are calling on the government to designate for the so-called “Magnitsky sanctions” those who exploit and abuse the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, commit human rights abuses against people in Tibet, and repress democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The sanctions are named after Moscow tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history and then was arrested on trumped-up charges and beaten to death in a Russian prison aged 37.
On Monday, a week after China passed its highly controversial national security law for Hong Kong, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab unveiled the new sanctions regime giving the government new powers to stop individuals (as opposed to states) involved in serious human rights violations from entering the country, channelling money through UK banks, or profiting from the British economy.
The same day Raab named 49 individuals and organisations in Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, North Korea and Russia to be designated for immediate sanctions. No Chinese targets were mentioned.
“It will be good to see representatives of the Chinese regime included, whether it is because of Tibet, the Uyghurs, or Hong Kong where we learn that free speech by protest having been suppressed, libraries and bookshops are now being purged,” said Conservative MP Tim Loughton during the House of Commons debate on the human rights sanctions.
“Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, other Muslims and Christians continue to be imprisoned in inhuman Chinese camps, which are a revolting violation of the universal rights held sacred by freedom-loving people everywhere,” added Conservative MP Imran Ahmad.
“There has been a remarkable silence on human rights violations in China,” said Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee. “As yet there is no announcement on any sanctions against those who are either exploiting or abusing the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, or repressing democracy activists in Hong Kong.”
Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith asked whether the government would be prepared to “follow through with the measures no matter who the individuals are, no matter how high they go, and even if it meant starting with Carrie Lam,” whose family, he said, have the privilege of British passports.
Labour’s Chris Bryant said: “I strongly urge the foreign secretary to look very carefully at whether Carrie Lam should not be on the list.”
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood called for “an announcement on China, not just on tactical issues to do with human rights, but on the wider foreign policy stance, given China’s trajectory”, whilst Labour’s Andrew Gwynne MP pressed Raab to “seriously consider opening the door to naming in any future designation the perpetrators of abuses under the new national security law”.
The DUP’s Jim Shannon called on the government to “act against human rights abusers in China”. “We must question any sanctions policy that does not target the Chinese officials responsible for the mistreatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where more than a million are in concentration camps and forced organ harvesting is undoubtedly taking place with the knowledge and support of the Chinese Communist party,” he said.
Raab said he would consider “further suggestions going forward based on the evidence.” “I will not pre-empt or prejudge further designations down the track, but we are already working on the potential next wave and will proceed based on evidence,” he said.
“The advantage that we have is that the measure allows us to continue to engage bilaterally with countries that, frankly, we need to, while having targeted sanctions, visa bans and asset freezes on the individuals who may be responsible,” he said.