Today, we begin the celebration of the Lunar New Year and welcome in the Year of the Tiger. I want to start by wishing all Mandarin-speaking friends gong xi fa cai and Cantonese speakers gong hei fat choy.
Over the past decade, I’ve been increasingly critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as it has unleashed a major clampdown on anyone who displays anything other than absolute loyalty to Xi Jinping and the Party. The intensification of repression in China has included some of the most severe atrocities—genocide and crimes against humanity—as well as a nationwide campaign of persecution against Christians; the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy; increased repression in Tibet; continued persecution of Falun Gong; the disappearance of human rights defenders, including attorneys; and the shutdown of whatever limited space previously existed for civil society, independent media, citizen journalism, and dissent.
In response to these appalling developments, I’ve been involved in helping to establish several initiatives—from the China Tribunal into forced organ harvesting to the Uyghur Tribunal into genocide, and from the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s two inquiries and reports on China’s human rights crisis in 2016 and 2020 to the foundation of Hong Kong Watch. And I’ve been privileged to play a small part in the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), the Stop Uyghur Genocide campaign, the China Democracy Foundation, the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, and Tories for Tibet.
As a result, I know I’m not popular in Beijing. In 2017, I was perhaps the first Westerner to be publicly refused entry to Hong Kong, the city that had once been my home and where I had started my career as a journalist and activist. I then found myself a target for the CCP’s intimidation efforts, receiving anonymous, threatening letters postmarked from Hong Kong at my home address in a sleepy suburb of London. Similar letters were also sent to my neighbors, my mother, and my employers. Such tactics are typical of the CCP in China—putting pressure on dissidents by threatening them directly and trying to get neighbors, relatives, and employers to silence them—but the idea that the regime thought this would work in London is bizarre.
And they didn’t stop there. At least five different British members of Parliament on five separate occasions have been lobbied by the Chinese Embassy in London, which has specifically asked them to shut me up. Then in October 2018, I was the target of a torrent of screaming verbal abuse by China Global Television Network journalist Kong Linlin at the Conservative Party Conference. After screaming at me, she physically assaulted my friend—an incident that was caught on camera and went viral. She was subsequently convicted in a British court of common assault.
More recently, the intimidation attempts moved into the digital realm, with fake email accounts being set up in my name and absurd emails being sent to parliamentarians, journalists, and others by my impersonator. I’m not the only one to be subjected to this—British MPs Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee; Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Conservative Party; Nus Ghani; Lord David Alton; and IPAC Coordinator Luke de Pulford, my friend and colleague, have all experienced a similar email campaign.
On a visit to Canada in late 2021, I received a more specific threat for the first time—an email that made reference to the exact hotel where I was due to stay in Vancouver. Compared with previous threats, this was more concerning because it indicated specific knowledge of my precise location. I received security advice that made me take this seriously, and I took appropriate precautions.
Why am I sharing all this now? For four reasons.
First, around the world, governments, parliamentarians, the media, and the public are finally starting to wake up to the dangers of the CCP. Xi’s regime is becoming not only increasingly repressive at home, but also increasingly aggressive abroad. But its “wolf-warrior” diplomacy is losing friends, and its long-standing infiltration, influence, intimidation, and espionage operations to subvert democracies are finally being exposed.
The recent decision by MI5, the British intelligence agency, to warn Parliament about the activities of the CCP’s United Front Work Department, and specifically one of its operatives, Christine Lee, is a very welcome development, if rather late in the day.
My experiences are just one tiny illustration of the much larger and wider threat that the CCP poses around the world. To understand the scale and range of the CCP’s tactics abroad, you would do well to read Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg’s book, “Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party Is Reshaping the World.”
Second, my experiences pale into insignificance when compared with the threats to Chinese, Hong Kong, Tibetan, and Uyghur exiles, who face a much more serious physical threat, as well as the emotional struggle of knowing that their relatives back in China may be in danger if they speak out against the CCP. But if the CCP is prepared to go as far as threatening Western activists and parliamentarians in their own homes and in democratic societies, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how much further they may go to silence those it regards as its own people in exile.
The third reason for sharing this—and doing so at this time—is that we must never, ever give in. The threats that I’ve received only embolden me to continue and to redouble my efforts. If anything, I regard them as a badge of honor. And it also shows me that far from being the confident, strong superpower it wants us to believe it is, the CCP regime is, in fact, weaker and more insecure than we may realize.
A regime that resorts to trying to silence critics abroad isn’t a superpower. A regime that puts at the top of the agenda in a meeting with a British MP a request to shut me up—especially when global challenges and issues such as climate change and trade were also on the agenda for that meeting—isn’t a secure regime. A regime that’s so scared about an article that’s due to be published about Hong Kong that it calls an MP to ask him to pressure me to withdraw the article ahead of publication is cowardly and paranoid. A regime that spends time and money sending letters to my 80-year-old mother in the English countryside in the hope that she’ll reprimand her son is one worthy of ridicule. By the way, my mother laughed at the letters and told me she had given up trying to tell me what to do 30 years ago.
In this Year of the Tiger, the free world should rediscover the characteristics of the tiger—fearlessness and courage—and stand up to the butchers of Beijing. The age of kowtowing is over. The example of Lithuania, a small but plucky nation that understands from its own history the value of freedom and that has stood up to the CCP with remarkable courage, should inspire us, as should Taiwan. Other democracies should stand with them, and together we should build a “United Front” for freedom to counter the CCP’s United Front.
Let us use this Year of the Tiger to fight back, to defend our freedoms at home, and to speak out for the people living under CCP repression within China’s borders. As the Winter Olympic Games open in Beijing on Feb. 4—Games that a criminal regime such as Xi’s should never have been allowed to host—let’s use them to shine a spotlight on the CCP’s crimes and generate maximum embarrassment for the CCP.
The fourth reason for writing this piece at this time is to say that I love China, specifically its culture, history, and diverse peoples. Throughout history, China has contributed so much to the world. My fight isn’t with China or its peoples, but with the CCP—and we should always differentiate between the two. Beijing and its proxies have accused me of being “anti-China.” The CCP’s wumaos earn their 50 cents every day on Twitter leveling this charge. But on the contrary, it’s because I’m deeply pro-China—as a country—that I want its diverse peoples to be treated with dignity and respect and to be granted the basic freedoms and rights that I enjoy. In that sense, it’s the CCP, with its repressive, mendacious character, that’s “anti-China.”
We should never confuse criticism of the CCP with anti-China or anti-Chinese racism. Such racism exists and, tragically, is increasing, and we should always call it out, condemn it, and counter it. But the CCP is increasingly setting a trap for us, suggesting that criticism of the Chinese regime is akin to racism. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when that regime is itself shaped by a deep racism that has had genocidal consequences for the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, other Muslim minorities, and Tibetans, among others. It’s possible to be genuinely anti-racist and anti-CCP at the same time, and it’s imperative that we are.
I first went to China at the age of 18 to teach English for six months in Qingdao. I made many friends there, went back to teach in a hospital during my summer holidays as a university student, lived in Hong Kong for the first five years after the handover, and traveled widely throughout China until I was no longer able to do so. I have very fond memories of making dumplings in Qingdao at Lunar New Year and of celebrating the festival in Hong Kong during my years there. I look forward to the day when I can return to China and Hong Kong—when they’re free—to celebrate Lunar New Year with my friends in liberty and without fear.
Let’s use this Year of the Tiger to redouble our efforts to work toward that goal. Let’s not allow the CCP to intimidate us. It’s said that the Year of the Tiger symbolizes “recovery” and “growth.” After the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world needs that. But let it not only be economic recovery and growth. Let’s work for recovery and growth in values, especially freedom, democracy, and human rights—which I hope the diverse peoples living under CCP repression today will one day enjoy.
Happy Lunar New Year.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.