Edward Lucas
AUTHOR:Edward Lucas
06 September 2016

Eastern troubles

Ronald Reagan rightly termed the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” But if any country deserves that label now, it is China—host of this year’s G20 summit in Hangzhou. This beautiful city is where a handful of brave dissidents founded the China Democracy Party in 1998. Most are now in jail or in exile. Don’t expect any of the timid, trade-dazed Western leaders even to nod in the direction of the people who so foolishly dared campaign for Western ideals.

Or, indeed to complain about their host’s other misdeeds. President Xi Jinping has brought about China’s worst repression since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. At least 2,500 dissidents have been jailed, or simply disappeared. Christian churches—notably Roman Catholics faithful to the Vatican—are repressed. Last July, more than 300 human-rights lawyers and activists were detained or interrogated.

The rule of law in China is a farce. Torture and other abuses are endemic. The justice system is a tool of the Communist Party.

China is not just a dictatorship. It is an empire, trying to extinguish the language, history and ethnic identity of its captive nations. The Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang— who call their once-independent country East Turkestan—the people of Inner Mongolia and the hapless Tibetans have all felt the iron heel of Chinese imperialism. China is also squeezing Hong Kong and bullying Taiwan.

Chinese Communist Party influence stretches to the West too. No Western leaders now dare to meet the Dalai Lama. When Xi visits Western capitals, our police keep demonstrators out of sight. Who cares about political freedom when trade is at stake?

Of course, there is a case for putting business ties and economic development ahead of human rights. Those running debt-stricken, stagnant Western economies cannot afford to be too choosy.

But it is odd that the left—Germany’s Die Linke, the Nordic Green/Left alliance, British Corbynistas, U.S. supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, the Green presidential candidate) and others—have so little to say about a ruthless dictatorship that occupies and enslaves other countries, spoils the environment, locks up dissidents and crushes independent trade unions. Surely they should lambast Western governments for their greedy collusion with the regime in Beijing, just as they campaigned against trade with apartheid-era South Africa?

Not a bit of it. Britain’s supposedly hard-left Communist Morning Star (yes, it still exists), in a line that could have come straight from a China-Britain Business Council handout, wrote that “Xi’s crackdown on dissidents is clearly unpalatable…but judgements should be balanced.” Western soi-disant “anti-imperialists” decry America’s military presence in the Pacific but they don’t ask why countries from Japan to Vietnam are bothered by China’s territorial claims backed by artificial islands and a fast-growing arsenal of high-tech weaponry.

Perhaps most strikingly, they ignore Tibet, just as they overlook Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, which have suffered for centuries at the hands of imperialist Russia. Anyone who stands up to America—and that includes both Xi and Vladimir Putin—is ipso facto an instant hero to the left. It is entirely fair to point out that imperialism, slavery and dictatorship stain the history of the West. Plenty is wrong with Western foreign policy right now, though unlike China and Russia, America and its allies are at least trying, mostly, to be a force for good in the world.

But it is truly remarkable that the left raises its loudest voices against countries where protest is (still, broadly) legal, and where unpopular governments can be voted out of office—not against regimes where Western left-wingers would find themselves in jail within hours if not minutes.

Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the Center for European Policy Analysis. 

Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS