Benedict Rogers, author of The China Nexus, says the Chinese Communist Party has complete intolerance for religion, including of Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and the Falun Gong.
New Delhi: Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist and writer specialising in Asian policy and geopolitics has recently published his book, “China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny”. Rogers has extensively written about Chinese atrocities against the minority communities in China. “The China Nexus” includes an in-depth account of the Chinese Communist Party’s assault on religion throughout China, including violations of religious freedom against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians. Religious persecution in China is at its most intense since the Cultural Revolution.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to Benedict Rogers in New Delhi last week, where he shared his insights. Edited excerpts.
Q: In your book, you have mentioned about human rights violations in China, about the issue of Tibet, Taiwan and China’s aggressive policies. Help our readers understand what this book is about.
A: Well, the book essentially tries to tell the story of the Chinese Communist Party’s repression in all its forms. Domestically against its own people, it looks at the genocide of the Uyghur people, the long-time repression and atrocities in Tibet, the crackdown in Hong Kong. It also looks at the crackdown in China itself against its own civil society, dissidents and religions. It also looks at China’s increasing threats to Taiwan, the threats to the rest of the free world and also the regime’s complicity with the two other regimes on its borders that are also committing atrocity crimes—Myanmar and North Korea. So, it puts all that together in one picture and it’s told through quite a personal lens. Although it’s not a personal memoir, it does draw on my extensive experiences of living and travelling around China.
Q: You have extensively mentioned about the atrocities against the minority communities in China; I am sure you did not have access to those areas where they are kept. So how did you document these experiences and evidences you have presented in your book?
A: In case of particularly the Uyghurs and Tibet, obviously access to those regions is extremely difficult or almost impossible and especially for me as I have already been denied entry to China. So I had to rely on first hand testimony of quite a number of people who have escaped. I have spoken to a large number of Tibetans and Uyghurs in exile, have interviewed some of them who have escaped in recent years so as to have the most updated documents. I also looked at secondary sources of reports from other human rights organizations, from media organizations, those who’ve used satellite technology, for example, to document the prison camps in the Uyghur areas, United Nations reports and other background material.
Q: What kind of human rights violations are you talking about? Can you shed some light?
A: I have documented first-hand extremely harrowing painful testimony of people. I have interviewed people who told me their stories, collected evidences of horrific torture and widespread systematic torture of forced organ harvesting—the forcible extraction of organs from prisoners in the Uyghur areas in the Xinjiang region. The use of widespread campaign of forced sterilization, forced abortions, forced labour, rape, etc. The CCP has total intolerance for religion of all kinds, there is a massive crackdown on persecution of the Uyghur Muslims which has resulted in destruction of mosques. Muslims being imprisoned for basic religious practices, the all-out assault on Tibetan Buddhism, trying to turn Tibetan Buddhists into Han Chinese culturally, the persecution of the Falun Gong. Those are some of the examples of the really severe human rights atrocities and I would say that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity on more than one count; I mean the United States State Department, both the previous administration and the current administration, has officially declared the Uyghurs to be facing genocide. An independent tribunal that was held in the UK also described these atrocities as crime against humanity.
Q: In your book, the Dalai Lama has mentioned that as part of the solution for Tibet, a middle ground can be approached where Tibet can have an autonomous government with the larger control of the region can be with China. Do you agree with this view?
A: First of all, I hugely respect the Dalai Lama’s position and I think he has shown the most remarkable moderation and reasonableness given how much he personally has suffered and his people have suffered all these years and to be able to come to that kind of compromise position shows remarkable strength on his part. Ultimately, it’s not for me to say what the solution should be, I think that should be for the Tibetan people to decide. I don’t believe, however much I respect the Dalai Lama’s in principle approach, I don’t believe that approach can be achieved under the current regime in China because the current regime in China has other models of so-called autonomy which is it has completely destroyed. The most obvious example is Hong Kong where under an international treaty it promised a high degree of autonomy of basic freedoms to Hong Kong and halfway through that treaty, it has totally destroyed. Xinjiang is supposedly an autonomous region and yet it’s a province of concentration camps. So, I don’t think the model of autonomy under this regime is possible. This regime cannot be trusted at all.
Q: Is China’s aggressive nature with its neighbours as part of its expansionist policy? For example, what it’s doing in Taiwan, its activities along the India-China border are all seen by many as its aggressive expansionist policy. What’s your take?
A: I think the regime, particularly under the current leadership of Xi Jinping, has an agenda of world domination and effectively the idea of one world under one emperor. I know many people would think that’s an exaggeration and say they’re not militarily expansionist. If we look at the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, they invaded two very significant territories, Tibet and East Turkmenistan, and if they hadn’t invaded those two lands, the China of today would be a much smaller landmass. However, they may not be invading militarily yet, although we have to watch the situation in Taiwan; but they are certainly infiltrating and trying to coerce and gain influence, intimidate and threaten their critics well beyond their borders.
On a very personal anecdotal level and I described this in the book, I myself have received threatening letters from anonymous people at my home address, they sent letters to my neighbours in the street where I live in London, they sent letters to my mother who lives in a different part of the country, asking her to tell me to stop my activities. On a more official level, I have also had two letters from the Hong Kong police, saying what I do based in London, I should stop it. They have no business to interfere in my work in London, but using the extra territoriality clause of the national security law in Hong Kong, they have accused me of violating the national security law and threatened me with a prison sentence which obviously they can’t enforce very easily but nevertheless that threat is there.
On a much bigger level, there are a lot of concerns about their influence in universities in the West, particularly Western democracies. India knows this issue extremely well because you’ve got it on your very border and you’ve had military exchanges on the border; so I think if you look at each piece individually, you might think well it may be a small problem, but if you take it collectively, it represents a very clear picture of China’s attempt to dominate the world.
Q: You have mentioned in your book that the turning point in China’s foreign policy perhaps was the 2010 Olympics and that is also the same time when Xi Jinping took over as the head of the regime in China. Why and what exactly happened then?
A: In the book I describe about my experience. During the mid to late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, I had been a regular visitor to China; it was also during the same time that there was genuinely a sense that China was opening up and not just economically, but to a certain extent with relaxing political limitations; there was some space for civil society, some degree of religious practice, etc. During those years, I met Chinese human rights lawyers who were able to take on cases and represent people within the Chinese system and I was never under any illusions that the Chinese Communist Party wasn’t still repressive; I think it’s in its nature inherently to be repressive, but it was at least relaxing a little bit and I was hopeful that things would go in that direction. But I think what happened was, firstly, the Chinese Communist Party leadership having secured the 2010 Beijing Olympics and having entered the World Trade Organization felt that they got what they wanted from the rest of the world didn’t have to spend more time winning hearts and minds internationally, this emboldened them. Secondly, they saw the various kind of colour revolutions around that time in other parts of the world—the Middle East, North Africa, Ukraine—and were unnerved by that. You’ll be aware of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, it was around that time he launched Charter 8, which was a campaign for democracy in China. So all these factors I think made the leadership worried and made them decide that this period of relaxation had gone too far and they felt it was starting to threaten their power and therefore they decided to clamp down. Then they chose Xi Jinping as the new leader and I think he’s not alone responsible for the crackdown; it was a collective decision, but certainly he has intensified and accelerated the crackdown in a way that possibly might not have happened if there had been a different leader.
Q: But on the contrary, China states that much of what is written against it, is part of a global propaganda unleashed by the US and its allies to stop China from replacing the US as the next superpower. How would you respond to this?
A: I am not at all anti-China; in fact I am very pro-China. You will see from my book I had wonderful experiences in China, I love China as a country and its people and because of my love for China that I speak out about the human rights issues. I want the people of China to be free and to be treated with human dignity and I think this is true of how the West thinks as well.
I don’t think we have a problem with China as a country advancing progressing, developing economically, playing its role in the world, our problem is with the Chinese Communist Party regime and the way it handles its power. If you had a responsible government in China that treated its people decently that didn’t pose a threat to the rest of the world and that could grow as a responsible power in the world, I don’t think anyone would have a problem. But the problem is that the Chinese Communist Party is using its power to not only repress its own people, but also to threaten the freedoms of others.
One of the key things that Dean (Dean Baxendale, publisher of the book) works on is looking at propaganda, disinformation and misinformation operations by the Chinese Communist Party all over the world. He looks at Canada very specifically and in Canada, for instance, they control 56 media outlets, this creates a great deal of opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party to control its diaspora population. We have seen a shift from the Cantonese speaking people to the Mandarin Beijing elite that have come to Canada, invested heavily in the country and also some of that money is coming reportedly through organized crime and money laundering operations. The Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping have laid out the 2049 plan for China which is a target to make China the predominant global hegemon. I think the reactions to China’s activities are only starting to be solidified in the last two or three years where people have started to recognise the high level of the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party, their influence and operations of buying of politicians and the economic coercion. With the idea of buying into cheap goods for which we have outsourced all of our manufacturing to China, we have now become a slave to China which is turning out to be an economic capitalist and big tyrannical power The West is finally waking up to this and speaking out against China and their overall expansionist policy. Also, if China thinks it’s all a Western agenda, open up your country, let us go to Tibet, to Xinjiang, to Hong Kong and see if you’re actually abiding by the rule of law and providing the people and citizens with their opportunity to succeed and to practice their own freedom and freedom of religion, freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of opportunity. I think we once were in there, we won’t find that to be the case.
Q: China is shoring up a lot of allies, is investing massively in many countries and has one of the most advanced armies. Is China already a superpower irrespective of what the world says?
A: The degree of its economic influence, its military size and power, yes, I think definitely makes it a superpower; I would just qualify that by saying that it should not result in an attitude of defeatism in the West or in the free world as a whole. We shouldn’t be cowed by the fact that China is a superpower; we should take it as an incentive to step up our own efforts to counter their influence around the world. I also think that even though they are a superpower, they themselves feel fragile because of the fact that they exert so much effort into attacking or intimidating or trying to silence critics. This suggests that they’re not as confident as they would wish us to believe; so we should take courage from that and stand up to defend our values.
Q: China is an immediate neighbour of India and we have faced hostilities from China, even the recent episodes of border clashes between the two countries highlight China’s expansionist policy. But India is perhaps among the few countries that can challenge and is challenging the Chinese expansion. However, an alternate view is that rather than seeing China as a foe, India should take a more subtle approach and treat China as a friend and not become a part of the larger US “game”?
A: I think we need a balanced approach, one that recognizes the challenge of China very seriously and prepares for it. In the case of India, it is prepared to stand up to it, without doing anything to prematurely or unnecessarily provoke a confrontation. Sometimes people ask me, are you for engagement or against engagement and my answer is I think we should always try to engage with China. But the question for me is what type of engagement, on whose terms and with what objectives? Can India talk to China? Can India try to resolve and reduce the tensions, and should it? Of course, it should, nobody wants conflict and efforts should be made to make China more of a friend. But the problem is until the Communist Party changes its ways and becomes less of an aggressor externally and a repressor internally, it’s impossible to make that regime a friend.
I think within the present situation, China now views India as a threat because India is a democracy, a Parliamentary democracy and there has been great progress under Narendra Modi economically and a great investment in infrastructure in India has taken place. The United States, Canada and other countries are looking at India to potentially be a good investment destination and quite frankly, this is where we should have invested our money 30 years ago. Since India is a potential threat, I think China is going to try to undermine more and more of India’s politics, infiltrate into the country through monetary influence as they have been doing around the world, buying world leaders, economically creating opportunities, etc. I think India should be mindful of this.
Q: China has been using Pakistan to indirectly inflict pain upon India and we have seen in the past, the West has failed to stand up against Pakistan on many occasions, in turn, hurting India and emboldening China and Pakistan. What is your take?
A: India is a democracy and a democracy with a long history and we should definitely stand with India. I actually worked on Pakistan for a few years and I had close friends in that country too. A very close friend of mine was assassinated in Pakistan, I myself missed a bomb in Islamabad on one occasion by five minutes. Pakistan as a country has contributed to extremism and terrorism and has not dealt with extremism and terrorism within its own borders and at the same time it is allied to China. As a Muslim country, I find it shocking that not only has it not spoken up for the Uyghurs and their genocide in China, but worse is it has actually taken China’s line on the Uyghurs. I find that really hard, but I do understand that it’s because of the money that China is putting in that country; but nevertheless, morally I find it shocking and the West should take a much more robust line with Pakistan on all these issues. I think the democratic world should stand with India in the confrontation with China and should be much more robust on the challenges that India faces from Pakistan.
Q: If Xi were to abdicate his position today, do you believe that the policies of China will change, or has China reached a point of no return?
A: I think within the Chinese Communist Party, there are definitely different factions and different shades of opinion and there certainly is a faction that is less ideological and more pragmatic, but of course they will still be repressive, but there is the possibility for a more moderate wing to take over. The problem at the moment of course is Xi Jinping who has stacked the decks of the party very much with his own faction and so it depends how the infighting plays out. I wouldn’t say it’s past the point of no return for change in China. I also think change ultimately will come from within, whether that is from within the party or from within the people, it’s more difficult to predict at the moment. As far as the party, I don’t think there can be a change in the infrastructure and hierarchy of the party sets itself up in such a way that no matter whether Xi Jinping leaves and somebody else comes, the doctrine and the levels and layers within the apparatus of the party will not allow for it to deviate much from its current trajectory, which is really a developed Marxist-Leninist approach.