Tracing the Origins of Uighur Oppression in Xinjiang

It is only in recent years that the headlines of the most prominent Western media publications have fully communicated the extent of China’s human rights violations in the region of Xinjiang. To be sure, the damning charges that have been brought against China reflect the increasingly authoritarian edge of Xi Jinping’s regime. However, (without being too teleological) the roots of cultural genocide and oppression in Xinjiang can be traced deep into China’s past. A brief synopsis of Xinjiang’s history is integral to gaining a firm understanding of the current political situation in the region.

The region, located in the Northwest of China, has long been demarcated as an autonomous zone. However, the situation on the ground scarcely aligns with the purported theoretical framework of a self-sufficient region. Indeed, the Chinese central government have long kept close de facto control of Xinjiang through what can only be described as brazenly intrusive measures.

In more recent years, Xi Jinping’s CCP has inflicted a series of ethnoreligious and political clampdowns on the Uighur population. The catalogue of abuses levelled at the Chinese government makes for bleak reading. Namely, the authorities are reported to have detained large swathes of Uighurs in ‘re-education’ camps under strict surveillance. Reasons for detention are as trivial as attending services at Mosques, sending texts with Quranic verses, and having contact with Afghanistan and Turkey. Large numbers of detainees are said to have been left with no legal avenues to challenge their detention. Shockingly, in December 2020 the BBC reported that up to half a million people were forcefully being made to pick cotton in the region which bears a repugnant reminiscence to slavery. Reports of forced sterilisation and abortion are also abhorrent. Furthermore, population figures suggest the occurrence of a state-sanctioned mass migration of the Han Chinese population into the region that had thinned the indigenous Uighur population. China’s policy in the region appears to be nothing short of cultural genocide.

This unforgiving and frankly brutal policy of ‘Sinicization’ underscores the CCP’s ambition of securing Han political and cultural hegemony in the nation. We can trace back similar policies initiated by central governments in China that have culminated in the current situation today. Xinjiang was first conquered by forces belonging to the Qing Dynasty in 1759 but officials initially adopted a hands-off non-integrationist approach that respected cultural plurality. Yet, the ascription of provincehood to the region in 1884, after the Qing regained control of the area, marked the first didactic attempt to assimilate the region into Han society. Nonetheless, when the new Republic of China inherited the region in 1911 it remained nothing more than a distant colonial appendage. This relationship was to change drastically when the Chinese Communist Party took the reins of power.

Mao Zedong proclaimed a ‘new China’ which was to be defined by the relationship between ‘China proper’ and outer lying areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia. To mimic Soviet ‘ethnofederalism’, Xinjiang was designated as an autonomous region in 1955. Yet, this categorisation scarcely devolved power to the indigenous population of Xinjiang. The region could not secede from China and very few indigenous populations were able to secure authority through political office as the Han maintained their position as the ruling class. Population demographics from the 1950s to the 1970s are particularly telling. Somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000 Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities fled the country as a direct result of the Great Leap Forward. Conversely, the state exacerbated ethnic tensions by encouraging the movement of Han into the region with the proportion steeply rising from 7% to 40%.

Reforms in the 1970s and 1980s brought a period of short-lived promise for the Uighur population. Between 1982 and 1987, the general secretary under Deng Xiaoping’s government, Hu Yaobang, spearheaded liberalising reforms that respected ethnic self-determinism and local culture. However, conservatives in the party were to eventually oust Hu and blame his policies for stoking agitation in the region. Troubles in the 1990s were partially driven by the collapse of the Soviet Union which was misleadingly interpreted by those in authority as engendered by ethnic self-determinism. Thus, China begun the uncompromising ‘Strike Hard’ campaign in 1996, which saw mass arrests, executions, and human rights violations against protest groups. Whilst the Uighur population did use violence as a vehicle for change throughout the 1990s, such as the Ürümqi bus bombings, this was a reaction to the execution of 30 suspected separatists in 1997 following what was described as a peaceful protest by Western media organisations. After Washington called for a ‘war on terror’ in the early 2000s, Chinese authorities pounced on the opportunity to reframe their oppression of the Uighur populations as an act to suppress terrorism rather than ethnic self-determinism.

A brief synopsis of Xinjiang’s association with China that stretches back into the nation’s dynastic past reveals that its relationship has been long and complex. Levels of oppression and intrusion into the region have ebbed and flowed. The true picture of the repulsive violation of human rights that the Chinese government are presently carrying out is still emerging. Nonetheless, what is certain is that is has roots deeper into the past than most are aware of.

Ben Carter, History in Politics Summer Writer

Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide: the Potential Impact of Brexit and Anglo-Turkish relations.  

Only 33 countries worldwide (and the European Parliament) have formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide despite the consensus among historians and other academics outside Turkey being that the actions of the Ottoman Empire (now the Republic of Turkey) were genocidal. The UN defined genocide in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Article II also includes a list of actions committed against a group that would be considered genocidal: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately infliction on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Based on this, there should be no doubt that the massacres should be considered a genocide as approximately 1.5 Armenians were killed by the Ottomans between 1915 and 1917, many of them killed on the death marches or as a result of deportation. It has been over a century since the Armenian Genocide, so why is the UK government still so hesitant to acknowledge it as such?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Credit: Reuters)

The Republic of Turkey acknowledge that a significant number of Armenians were massacred, but they do not accept that a genocide occurred and have adopted a policy of genocide denial, with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, claiming that there is no ‘stain or a shadow like genocide’ in Turkey’s past. In April this year Joe Biden became the first US president to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide even though there had been warnings from the Turkish foreign minister that this would further damage the relationship between the two countries. The relationship between Turkey and the US is very different to the relationship between Turkey and the UK, and this may explain why one leader has been able to recognise the genocide for what it is while one of them has not yet acknowledged it. Turkey and the UK generally have a good trading relationship, with 6% of exports from Turkey going to the UK. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK’s direct investment in Turkey in 2011 reached $917 million (c. £679 million) and there are 2,362 companies with UK capital operating in Turkey. This means that potentially ruining the relationship between the UK and Turkey could have a significant economic impact on the UK.

In the context of a post-Brexit United Kingdom where Turkey is a potentially very important ally economically, this gives Turkey significant power over the UK in terms of dictating whether the Armenian Genocide can be officially recognised. The UK government has struggled somewhat when it comes to trade agreements post-Brexit with most of the current agreements just rolled over agreements with countries that had trade agreements with the EU that now apply to the UK individually as well. However, Turkey is one of the few countries that has negotiated a trade deal with the UK that does not just have the same terms as their agreement with the EU. It is evident that the current UK government has placed a great deal of value on this deal, not least because Boris Johnson, who previously championed the Turkish attempts to join the EU, now believes that it would be best for Turkey to remain outside of the EU. Given that the EU negotiates trade deals for all member states, if Turkey were to join the EU it would render the new trade deal with the UK void and the UK would lose an important trading partner that, based on the actions of the government, it cannot afford to lose.

Earlier this year the Armenian Genocide (Recognition) Bill was introduced to parliament and, if successful, would require that the UK government formally acknowledge the massacres of Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as a genocide. However, this is not the first time that a Bill like this has been introduced to parliament, there have been 17 previous attempts since 1995 to force the UK government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, none of which were successful. If the UK government was not confident enough that they could acknowledge the massacres as a genocide without there being significant economic consequences while a part of the largest trading bloc in the world at the time, it is not likely that the new Bill will be successful now that the UK has left the security of that trading bloc.

Lauren Gannon

Home Ownership: is it the key in Britain’s inequality crisis?

Housing reform is necessary. That, as a statement, is perhaps one of the few things undisputed between the major parties in Westminster. Not enough affordable homes are accessible, leaving many within a rent trap, never quite managing to make it onto the housing ladder. Yet under the surface issue of getting the next generation onto the housing ladder lies an issue of greater concern. If left unchecked, the imbalance within the housing market, coupled with long-time economic woe for lenders, could be Britain’s next ticking time bomb and have disastrous socio-political consequences.

The catalyst of this socio-political crisis that is beginning to brew is economic. Following the 2008 Financial Crash, economic growth in the UK has struggled to get back onto its feet. Productivity remains stagnant and lags behind other G7 nations. Attempting to stimulate economic growth, the central bank has, throughout the decade, maintained low interest rates to persuade people to spend rather than save. The rationale is straightforward enough. More gets produced if money is being spent, and not sitting in current accounts accruing interest. Yet, so far, such a strategy is yet to bear fruit.

A house left derelict in Brixton, London. Mercury Press & Media (Credit: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/crumbling-home-abandoned-30-years-22352062)

There is, however, a further, longer-term issue with the central bank’s policy on interest rates which is of greater concern. Ever since the UK government brought in inflation targeting in 1992, an economic policy where the central bank targets a certain inflation rate, interest rates have trended consistently downwards. Whilst great for home-owners with mortgages, for young people looking to save it is increasingly difficult to build up the finances required for the deposit to a house.

What does this have to do with an impending socio-political catastrophe? Simply put, right now there is no way for young people to reach the housing ladder, being perpetually stuck within the renting market. This, by itself, is not damaging to the socio-political situation within the UK. Other developed European countries across the continent have renting cultures and, if anything, dismantling the constructed expectation to house-own would likely be an improvement to British culture.

However, it is not certain that the impending economic change will achieve such a culture shift, and the consequences of retaining a house owning culture within a renting society are worrying.

Even ignoring, momentarily, the short-term recorrection of the market that would occur when demand for houses is outstripped by supply as a largely property-owning baby boomer generation passes away, unattainably expensive houses for the generations following will still remain. Instead, the most worrying concern is the impact it could have on an already expanding inequality within the UK.

This is because the gap between those who have and those who have not will become unbridgeable. With an inability to save for that deposit, those with parents who already own houses may find that inheritance is the only way onto the property ladder. Owning a house will become a sign of significant family wealth and concentrate privilege to an ever-decreasing minority, whilst those stuck with the financial pressures of paying rent will fall further and further behind.

And, as history points out repeatedly, such unsustainable inequality leads to increased political extremism and conflict. It would be naïve of us to assume that we would not be subjected to the same increase in political extremism that defined the French Revolution, the formation of the Soviet Union, and 1930s Germany. Indeed, in the 19th century there was a fear that Britain would follow a similar path to the examples listed above, as events such as the Peterloo Massacre and the Hyde Park Riots threatened to be the UK’s own Storming of the Bastille, as protestors demonstrated against the inequality within Victorian Britain.

Disraeli and Gladstone can be largely applauded for quelling such extremist politics with their reformative platforms. So what ,then, do we do about our modern conundrum? Well, were we to copy from the economist’s textbook, there would be one of two options: change the government’s fiscal policy or change its monetary policy. Either the government could go down a monetary route, scrapping inflation targeting and artificially raising interest rates. Or it could go down the fiscal route of greater spending, through the building of more affordable homes.

Yet, whilst the causes of this crisis may be down to our economic history, we must take a more socio-political approach in attempting to prevent such a crisis.

In contrast to the Victorian reformists Disraeli and Gladstone, who both passed Reform Acts focused on expanding suffrage within the UK, political reform should be prioritised in an act of preparation for, rather than reaction to, this crisis. Focus should, instead, be placed in two directions. Firstly, upon making central government contracts more transparent and meritocratic, the result of this being greater political pressure for a larger percentage of housing developments to be affordable. Secondly, the remit of local governments should be altered, increasing control over the rewarding of contracts, whilst simultaneously completing the shift towards housing associations owning social housing. Such a move would give councils and metropolitan areas greater control of how much housing is built, whilst protecting them from the unaffordable and uneconomical costs which come from development.

The housing crisis, although economically caused, must rely on contemporary political solutions to prevent socio-political catastrophe. We cannot be lulled into either thinking the UK is immune from the multiple historical examples of political extremism that accompany greater inequality, or that implementing the same economic policies repeatedly will provide a different result. Without expansive political reforms to housing, transferring power towards local governments, and increasing transparency in government, the UK will only step closer towards socio-political disaster.

Matthew Lambert, Summer Writer

Is Russia’s Foreign Agent Law Destroying Russian Journalism?

Life as a journalist or within the media in Russia has historically been far from easy. With Putin’s highly centralised authoritarian regime, any formation of media outlets are strictly limited. Over 20 journalists are estimated to have been murdered since 2000 for reporting on events or topics that in any way cross the blurred line of what Putin’s government sees fit to be circulated. Within the past month, however, the government has chosen to elevate this media crackdown further. Some of Russia’s pre-eminent media outlets have now either been banned outright or have been pinned as ‘foreign agents’, detaching them from the country and coining them to the likes of being the ‘enemy’.

Restrictions and hostility towards journalists and the media can be traced back across the last ten years and beyond. The Russian government has been after the independent media for a while, with many independent journalists critical of the regime being eradicated by state owners. Journalists such as these had no choice but to find new jobs and try to continue their careers under ever tightening policing.

Vladimir Putin. (Credit: theglobalpanorama via Creative Commons.)

Recent hostility towards the media, however, has only continued from this, with a recent crackdown across the past year making lives for journalists even more of a struggle. Particularly significant is Russia’s law on foreign agents, of which was adopted in 2012 and has been frequently modified since , repeatedly broadening the scope of who should be defined as a foreign agent. It has been looming as an indefinite threat over Russian journalists since. When it was initially introduced in 2012, it was targeted at suppressing human rights work, or those involved in sharing details of civic information. However, this changed in 2017 when the legislation was amended to include the phrase ‘foreign agent media’, alongside creating a blacklist of foreign agents. It requires non-profit organisations that partake in ‘political activity’ to both register and declare themselves as foreign agents. Essentially, the Ministry of Justice assumes journalists are engaged with some form of political activity within their journalism, be it foreign intelligence or other. This means that every small action and move made under this law is closely monitored, even including spending. Roman Anin, a veteran investigative journalist and founder of a Russian media outlet expressed how “this is a law that basically bans the profession. It’s not a law about foreign agents, it’s a ban on independent journalism”.

The consequences of this law become most evident, however, when considered alongside its penalties of non-compliance, and these are what have amplified alongside changes made to the law this year. As of March 2021, journalists who fail to submit their reports to the Ministry of Justice can look to face five years imprisonment.

However, Russia’s authoritarian regime has not prevented media outlets from using their platforms to protest against these restrictions, and the recent crackdowns in particular. Over twelve independent media platforms have recently signed an open letter, demanding a demise to the designating of journalists and outlets as ‘foreign agents’. The letter read that the outlets are collectively “convinced that these events are part of a coordinated campaign to destroy independent Russian media”. Equally, Radio Liberty, one of the media outlets which has been faced with 520 violations and over $2 million in fines, has also argued against the crackdowns. The company appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in April this year, arguing that Russia’s actions violate freedom of speech highlighted in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Nothing, however, has come from this protest in terms of the law changing in any way.

Subsequently, it can be questioned what the future holds for Russia’s independent media. Despite urges fired at Putin to stop these crackdowns, the nature and reputation of his government does not make the ceasing of these measures likely. Only time will tell if freedom of press and speech will ever truly be allowed for journalists in Russia.

Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer

Politics meets religion: The Ayodhya dispute

Religious violence and contention is by no means unfamiliar to India. Conflicting religious beliefs have been rife for centuries, with historians tracing problematic relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country as far back as the thirteenth century, the time in which the formation of Islamic communities in India began. There is equally a consensus, however, that significant Hindu-Islamic tension is a more recent by-product of Partition in 1947, an event in itself driven by contemporary religious disputes. Nevertheless, conflict between the two religions in India is not confined to history, as recent controversies make it more pertinent than ever in the twenty-first century.

A specific conflict over land, known as the Ayodhya dispute, serves to prove this. A dispute prolific for causing riots and political tension over the last century or so in India, it has arguably caused the most political rupture within the past three decades. This one hundred and fifty year old debate between Hindus and Muslims across India concerns a disputed sacred area of land in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradesh, the northern region of the country. The debate involved a supreme court case in which members of the two religions were both fighting for control and authority over this same plot of land. Indian Muslims are of the belief that a mosque was built on the site by a commander of Babur in the sixteenth century, and thus the site is sacred to them. However, the site is equally sacred to Hindus, as they believe the same site was the birthplace of Lord Ram, a sacred Hindu deity and reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Not unlike other examples of Hindu-Islamic contention across India’s history, violence has been central to this specific dispute from the very beginning. Fears of an outbreak over the case were evident in 1949 when the Indian government made orders denying permission for Muslims to be within two-hundred yards of the site. Concern over potential outbreak turned to violence in 1992, when unrest over the lack of progress in the case broke, and the sacred Ayodhya mosque was torn down and destroyed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu activist group, acting under the belief that the site was rightfully theirs. This event had national repercussions, triggering a mass of communal riots which left over 2000 dead, most of them Muslims. The Indian government even detained crowds of citizens in Ayodhya amid fears of violence following the final court ruling in 2019.

Hanuman Garhi, a major Hindu temple in Ayodhya close to the site mentioned in this article. Credit

The official end to this case shows the deeply political roots of Hindu-Islamic antagonism. The dispute came to an end in the eyes of the government in 2019, when India’s supreme court finally ruled in favour of the Hindus. This result was no surprise, however, considering the lack of independence of the Indian judiciary – former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi having been appointed by Modi – coupled with the aims of India’s ruling right-wing political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to define a national doctrine characterised by Hindu nationalism. Thus, it can be argued that this lengthy dispute illustrates a deep modern politicisation of India’s religious conflict, and furthermore, it has infiltrated the heart of the nation’s identity politics. Following the 2019 ruling, Modi, the Prime Minister of India, tweeted that the verdict “shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody”. Considering this concerns a debate that has severely exemplified the continuation of the polarisation of the country’s two dominating religions in the modern day, this statement blatantly implies sympathies towards Hindu nationalism, particularly as social and religious divisions have only deepened nationally since the BJP came into power in 2014.

Therefore, tensions between the two religions in India are undoubtedly far from over, and mosque-temple disputes are still central to Indian Hindu supremacist politics. Since 2019, other examples of similarly structured temple disputes have risen over similar issues, such as recent court orders in Varanasi this year to investigate whether there is any structural overlapping between Gyanvapi mosque which is adjacent to a Hindu temple. This particular example has unsurprisingly been a decision made by the court following petitions from Hindu nationalist groups, claiming a Muslim emperor demolished part of the Hindu temple in the seventeenth century to build a mosque.

Although antagonism between the two religions is clearly historically rooted in India, right-wing Hindu nationalism is what is continuing to fuel this conflict in the modern day. Thus, until crucial notions of right-wing Hindu nationalism cease to dominate the political landscape of India, further antagonism between the two religions will only continue. 

By Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer

Work Environment and Culture

With workplace culture once again becoming important as people begin returning to the workplace, it is the perfect time to examine the differences between working in Asia and the UK. Despite inter-country disparities, work cultures in Asia share quite a few common traits. For one, employees in Asian countries such as India, China, Taiwan and Singapore work an average of 2100+ hours per year, compared to the 1700~ average in the UK. This amounts to an extra 8 hours per week. The culture of Asian countries offers a partial explanation where there is a heavier emphasis on work and less so on having a fulfilling work-life balance. Starting work at 9am and finishing at 9pm is often the norm, especially in places that have seen drastic economic improvements, such as China and Singapore. What results from this ‘pressure cooker’ work culture is that employees often report consistent poor physical and mental health, as reported in a study by Rand Europe. 

In tandem with the mental health stigma in many Asian countries, workers avoid seeking professional diagnosis or help for fear of social ostracisation. The culmination is a lack of productive labour and low living standards. Whereas in the UK, labour productivity is significantly higher than its Asian counterparts despite much lower working hours. In fact, research conducted by the OECD into the most labour-productive countries, only 2 Asian countries featured in the top 15. This is despite their consistently ranking high for number of hours worked annually. 

Street to Askakusa Shrine (Credit: roger4336, via Flickr)

Beyond employment, Asian living standards are comparatively lower than in the UK. This is partially caused by an intense work culture and exacerbated by high living costs in densely populated areas, such as Hong Kong and Tokyo, leading to young people being unable to purchase property, having poorer physical health and experiencing a generally lower standard of living.

Rare, tragic cases like that of Nayoa Nishigaki, where overworking has led to their death, are still prevalent in several Asian countries. Despite some countries’ labour laws prohibiting employers from requiring their employees to work beyond a certain number of hours, the corporate cultural difference in how an employee is valued leads to employers and employees correlating hours worked with dedication and usefulness.

The intense work culture and social stigma around mental health issues all further contribute to the mental health crisis in Asia, with many Asian countries having a high proportion of their population suffering from mental health disorders yet never receiving treatment. A particularly severe example is South Korea, which has the highest suicide rate amongst OECD countries, and the second-highest number of hours worked.

It seems the occasionally toxic work environment and culture will not see any improvement until the fundamental culture surrounding work in Asia is changed. This could be done only through collective action, forcing a whole new mindset on work, its role in leading a productive and fulfilling life, and destigmatising the conversation around mental health. With the normal habits of work being disrupted worldwide due to Covid-19, it seems now is the best time to ignite the conversation around existing work culture and its priority in our lives.

May Lam, History in Politics Contributor

Merkel’s Immigration Policy: A Failure?

Many highlight Angela Merkel’s policy in relation to the 2015 migrant crisis as the beginning of her downfall. In that year, Germany’s net migration figure was 1.1 million, just under double the previous year’s total. As Europe struggled to cope with refugees, Merkel made her country the continent’s biggest destination, despite the Dublin Agreement mandating that refugees should seek asylum in the first country they entered. Even today, the refugee crisis is pointed to as a key moment in Merkel’s premiership, and the moment she began to lose her grip on power. But was her immigration policy actually a failure?

When thinking of Germany and immigration, a notable example is the Gastarbeiter, or guest worker, programme which began in the 1950s. These guest workers were invited to help rebuild West Germany after the Second World War, with the main source of guests through this period being Turkey. Many workers never returned home, remaining in Germany with their families. Such people are no longer known as guests, but as Germans.

As Chancellor, Angela Merkel has spoken at length about her view of immigration. She has a markedly positive attitude on the subject, at odds with many in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, talking of those who come to Germany as “enriching” society. She has always been clear on her approach to refugees: that there is a “moral obligation” to help those fleeing war, persecution or terror. It was this positive approach to immigration that culminated Germany’s policy during the 2015 refugee crisis.

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel receiving flowers from a Lebanese refugee; Migration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz looks on from the right, June 2018. (Credit: Reuters)

Since then, Germany has homed over 1.5 million refugees, in comparison to the 450,000 by France and 300,000 by Italy. This huge influx of people into Germany proved a huge task for both local and national government, with issues such as providing German classes and wider education, as well as integrating the new arrivals into German society. As a logistical challenge, it is clear that Merkel and her government, in combination with state bodies, handled the refugee crisis robustly and commendably. Language classes were provided by the government and an effective programme of enrolling young children into nurseries to begin their education was introduced. 

There is, however, a darker side to the consequences of this policy in Germany. On a national level, the most obvious of these has been the rise of the far right and explicitly anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which surged in the 2017 Bundestag elections and in state elections since the crisis. This has led to the erosion of CDU support and, arguably, to the circumstances amongst which Merkel stood down as her party’s leader in 2018. The future of that party is now in doubt, with right wing candidate Friedrich Merz, a fierce critic of Merkel and her immigration policy in particular, finishing second in both the 2018 and 2021 leadership elections, narrowly losing each time.

Merkel’s successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was forced to resign after CDU state parliament members in Thuringia defied her authority to vote with the AfD. Armin Laschet, the new leader, is seen as a moderate in comparison to Merz, but ran with health minister Jens Spahn, labelled the “anti-Merkel” for his fierce criticism of her handling of the 2015 crisis. Her moderate legacy in the CDU may be safe for now, but the future remains uncertain as there are fresh elections to contend in September, in the aftermath of disappointing results in March’s state elections.

Merkel’s immigration policy was a divisive path which sowed the seeds of her downfall, while providing refuge for millions fleeing war. In the short term, it has arguably been pivotal in her resignation both as CDU leader and Chancellor, while fracturing her party as it struggles with internal battles and the imposing presence of the AfD. In the long term, however, history will surely look kindly on Merkel: the Chancellor who brought millions in from the cold despite the political consequences and remained steadfast in her commitment to her instincts. A political failure but a moral success, and one which may be remembered as positively as the Gastarbeiter are today.

Joe Rossiter, History in Politics Writer

Hong Kong’s National Security Law: Power Not To The People

You might have heard of the unrest in Hong Kong last year, stemming from the Government’s attempt to introduce an extradition agreement with Mainland China and culminating in a full-blown humanitarian crisis with the enactment of the National Security Law (NSL). Why was the extradition agreement met with such vigour? The proposed Bill would have led to both foreign nationals residing in Hong Kong and local criminal suspects becoming extraditable to mainland China, which has a substantially different criminal justice system and a history of breaching fundamental human rights. This has included arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture, with the only requirement that “prima facie” evidence, which carries a significantly low standard of proof, be provided to the Chief Executive and the courts. Following escalating public clashes between the Government, police and citizens, and protests seeing over a million people in attendance and over 10,000 people arrested, the Bill was shelved. But by that time, the damage was done. The Bill exacerbated the deep fears of local citizens and expats in Hong Kong, who saw it as an early sign of China’s descent upon the nation and the dark future to come.

Several demands arose from the locals: the formal withdrawal of the Bill, release and exoneration of those arrested from the protests, the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police behaviour, universal suffrage for the Legislative Council, Chief Executive elections in addition to the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and lastly the retraction of the characterisation of protests as “riots”. Somewhat unsurprisingly, only the first demand was met, which was seen by the Hong Kong people as highly unsatisfactory, and protests continued with increasing intensity. All this culminated in the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacting the NSL, which opened a bigger can of worms.

Protesters marching at the “Stop Police Violence, Defend Press Freedom” silent march called after media professionals were insulted by police officers when covering protests against the extradition law to China. (Credit: Ivan Abreu, SOPA Images, Sipa via AP Images.)

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997, resulting from the First and Second Opium War, Britain handed back control of Hong Kong to China on the condition that the “One Country, Two System” and freedoms of free speech, assembly, religious belief, amongst others, would continue to be enjoyed by the former until 2047. The NSL contained intentionally vague provisions, which would allow for ‘secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces’ to become punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. Having already been exercised to charge 50+ individuals, this has naturally given rise to a sense of deep unease in both the domestic and international sphere. As the legislation would have also allowed cases to be tried in Mainland China under their legal system, there was a real risk of criminal suspects being deprived of fundamental human rights, like being held incommunicado in undisclosed locations for up to 6 months before being formally arrested or released. Whilst the UK has similar national security laws in that suspected terrorists can be detained without charge for up to 28 days, these individuals are nevertheless allowed legal representation after a maximum period of 48 hours upon arriving at the police station. Compared to Mainland China, the UK is subject to more intense public and legal scrutiny whenever human rights are undermined. The legislations effect is essentially a complete curtailing of free speech, press and political dissent in Hong Kong. Critics worldwide have speculated that this directly contravenes the Joint Declaration’s condition of “One Country, Two Systems”, with the addition of the NSL being also applicable to crimes committed abroad, to non-permanent residents and people outside of Hong Kong. This means that the reach of the law is far and extensive, essentially subjecting foreign nationals to r to the authority of the NSL. 

Whilst the realistic probability of extraditing foreign citizens in the West for crimes committed against the communist party are relatively slim, the law has already caused a growing reluctance amongst foreign investors to conduct business in Hong Kong for fear of being subject to the extensive powers of the NSL. After the emergence of Covid-19 and consequent increasing criticism towards the Communist Party, it will be a matter of great importance for there to be checks and controls to prevent Mainland China’s ever-increasing influence. If they are left unchecked, one can only hope to stay out of the line of sight of the Chinese Government, and that is something I concern myself with, as this article has the potential to be considered “subversion” under the draconian National Security Law.

May Lam, History in Politics Contributor

Book Review: J. S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’

John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ is a classic statement of liberal values and an iconic text in the arena of moral and political thought. Published in 1859, it was originally conceived as a short essay upon which Mill and his wife, Harriet Taylor, fleshed out the liberal values and morality that still provide much of the basis for political structures today. In essence, it seeks to address the question of how far the state or society as a whole should go in controlling individual beliefs and actions, and its answer is a resounding defence of individuality.

Title page of the first edition of On Liberty (1859). (Credit: Public Domain)

Mill opens his account with a historical assessment of the ancient struggle between liberty and authority, suggesting an evolving relationship between ruler and ruled whereby people came to believe that rulers no longer needed to be independent powers opposed to their interests, thus giving rise to notions of democracy. But, whilst government tyranny is a concern for Mill, ‘On Liberty’ focuses more on the dangers of democratic and social coercion and its hindrance upon the individual; perhaps an unsurprising view in the context of Victorian social conservatism. On Liberty sees Mill warn against a ‘tyranny of the majority’, and it is with this in mind that Mill sets out the individual freedoms and protections that ground liberal values to this day. 

‘On Liberty’ focuses on four key freedoms: freedom of thought, speech, action, and association, all of which would challenge the Victorian orthodoxy of custom and restraint in the social and political sphere. 

Freedom of thought, by which Mill means ‘absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects’, is a staple in the genre of classical liberalism; a rejection of group-think and the elevation of individual thought over social customs. Mill’s conception of freedom of speech is arguably more profound and more contentious. His defence of free speech extends up until such speech becomes incitement to violence. He sees value in speech no matter how potentially hateful or self-evidently incorrect, for such speech is necessary to reinforce the strength of our convictions and stop our beliefs and values from becoming mere platitudes. One might perceive this opinion as at the crux of today’s disagreements over the limits of free speech.

Mill’s conceptualisation of freedom of act divides action into two categories: self-regarding action and other-regarding action, and sees only limitations on the latter as permissible. In essence, one should be free to act in any way they please, unless in doing so they directly harm somebody else; a classical liberal statement if there ever was one. Finally, freedom of association; the freedom to unite with any person so long as the purpose does not involve harm. 

“Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest”.

J. S. Mill, ‘On Liberty’

‘On Liberty’ is evidently a defence of individualism and individual freedoms, but it represents a major departure from previous liberal thinkers. Mill’s support for liberty is rooted in his utilitarianism. Whereas liberal thinkers such as John Locke see liberty as a valuable end in itself, and man as endowed with natural rights by way of existing, Mill’s individual liberties merely serve a purpose, that purpose being utility. In short, ‘in proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others’. He has come under severe criticism for this, with many doubting his liberal credentials, but as he states in ‘On Liberty’, without firm grounding, ‘there is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical’.

Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ is not liberty merely for liberty’s sake, but rather it is liberty with a purpose, and his robust defence of individual freedoms still providing the framework for liberal thought today makes ‘On Liberty’ one of politics’ greatest hits.

Leo Cullis, History in Politics Writer

Diamonds, Best Friend or Mortal Enemy?

Diamonds symbolise love, wealth, and commitment to both the purchaser and the recipient, after all, they are known to be a woman’s best friend. Yet, the process of retrieving such a valuable commodity remains a battleground for those who work in the diamond mines. Alongside diamond production, the construction of worker exploitation, violence, and civil wars is generated proving that beauty is in fact, pain. 

The tale of the present-day diamond market emerged on the African continent, South Africa to be precise. The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks fourth in the world when it comes to diamond production with 12 million carats being produced in 2020, the African region dominates the top 10 rankings with seven out of 54 countries acting as some of the world’s largest diamond producers.

Congolese workers searching for rough diamonds in mines in the south west region of Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 9, 2015. (Credit: Lynsey Addario, Getty Images Reportage for Time Magazine)

The diamond trade contributes approximately $8.5 billion per year to Africa and Nelson Mandela has previously stated that the industry is “vital to the Southern African economy”. The wages of the diamond miners, however, do not reflect the value of this work and its contributions to the financial expansion of African countries. An estimated one million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than a dollar a day, an unlivable wage stooping below the extreme poverty line. Despite the significant revenues from the diamond industry, both through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements, governments often fail to re-invest these funds in local communities. The government in Angola receives about $150 million per year in diamond revenues yet conditions near major diamond mining projects are appalling. Public schools, water supply systems and health clinics are near non-existent. Many African countries are still healing from the impact of colonisation and are dealing with corruption, incompetence and weak political systems. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that governments fail to invest their diamond revenues productively. 

Adjacent to being excessively underpaid and overworked, miners endure work in exceptionally hazardous conditions often lacking safety equipment and the adequate tools for their role. Injuries are a likely possibility in the everyday life of a miner sometimes leading to fatality. The risk of landslides, mine collapses and a variety of other accidents is a constant fear. Additionally, diamond mining also contributes to public health problems since the sex trade flourishes in many diamond mining towns leading to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Children are considered an easy source of cheap labour and so they tend to be regularly employed in the diamond mining industry. One survey of diamond miners in the Lunda Norte province of Angola found that 46% of miners were between the ages of 5 and 16. Life as a diamond miner is full of hardship, and this appalling way of living is only heightened for younger kids who are more prone to injuries and accidents. Since most of these kids do not attend school, they tend to be pigeonholed into this way of life throughout adulthood, robbing them of their childhood and bright futures. 

African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Côte d’Ivoire have endured ferocious civil conflicts fuelled by diamonds. Diamonds that instigate such civil wars are often called “blood” diamonds as they intensify civil wars by financing militaries and rebel militias. Control over diamond rich territories causes rival groups to fight, resulting in tragic situations such as bloodshed, loss of life and disturbing human right abuses. 

Whilst purchasing diamonds from a conflict-free country such as Canada can buy you a clean conscience, you must not forget about the miners being violated every day for the benefit of others but never themselves. Just as we have the opportunity to choose fair trade foods benefitting the producers, consumers of one of the most valuable products one may ever own should not be left in the dark regarding the strenuous work of digging miners do behind the stage of glamour and wealth. A true fair trade certification process must be set in place through which miners are adequately awarded for their dedication and commitment to such a relentless industry, especially in countries that are still processing generational trauma that has been caused by dominating nations.

Lydia Benaicha, History in Politics Contributor