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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its grip on the world, the political blame game has kicked off and is in full swing. 

President Trump and his officials have referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”, or the “Wuhan virus”, and a diplomatic spat has emerged between the White House and the World Health Organisation.  The British Government has seemingly indicated that “China faces a ‘reckoning’” over their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, covering-up the start of the outbreak. A China Research Group has recently been set up by senior Conservative MPs, led by Tom Tugendhart MP who explains that the group is needed to “promote debate and fresh thinking” in relation to China’s economic ambitions and global role, adding that the group would not be “anti-China”.

There is an increasing amount of commentary calling for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to take responsibility for the cover-ups and delayed responses which – it is argued by many – has caused COVID-19 to have a far wider reach than it would have had if the CCP had taken action before the mass exodus of those in China for Chinese New Year from the middle to the end of January 2020.

On top of any allegations regarding the role of the CCP in allowing COVID-19 to become a global pandemic, we who work in the field of human rights are more than alert to the many incidents of human rights violations perpetrated by the CCP against Tibetans, Uyghurs, pro-democracy Hongkongers, and anyone who speaks out against the regime or embarrasses party officials. However, it should be remembered that the CCP is not the same as China or her peoples, and that criticism of the CCP should never be mistaken as criticisms of China or her peoples. As such, we stand resolutely together in saying that we are both pro-China, and we both love the country and the peoples of China.

The Chinese Ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, recently wrote in the Financial Times that: “Those who seek to stigmatise China owe Chinese people an apology.”  China is said to have a history of 5,000 years, although the earliest written records of China is thought to date from as early as 1250 BC during the Shang Dynasty. In contrast, the CCP’s history only spans back to 1921, and the CCP has only controlled mainland China since 1949, establishing the People’s Republic of China. The CCP’s 70-year rule of China so far is but a small fraction of China’s long history.

The well-oiled CCP propaganda machine regularly churns out rhetoric across state-controlled media that to be patriotic, you must also love the CCP. However, any criticism of the CCP and its policies is, in reality, no more a criticism of China and her peoples as a criticism of the Royal Family and the Crown, or 10 Downing Street and the governing party, being equivalent to a criticism of the United Kingdom and her peoples as a whole. In a recent conversation one of us had with a media editor in China, the question was raised: “In your personal opinion, do you need to love the CCP to love China?” The editor’s answer: “No. But here is how people are educated, thus to enhance the government’s ruling.”

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes political science as that which is concerned with investigating “fine and just actions”, and what constitutes good, fine and just actions will be subject to “variety and fluctuation of opinion”. The ultimate aim of participating in politics is to promote good (Arist. EN I.3.). By participating in any political dialogue in criticising the CCP, our aims are purely to promote what we feel are “fine and just actions” for China and her peoples. Highlighting how one can love one’s country but oppose the serving government, Dr Sun Yat-sen, who opposed the Chinese Government of his day leading the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, is even revered by the People’s Republic of China and mentioned by name in the preamble of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

Whilst we consider that the CCP must be held accountable, especially those that have resulted in wholesale breaches of human rights, it should also be remembered that this does not make the Chinese people complicit. Indeed, it is the people of China who are the primary victims of the regime’s inhumanity. The unfortunate fact is that the CCP’s propaganda machine prevents many people from knowing the truth of what has happened, and what is happening. World famous dissident artist, Badiucao, did not know of the Tiananmen Square massacre until he came across a documentary embedded in a film that he and his friends at university had downloaded. 

Deng Xiaoping, on 10 April 1974, gave a speech at the United Nations. Towards the end of his speech, he said: “If one day China should change her colour and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.” We speak out because, as Deng Xiaoping said, we are identifying, exposing, and opposing the CCP’s social-imperialist policies.  We speak out because of our desire to fight injustice, and because of our love for China and her peoples.

Benedict Rogers is founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and works for the international human rights organisation CSW.

Perseus (a pseudonym) is a Hong Konger based in the UK. He is a freelance photographer specialising in journalistic photos, street photography and portrait work. He is also a qualified lawyer practicing in human rights and public law.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.