Imagine 2020 in a parallel world. President Hillary Rodham Clinton is fighting for re-election, having vociferously pursued an anti-tariff, pro-NAFTA agenda on trade. The relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America is as strong as it has ever been. By extension, the United Kingdom has pursued an amicable foreign policy with the communist, market-economy regime (yeah, I don’t get it either). So, when the now-alarming news of a Chinese national security law being passed that imposes unjust sedition and treason charges on the people of Hong Kong filters into the ears of officials at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it causes myriad problems. There would almost certainly be federal legislators urging for sanctions to be imposed on China. However, I would wager that such sanctions would be vetoed by Clinton, for fear of damaging what is a productive and quasi-progressive relationship with another leading power. In the UK, where the legislature and executive are intertwined, this would prove a much more challenging issue.
Returning to the mess of a world that fate has decided to damn us with, it is striking how both the US and the UK have been so openly critical of China in recent weeks, whether it’s regarding the aforementioned security law or the horrific treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Of course, I welcome the recent scrutiny applied to what is a corrupt and murderous regime. However, I am more cautious about the regarding the intentions of those who are now placing said regime under scrutiny. I am particularly unsure that Boris Johnson’s government care at all about how any foreign regime treats its citizens, never mind one who is a significant threat to the West.
Sure, call me a pessimist. Go ahead – speak about the remarkable truths that Western liberalism holds and its universal search for world peace. Forgive me for thinking you naïve, but I do. You have drank the neoconservative serum with vigour and certainty, and it has pulled a thick layer of wool over your already drooping eyes.
Let us make a direct comparison. Where is the action against Saudi Arabia? They have a similarly atrocious human rights record. The most obvious of course is their contribution to the civil war in Yemen which needs no further explanation. Yet the UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, knowing with certainty that these weapons will be being used to murder innocent Yemeni civilians. Consecutive Conservative and coalition governments have happily shipped off explosive, guns, and missiles under the assumption that the Saudi regime will keep Iran – to them an even more destructive power – in check. By extension, the UK has been silent on various human rights abuses in countries like Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are subject to coordinated attempts to ethnically cleanse. Once again, where is the UK? Where is the West?
So, why is the UK so inconsistent as regards their human rights policy? The answer is obvious – they do not care about human rights. Sure, they dabbled with Duty to Protect during the early Blair years, but that ended swiftly once the Twin Towers fell and realist rhetoric took hold once again. If intervention is not directly advantageous to the UK, then governments simply will not bother. Pointing out human rights violations is a quick Get out of Moral Jail Free card, and it is swiftly applied by British governments when foreign powers become hostile. But with our current regimes, do we expect anything less?