The Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on security challenges relating to China, on 14th July 2022:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I have spoken on numerous occasions about the ongoing tragedy in Xinjiang province. I have also spoken on various occasions about the worrying issues of surveillance and hacking of businesses and individuals in this country. It is very helpful to hear other noble Lords picking up on some of them. However, in the very limited time I have, I want to make a few comments building on some of those made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about China’s relationship with the Commonwealth. In particular, I want to focus on the soft power which maintains strong international bonds, bolsters our influence in the world and commends our western culture, rooted in an understanding which draws on Christian tradition.
Last year, Barbados decided to end its ties with the monarchy. The chair of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee noted:
“China has been using infrastructure investment and debt diplomacy as a means of control”—
he was referring to Barbados. In April this year, the Solomon Islands signed a security pact that could pave the way for a Chinese naval base there. China is also increasing its investment in Papua New Guinea with the recent $30 million purchase of a special economic zone. These events are happening at a time when we have cut our international aid—our practical involvement with many countries in great need of support. Surely this is the very time when we need to increase our involvement in the wider world and in the Commonwealth, to nurture strong relationships, not least through increasing the number of students and looking at trade. That helps those countries which, if we do not work with them, will look elsewhere, and China is all too ready to respond to the opportunities. This is particularly true and important in the South Pacific, where the ability to project naval dominance holds the key to curbing China’s ambitions in relation to Taiwan and the South China Sea. I therefore ask the Minister: what is the UK, alongside its allies the USA, Australia and New Zealand, actively doing to counter Chinese influence in these nations?
Extracts from the Minister’s response that followed:
Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con): My friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked about the economic and financial dialogue. No date has been agreed for it. Arrangements for it sit within the Treasury…. The noble Lord, Lord West, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked some very pertinent questions around issues in the South China Sea. We remain seriously concerned by militarisation, coercion and intimidation in the South China Sea, and we are opposed to action that raises tensions. We believe in the primacy of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and in freedom of navigation and overflight. We are clear that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is the legal framework for all activities in the oceans and seas. That is why we set out our full legal position on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the South China Sea to Parliament in September 2020. We have objected to China’s claims based on the so-called nine-dash line, and the “offshore archipelagos” concept, and believe they are unfounded in UNCLOS. We agree with the findings of the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award in this respect and we are supporting ASEAN partners to strengthen maritime law and security capacity, including by delivering law of the sea training in February.