If there is one positive outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to community spirit, it is the increasing demand for a rethink of our relationship with the Chinese Communist Party regime.

Let’s be clear: we do not mean China as a country or the Chinese people, who are the primary victims of the brutal régime led by Xi Jinping, and we should at all times make that distinction. We believe we should continue to find ways to strengthen people-to-people relations, and to support the ordinary Chinese people, in particular Christians and other persecuted religious groups. But the time has come when Western foreign policy needs a values pivot. We need to stop kowtowing to Xi Jinping’s régime.

Few governments can escape criticism – for failure to plan, false promises, misjudgments. Yet one government above all others must be held primarily responsible for causing this pandemic: the Chinese régime. It lied about the coronavirus, silenced whistleblowers, repressed the truth and arrested doctors who tried to warn the world.

This régime has also launched the biggest crackdown on human rights since the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, and the most severe assault on religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution. As a new report by CSW shows, Christians face severe persecution, and Uyghur Muslims endure what is arguably one of the 21st century’s most serious and underreported mass atrocities. The régime is accused by a tribunal led by the man who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, and it is tearing up its promises to the people of Hong Kong by taking advantage of the pandemic to further crackdown on the freedoms of what was until recently termed Asia’s world city’.

These are issues with which we must engage without delay. There are growing calls to bring the Chinese régime to account. In any re-evaluation of relations with China, its conduct over the coronavirus may be the litmus test, but it should not be the only consideration. Its atrocious violations of religious freedom, trampling over Hong Kong’s liberties and crimes against humanity more generally must be considered. 

It is time to engage with what amount to some of the worst atrocities of recent times, to pray for China, to consider ways to support Chinese political and religious dissidents and activists, and to hold the communist régime to account.