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Questioned in London this week on his country’s human rights record, Xi Jinping responded with the kind of explanation that would have appealed to Deng Xiaoping back in the 80s. Something along the lines of ‘human rights, with Chinese characteristics’. Universal, but to be applied only as it suits us.
WR Council member Douglas Stuckey was in London too, joining others in drawing attention to China’s chronic oppression of Tibet and reporting that:
“I was with the Tibetans to view the arrival of the Chinese dictator. The Chinese showed scant courtesy in dumping boxes of kit all over – baseball caps, red flags, etc – and ordering students and others to line the route. We should oppose Hinkley Point on grounds of security, technology, finance and humanity. After all, we should be first to say: ‘once you pay the Danegeld’.”
Earlier this year the Dalai Lama, perhaps the greatest regionalist of all, was another visitor to Britain, and specifically to Wessex. He was invited on-stage at the Glastonbury Festival (despite the usual foot-stamping warnings from the Chinese) before addressing a rally at Aldershot Town FC that Douglas also attended. Tibet matters absolutely. The involuntary loss beyond redemption of an insightful culture that took centuries to form is no less a crime against the world than the mass extinction of species demanded as the price of economic growth. Tibet also matters relatively. The media silence is deafening. Just why destructive events in east Asia matter less than those in west Asia is one of the sad mysteries of the British media malaise. Are the Tibetans not setting off enough bombs to be interesting?
Until 2008, the UK maintained its long-standing view that China’s relationship to Tibet was one of suzerainty, not sovereignty. Gordon Brown was the first PM to kowtow on that point. And clearly not the last. China’s detailed interest in Tibet arguably began as a defensive move, to keep the British out. Today, that’s as meaningless an argument as a Union Jack in Dublin now that France and Spain are our allies. Chinese attitudes to Tibetan nationalism are ones not simply of arrogant opposition – Beijing knows best – but of old-fashioned outrage that self-evident truths are being challenged. For Chinese diplomats, the right of nations to self-determination applies to existing states only, and if it does apply to aspiring nations then it is one that must not be exercised. The State defines the People. The People do not define the State.
How different things are in Europe! Well, watch carefully. The facts are that democratic change here would be ‘destabilising’ too and we just can’t have it. It might spook the markets.
The Catalans, denied by Madrid the right to hold a referendum on independence, voted for it anyway through elections to the regional parliament. Alex Salmond, interviewed for Catalan television recently, observed that Scotland had the process without the result, while Catalonia had the result without the process. Madrid, not content with prosecuting the Catalan leadership for being over-democratic, is now hinting that Catalonia’s existing autonomy might be revoked. Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows it to do this, in defence of the national interest. The last person who revoked Catalonia’s autonomy was General Franco: that’s how bad things are. West along the Pyrenees, in the region of Navarre, NATO is preparing its biggest troop exercise since the Cold War. Wonder why?
Further north, the French Parliament struggles to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Not because to do so would make French any less important, but only because it would deny French a monopoly in those historic territories where French is a foreign language. The Chinese, the Spanish and the French all have the same world view: THEIR rights to self-importance must be protected against any interference in their internal affairs, but the internal affairs of those they occupy are there to be trampled upon. It makes you feel so good to be British. At least we allow an independence referendum to be held, albeit with every institution of the status quo briefing against. But no, there’s no cause for self-congratulation here either. Consider ‘guided localism’ and all the other sinister phrases the Coalition inspired and the majority Tory government doesn’t even need to repeat. All these regimes regard autonomy as something they wind out on a string; not one sees it as a reflection of power rising from below, the only direction compatible with a vital democracy.
These are interesting times for Europe because Europe is losing the plot, demographically, economically and politically. The price is one to be paid in freedom. We don’t criticise the Arabs over sharia law and the funding of terrorism: we need their oil. We don’t criticise the Chinese over Tibet or human rights generally: we need their investment. Even if it’s a desperately bad deal for us, pursued for ideological reasons. And even if it means handing over the keys to our infrastructure, against sound military advice.
It can only get worse. The UK is becoming a Cornwall writ large, a place whose heavy industry has been destroyed by changing global markets, leaving only speculation and tourism to fill the gap. Cameron swims beside Xi like a minnow beside a whale. It's the pretence of mattering, in a world where even a united Europe looks lightweight and confused. Who benefits more from the UK becoming China’s new best friend, as the USA’s star sets in the west? The Chinese have views on trade unions and the work ethic that will fit nicely in Cameron’s Britain, but revenge for the Opium Wars will be sweeter.
The Left, wracked with post-colonial guilt, find it hard to offer an alternative. China’s economic success is a good news story to them, but if China now has surplus cash to invest abroad then China’s success has clearly been overdone. As for giving our power and wealth away to those elsewhere in the world who do not share our values, it’s a fair question whether this won’t increasingly lead to the undermining of those values at home. It’s a debate to which the Left have nothing constructive to contribute. They’re much too busy attacking free speech, and sawing off the branch that sustains them.
A fundamental aim of the Wessex Regionalists is to contribute to the creation of a sustainable and equitable global economy in which the health, security and liberty of all is paramount, regardless of race or creed. There’s no better place and time to start building that world than right here, right now. Do we still have the self-respect as Europeans to do that? We face a bleak future if we don’t. So far, all the signs point towards Thatcher’s poisonous legacy that everything has its price and that any exceptions to the rule must therefore be more cosmetic than real.