Beijing Announces More Sanctions as Academics Rally Behind Targeted Colleagues

The E.U., U.K., U.S., and Canada on March 22 announced targeted sanctions against a handful of Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and a week of angry retaliation against politicians, diplomats, and academics followed. This past weekend, the Chinese government issued additional sanctions against individuals and entities in Canada and the U.S. The Globe and Mail’s Nathan Vanderklippe reported on the sanctions against individuals and entities in the Canada and the U.S., which included a prominent opposition politician and a parliamentary subcommittee:

The Chinese government has issued sanctions against foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and on a Canadian parliamentary sub-committee that has accused China of committing “genocide” against Muslim groups in its Xinjiang region.

Canada’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights, however, unanimously found that China’s policies in Xinjiang amounted to genocide, in a non-binding decision last October. “Nearly two million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being detained, including men, women, and children as young as 13 years old,” the sub-committee said in a statement. “Witnesses noted that this is the largest mass detention of a minority community since the Holocaust.”

The Chinese government said it would also sanction Gayle Manchin, chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, as well as the commission’s vice chair, Tony Perkins.

Mr. Chong, a Conservative MP from Ontario, said in an interview that Beijing had issued sanctions rather than investigating evidence of abuses.

[…] “We have a responsibility to speak up for human rights abroad, for those people who are being subjected to gross human rights violations,” he added. “And if that means that China sanctions me, I wear it as a badge of honour.” [Source]

On social media, Chinese diplomats dialed up rhetorical attacks against the Canadian government as well. Apparently eager to join in the pile-on, a Chinese diplomat in Brazil called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog,” bringing back to a favorite insult from the Mao era. The Guardian’s Leyland Cecco reported on the insult, which was met by swift backlash in Canada:

But on Sunday, Trudeau was singled out for insult by China’s consul general to Rio de Janeiro, Li Yang in a tweet blaming him for the diplomatic crisis.

“Boy, your greatest achievement is to have ruined the friendly relations between China and Canada, and have turned Canada into a running dog of the U.S,” he tweeted.

[…] Because Chinese diplomacy is typically tightly controlled, Li’s message marks a rare and “disturbing” break from public statements by government officials, said David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China.

“[Li’s tweet] is a tremendous failure in Chinese digital diplomacy and soft power,” Mulroney said. “It’s as if someone has decided that it’s it’s okay to let people off the leash – or they’re unable to keep them on the leash. The first troubling, the second is worrying.” [Source]

With the tit-for-tat exchange of sanctions at an apparent pause, some observers were left wondering if Beijing had overreacted. In the end, the U.S., E.U., U.K., and Canada cumulatively targeted four Chinese officials and one entity, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The E.U., U.K., and Canada notably opted not to sanction Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Party chief hit with U.S. sanctions last year. Meanwhile, Beijing hit back against no fewer than 22 people and nine entities across the regions, including an academic, a centrist research institution, and a U.K. barristers’ chambers that included several sitting arbitrators in Hong Kong and a future non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s highest court.

The Financial Times’ Primrose Riordan and Jane Croft reported that Essex Court Chambers removed a reference to a legal opinion written by four of its lawyers that found a “credible case” that the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur people amounted to genocide. One of its members who sat as an arbitrator in Hong Kong also reportedly left the chambers shortly after the sanctions were announced:

Essex Court Chambers removed a reference to the legal opinion from its website after it was included in sanctions on Friday that targeted UK politicians, lawyers and academics in retaliation for criticism of China’s mass internment campaign in Xinjiang.

[…] A statement from the chambers said: “No other member of Essex Court Chambers was involved in or responsible for the advice and analysis contained in the legal opinion or its publication.” It did not respond to a request for comment on why the reference was removed.

[…] It is unclear if the sanctions apply to individual barristers but they cast uncertainty over the ability of Lord Lawrence Collins, who joined Essex Court Chambers as an arbitrator in 2012, to serve as a non-permanent judge for Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. [Source]

The presence of foreign judges on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has been a contentious issue since the passing of the Hong Kong National Security Law. The Hong Kong government hails their presence on the Hong Kong bench as evidence of the city’s continued commitment to the rule of law.

But the sanctioning of a foreign barristers chambers may have also catalyzed a rude awakening for the U.K. legal community engaged in commercial legal business and other legal work with China and Hong Kong. The U.K. government is currently formally reviewing whether to pull its judges from the court, and a decision is expected soon. On Monday, senior barrister and former chair of the England and Wales Bar Council Guy Mansfield QC,  published a letter describing the Chinese sanctions against Essex Court Chambers as a “call to arms”:

The sanctions and these actions against these lawyers for doing their job must be seen as an outright attack on all who offer services whether as lawyers or arbitrators to businesses and individuals in China. For what it means is that if a lawyer advises someone in terms which are unappealing to the Chinese government and the recipient of that advice makes it public or the Chinese government otherwise takes a dislike to what is being done by the client that lawyer is at risk of similar future sanctions.

The ramifications affect all British companies who do business with Chinese clients. Typically, such contracts include provision for disputes to be resolved by arbitration, often within Hong Kong. Henceforth, the members of the sanctioned chambers are to be refused admission to the territory of Hong Kong and the whole of China. So, unless the Chinese clients agree to an arbitration outside China, for instance in Singapore, the British firm’s freedom of choice of advocates is now subject to Chinese Government vetting.

[…] Today it is the members of Essex Court Chambers who are sanctioned. But tomorrow it might be Clifford Chance, Freshfields or some other major city law firm or Chambers of barristers which wittingly or otherwise offends the Chinese state. The Financial Times is right to say that ‘the situation underlines the increasingly difficult position for UK lawyers that are exposed to potentially lucrative arbitration work in China via Hong Kong’s legal system.’

[…] The commercial world must rapidly revise the basis on which it is prepared to contract with Chinese firms to insist on dispute mechanisms outside China if future contracts are to be made. [Source]

Within the academic community, researchers also rallied in support of Dr. Joanne Smith Finley, a reader in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University who was one of the people individually targeted with Chinese sanctions. The Times published an open letter, titled “Freedom threat,” signed by more than 400 academics in solidarity with Dr. Finley:

Sir, Beijing’s sanctioning of Dr Joanne Smith Finley is a threat to universities’ core principle of academic freedom. This unprecedented step matters profoundly for three reasons.

First, the Chinese Communist Party has long used covert attempts to silence critics outside its territory, but these overt new measures against academics are a serious escalation. Second, it reflects a misunderstanding of British universities. They are not organs of the state but autonomous institutions devoted to the pursuit of truth — however inconvenient to those in power. Finally, by in effect insisting that self-censorship is a prerequisite for academic partnership with Chinese universities, UK scholarly co-operation with China is rendered very difficult, if not impossible. We, as fellow academics, stand in full solidarity with Dr Smith Finley and assert our commitment to academic freedom. We call on the government and all UK universities to do likewise.

[…] [Source]

Cumulatively, the backlash in the political, legal, and academic spheres paint a picture of an emerging “whole of society” pushback against China’s aggressive foreign policy. But as The Washington Post’s former China correspondent and future Brussels bureau chief Emily Rauhala commented on Twitter, is it unclear whether this increasingly unified rebuke is being recognized in Beijing.


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