China’s UK ambassador Liu Xiaoming recently gave an interview with the BBC at the HARDtalk program in which he answered questions put forward by host Stephen Sackur. The interview covered multiple topics, from free speech to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the ambassador was not able to provide convincing answers to the questions.
Hong Kong situation
Sackur started off by raising the issue of Hong Kong and asked whether the instability in the city is the biggest challenge Xi Jinping has faced during his presidency. Liu reminded that Xi had made an “authoritative” statement at the recent BRICS summit and said that his top priority for the city is to bring an end to the violence and restore order.
During the council elections, Hongkongers voted against Beijing by selecting pro-democracy candidates. The voter turnout stood at a record 70 percent. Of the 452 seats up for grabs, almost 400 of them went to the pro-democracy camp, with the result that 17 of the 18 councils in Hong Kong are currently under their control.
Liu dismissed the landslide victory of the anti-Beijing camp, calling it Sackur’s “over-interpretation.” He revealed that the pro-Beijing side received 40 percent of the vote share despite losing 17 of the 18 councils and indicated that losing an election is somewhat normal. However, Sackur pointed out that the Chinese officials have been saying that the “silent majority” of Hongkongers do not support protesters. Given that the votes have been dominated by the anti-Beijing camp, it is clear that the majority of the people do not support Beijing’s policies at all.
Unable to provide a counter to the argument, the ambassador ended up blaming “radicals” for harassing and threatening pro-Beijing candidates. He called the radicals “black terror” and said that their actions prevented people from going to the polls. But the ambassador did not give any data to prove his claims. He also supported the violent police actions, calling them necessary to protect law and order in the city.
Sackur accused China of breaking the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement with Hong Kong. As an example, he pointed out that Beijing had nullified a decision taken by the Hong Kong High Court that had disregarded a ban on face masks during protests. By doing so, China interfered with the legal system of the city, essentially breaking the “One Country, Two Systems” contract. Liu did not directly answer the question.
Attack on free speech
When asked how many political prisoners there are in China, Liu interestingly replied that there are none. Sackur pointed out that the answer wasn’t true. But the ambassador refused to entertain Sackur’s question and stated that no one is put behind bars just because of their thoughts. This is clearly a false statement by the ambassador since independent international organizations have constantly accused China of jailing political dissidents. A report by the Weiquanwang rights website counts 800 political prisoners who were behind bars in 2018 just because they criticized the Communist Party.
On the subject of the massive CCTV surveillance network in the country, Liu claims that such a system keeps Chinese people safe and happy. He asked Sackur not to judge China by the standards of other countries. On the question of Uyghur repression, Liu denied the validity of the recently leaked documents that revealed the extent of the persecution. He called it “fake news.” When Sackur quoted U.S. Vice President Michael Pence as saying that the Communist Party is brainwashing the Uyghur people, the ambassador called the VP a “China basher” and accused him of “demonizing China.”
Asked whether China is trying to replace the U.S. as the world’s biggest superpower, Liu denies that such an aim exists and said that President Xi’s vision is for a “shared future for mankind.” However, the ambassador’s answer, like his other replies, turns out to be false since Xi Jinping himself had already said at a national meeting in 2017 that he wants China to be a “global leader” by 2050. In fact, Xi stressed that it was time to make China a “mighty force” that will lead the world on economic, political, and military issues. The full interview can be seen here.