With China breathing down the neck of the West and of India is it too farfetched to imagine China’s tacit influence on the issues debated?
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have faith that the UK’s vaccine programme, hosting the G7 and COP26 will put Britain back into the global leadership bracket. Meanwhile, disruptions proliferate. Theresa May claimed Boris Johnson lacked moral leadership; lockdown is getting folks down—children, businesses and mental health are suffering. Mark Harper, Chair of the Covid Recovery Group wants Johnson to come forward with a plan for lifting the lockdown once the top four risk groups are vaccinated; further votes over the government Trade Bill are on the cards as an amendment made by peers could force ministers to withdraw from any FTA with countries that the High Court in UK ruled guilty of genocide. Tory MPs Nus Ghani and Sir Ian Duncan Smith have announced their intention to bring a revised amendment that would hold China accountable for Xinjiang abuses; there are issues with England’s supply chains to Northern Ireland and China is in overdrive to promote its vaccines and accuses the West of making vaccines an “invisible geopolitical issue”. If the vaccination roll-out is considered successful, it is hoped all the pandemic U-turns and contract cronyism will be forgiven, although according to YouGov six in ten people think the government has handled the pandemic badly, and finds government approval has dropped to 29% in all adults who responded.
Jim Shannon, DUP MP from Strangford, NI, brought forward the debate on Persecution of Religious Minorities in India, and made outrageous claims that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge of “complete freedom of faith” has not been adhered to and that police and the army have “sanctioned” attacks on minorities; Shannon blasted India’s anti-conversion laws and the CAA and the NRC. Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said he did not wish to lecture India and that UK government had to “accept politicians around the world feel that they can use religion quite wrongly to promote themselves, get into office and stir up their followers”. Barry Gardiner, Labour MP and founder of Labour Friends of India, is well known for his understanding of Indian affairs, began by suggesting participants have a sense humility and perspective, he said “Imagine when the Windrush scandal broke in the UK if there had been a debate in the Indian Parliament about the persecution of black people in Britain”. Gardiner reminded the members that as the former colonial power whose previous influence was not above pitting one religious or ethnic group against the other, it was likely that UK intervention in Indian policy would be inappropriate and unwelcome. Gardiner said the Indian State does not persecute minorities and gave examples of swift state action against the perpetrators of religious extremism. Gardiner also informed the members of the righteousness of the CAA, notably that Muslim migrants from Muslim countries cannot be a persecuted minority, and that the Act had been passed by both India’s Houses in India bicameral Parliament. Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnett, argued that “India’s record on minority faiths stands up to scrutiny… When it comes to protection of freedom of religion and belief, the more important focus of this House should be on places such as Pakistan…” Nigel Adams, Minister for Asia (UK no longer has a Minister for India as was the case under David Cameron), concluded the debate saying that discrimination holds back economies and that a core message of UK diplomacy is that communities are stronger, more stable and more prosperous when they embrace their diversity. He said “…we are able to discuss the most difficult issues with the Government of India and make clear our concerns, as they do with us, and as one would expect from close partners and friends.”
A second short debate on the political situation in Kashmir focused on human rights. It was brought by Labour MP Sarah Owen. In general Labour is no friend of India. John Spellar and Paul Bristow likened the treatment of Kashmiri Muslims to that of Rohingya and Uyghurs, an obvious Pakistani trope. Barry Gardiner defended India. He opened his commentary by noting, “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is not just strange but unique. It has been given the trappings of a country, with a President, Prime Minister and even a legislative assembly, but it is neither a country with its own sovereignty nor a province…and that all the major civil and police administrative positions in AJK are held by Pakistani civil and military officers.” Gardiner recommended that members do not “import the conflicts of the subcontinent into our domestic politics” and that UK policy remains rooted in the principles of the 1972 Shimla Agreement. Subsequently, James Daly, Labour MP wrote to the BCC congratulating them on depicting Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory. Thanks to MP Virendra Sharma’s intervention the BBC corrected the error and apologised.
The timing of these debates was suspiciously inopportune. With China breathing down the neck of the West and of India is it too farfetched to imagine China’s tacit influence on the issues debated? It is unfortunate to promote negative sentiments between Westminster and Delhi when UK will soon be seeking a trade deal, especially after the embarrassment suffered by India when Johnson reneged on the invitation to Republic Day.
Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary and the Media Freedom Coalition comprising Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the USA, have issued a statement condemning efforts by Chinese authorities to curtail media freedoms, and urging Chinese authorities to immediately release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, and all those detained in connection with their reporting.
Boris Johnson has chosen Cornwall as the epicentre for the G7, soon to be G10, not only because of its beautiful landscape, its contribution to the first industrial revolution but also because he is half-Cornish (who knew?). And the added excitement of UK’s first satellite space launch, from a Virgin Orbit 747 plane, could be out of Newquay Spaceport coinciding with the G7 Summit in June. To make amends to Cornish fishing communities who were not happy with the Brexit fisheries agreement, seafood exporters throughout UK will receive government funding of up to £23 million, to support businesses which have been adjusting to the challenging new requirements for exporting.