BRITAIN should impose a diplomatic boycott of China in protest at its treatment of the Uighur minority, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has told peers.
The Government should also help to establish an international coalition to “stand up” to Chinese expansionism in the world, he said.
Speaking during a debate in the House of Lords last Thursday, led by Lord Alton, on genocide of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province, Dr Smith raised the question of boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics next February.
“Many people are calling for, as a minimum, a diplomatic boycott,” the Bishop said. “It is something that I support.” He disagreed with Lord Coe, a former Olympian and member of the International Olympic Committee, who had argued that a boycott would be a meaningless gesture.
“Let us be in no doubt,” Dr Smith said, “it would mean a huge amount to those Uighurs who are living in fear and feel abandoned to their fate.”
The Government might argue that it was using all the diplomatic routes available, he said, but diplomacy needed to be matched with action.
“Diplomacy in this instance clearly has not been bearing the fruit that we need if we are going to see China confronted. A diplomatic boycott may be a gesture, but it would be a strong gesture — one that expresses our anger and frustration at the events and atrocities going on in front of us.
“It would be a signal that the current diplomatic approach is unsatisfactory in the results it is producing, and that Western governments are capable of taking [the] most robust action in defence of beleaguered minorities across the world, in whichever country they may be.
“I personally believe that we need to find an international coalition to stand up to China on this. If we do not, there are many other areas in which it will expand.”
Britain’s bilateral trade with China exceeded £90 billion annually, Dr Smith said, asking whether it was better to strike a “Faustian bargain to maximise economic prosperity at the expense of foreign policy, or to accept that, in pursuit of the good, trade may be disrupted.
“The question is not whether this is the price to pay for standing up for the Uighurs, but whether the lives, welfare, and future of the Uighurs as a people are the concession that we make to healthy economic ties with China. What moral authority will we lose, and what price will the Uighurs pay, if we do not do all in our power, whatever the cost, to confront these dreadful atrocities that are unfolding in front of our eyes?”
Among other contributors to the debate was the former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson. “We should never pretend that sport and politics are not inextricably linked,” she said. “There is more politics in sport than in politics. . . Asking athletes on their own to boycott is not the answer; the medals just get divided up between the countries that are there.”
She asked: “Could the Minister have a conversation with DCMS about the athletes who choose to boycott the Games? How will they be supported for taking a moral and personal stance?”
Responding to the three-hour debate, which ended in an agreement to take note of the motion, Lord Alton said: “We will not be silenced on this issue. All of us who have spoken today will return to it again and again, until this injustice is properly recognised and put right.”