The United States has hit out at China over its "bullying" of the U.K., saying that the Chinese Communist Party "threatened to punish" the country over its refusal to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to bid for contracts in the country's implementation of the next-generation 5G mobile network.
"The United States stands with our allies and partners against the Chinese Communist Party [CCP]’s coercive bullying tactics," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said Beijing had threatened to punish British bank HSBC and to break commitments to build nuclear power plants in the U.K. unless London allowed Huawei to build its 5G network.
He said HSBC's Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong, who also serves as an adviser to the Chinese government, had publicly supported "Beijing's disastrous decision to destroy Hong Kong's autonomy" with a draconian subversion and sedition law.
"That show of fealty seems to have earned HSBC little respect in Beijing, which continues to use the bank’s business in China as political leverage against London," Pompeo said.
"Beijing’s aggressive behavior shows why countries should avoid economic overreliance on China and should guard their critical infrastructure from CCP influence."
He said Australia, Denmark, and other democracies have recently also faced pressure to bow to China’s political wishes.
Pompeo's statement came after lawmakers from 18 countries formed a parliamentary alliance to mount a collective response to Chinese trade, security and human rights policies.
The group was formed amid widespread concerns about China’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong, its lack of transparency in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, its assertive behavior in the South China Sea and Chinese influence in domestic politics of democratic countries.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced on May 29 it would begin the process of taking away the special trade and investment status it grants Hong Kong, in response to China's decision to impose a national security law that ends the city's status as a separate legal jurisdiction.
The White House has also said it will move away from a decades-old policy of engagement with Beijing.
'Poor decisions' about China
U.K.-based writer Ma Jian said the U.K. had made a number of errors in its dealings with China.
"Xi Jinping's so-called Chinese dream is a dream of world hegemony," Ma said. "Any company, whether private or state-owned, are used as bargaining chips."
"The U.K. is already become an economic and trade zone for China, and it serves the U.K. right, because this government has made a number of poor decisions, about the pandemic, about Hong Kong and Huawei," Ma said.
Human rights barrister Michael Polak said the U.K. government had failed to take massive human rights violations facilitated by Huawei in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where at least 1.5 million Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been subjected to mass incarceration in camps.
"At no stage in the Government’s decision making process have they stopped to consider the evidence of the gross human rights violations facilitated by Huawei against the Uyghur and other Turkic people or the evidence of slavery within Huawei’s supply chain," Polak said in a statement.
He said Huawei is "deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang."
"It is bizarre and very concerning that our Prime Minister and Government have not stepped in to prevent this company selling 5G infrastructure whilst they are involved in what can only be considered as crimes against humanity," he said.
London-based Uyghur rights campaigner Enver Tohti, who is part of a legal challenge over the decision, said anyone implicated in crimes against humanity should have no place doing business in the U.K.
Meanwhile, exiled Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng said the collaboration of international lawmakers represents a growing awareness among democratic nations of the threat posed by Chinese ambitions to the international community.
"I think the key people at the heart of this alliance are pretty determined," he said. "Everyone is starting to recognize and be concerned about the impact that events in China could have on their own interests."
"Given this trend, it'll be harder for them to keep passing the same old toothless measures [they did in the past]," Wei said.
Spotlight on the United Front
Pompeo's statement came as an Australian think-tank issued a damming report on the Chinese Communist Party's far-reaching overseas influence operations -- under what it terms the United Front.
"The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is strengthening its influence by co-opting representatives of ethnic minority groups, religious movements, and business, science and political groups," the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report released on Wednesday. "It claims the right to speak on behalf of those groups and uses them to claim legitimacy."
Beijing's network of influence operates via the United Front, a network of party and government agencies charged with furthering the CCP's influence.
"The CCP’s role in this system’s activities ... is often covert or deceptive," the report said.
It said the United Front had extended its influence into foreign political parties, diaspora communities and multinational corporations, and represents an explicit bid to export China's political system around the world.
"This undermines social cohesion, exacerbates racial tension, influences politics, harms media integrity, facilitates espionage, and increases unsupervised technology transfer," the report said.
United Front work could be mistaken for diplomacy or propaganda, without the extent of its covert nature being fully grasped among democratic governments, it said.
The report called on governments to invest in analyzing foreign interference and to formulate public policy to prevent it.
"Foreign interference often takes place in a grey area that’s difficult to address through law enforcement actions," the report said. "Strengthening civil society and media must be a fundamental part of protecting against interference."
The report quoted President Xi Jinping as saying, in a 2015 meeting of United Front groups: "The United Front … is an important magic weapon for strengthening the party’s ruling position … and an important magic weapon for realizing the China Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation."
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, by Jia Ao for the Mandarin Service, and by the Uyghur Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.