The Daily Telegraph

We won’t beat the China threat unilateral­ly

I agree with Trump that Beijing should be brought into line, but not by underminin­g global bodies

- CHRIS BRYANT Chris Bryant MP sits on the foreign affairs committee

He’s a jovial enough pachyderm of a chap, but Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, doesn’t like being contradict­ed, as I discovered when I asked him about the Trump administra­tion’s stance on China this week.

There’s one thing that I completely agree with him on, though. China poses a threat – to the West, to the “free world” as Pompeo likes to call it, and to the internatio­nal rules-based order, as I prefer to think of it. Industrial espionage and a complete disregard for intellectu­al property are intrinsic aspects of how China does business. China endlessly engages in traditiona­l spying, tracking foreign diplomats, politician­s and industrial­ists, listening to their phones, targeting them on social media and trying to catch them in old-fashioned kompromat stings (I know because they tried it hilariousl­y and unsuccessf­ully on me in Beijing last year). Chinese students in overseas universiti­es are expected to inform on their tutors and their fellow students.

Back home, the Chinese Communist Party has systematic­ally repressed its people’s rights to assembly, religion and freedom of speech for decades, but its recent actions show a totalitari­an regime anxiously tightening its grip. The new security law in Hong Kong admits no dissent of any kind; and the forced sterilisat­ion of Uighur women in Xinjiang province is clear evidence of what is starting to look like genocide, akin to what we saw in the 1930s. Of course, we should be calling this out and issuing tough sanctions against the officials involved. And we should be very wary of Huawei.

Thus far I agree with Pompeo. But my simple point to him was this: it’s a bit difficult trying to get China (and, for that matter, Russia) to abide by the rules-based order when the US keeps on underminin­g the rules-based order by withdrawin­g from multilater­al organisati­ons. He launched into an attack on virtually every multilater­al organisati­on going. The head of the WHO had been “bought”. The UN was a waste of time and its Human Rights Committee a “bad joke”. As for the G7, the G20 and even Nato, they all produced a shrug from him as if to say: “Really? Well, if we must.” I didn’t even bother pointing out that the US has also stymied the WTO by refusing to appoint members to its appellate body.

So, my point stands. It’s a bit difficult to call for China to abide by the rule of law when President Trump doles out pardons to his criminal friends; and asking the “free world” to unite in defence of the rules-based multilater­al order looks like hypocrisy when you’ve just torn up the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

What Pompeo and Trump fail to see is that the rules-based order doesn’t exist without multilater­al bodies laying down the rules. Yes, there’s bound to be haggling. You don’t always get your way. In the words of Bette Midler, “you’ve got to give a little, take a little”. Sometimes internatio­nal jobs go to less than perfect candidates for all sorts of political and geographic­al reasons. Compromise is the name of the game and ideologica­l purity normally gets short shrift. Yes, these organisati­ons are imperfect. My favourite candidate for reform is Interpol, which is vital to our security in an era of growing internatio­nal crime, but is regularly abused by Russia and China.

Reform should be our watchword, not withdrawal, because aggressive nationalis­m is part of the problem behind China’s steely totalitari­anism – not the answer to it. Government­s in India, Turkey and Brazil have already adapted Make America Great Again for their own banners – and China and Russia feel they are merely following in Trump’s size-12s. If the world continues to succumb, country by country, to the blandishme­nts of populism we will have no multilater­al bodies left to enforce the rule of law we say we value.

Ironically enough, our meeting this week was held at the In and Out Club. Whatever you think about Brexit, from now on the UK should be determined to be part of the In crowd, doubling down on our values, standing up for the rule of law, strengthen­ing multilater­al organisati­ons, campaignin­g with allies to get the best candidates into the top jobs and showing up the recidivist totalitari­ans.

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