The freedom fighters who dared to take on a communist superpower

In May 2020, as the planet grappled with the pandemic, China’s state media declared that there were ‘obvious deficiencies’ in Hong Kong law enforcement needing to be addressed. Any delusions this might have referred to intensifying police brutality in response to massive pro-democracy protests, let alone the unleashing of Triad thugs to attack participants, were dashed rapidly. Details emerged days later of a draconian new security law that criminalised any form of dissent, whether at home or abroad, with threat of life imprisonment. ‘When the world is not watching, they are killing Hong Kong,’ said Dennis Kwok, a lawyer and pro-democracy legislator. He was right. This was the moment that

Sticky, slithery, squelchy, smacky: the authentic Chinese food experience

During the early days of the pandemic, a video clip of a Chinese celebrity slurping bat soup went viral – no matter that it was taken from a travel show filmed in 2016 on Palau, a Pacific island some 2,000 miles from the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, and regardless of the fact that the Chinese don’t like munching on bats in any case. Wuhan was Covid ground zero, and filthy Chinese eating habits were to blame. In Invitation to a Banquet, Fuchsia Dunlop sets out to skewer misconceptions about what she calls ‘the world’s most sophisticated gastronomic culture’. This contention may surprise foreigners brought up on sweet-and-sour pork balls

It’s time for a reckoning with Chinese big tech

It has been a bumpy week for China’s beleaguered technology giants. They are under increasing scrutiny overseas, and the communist party continues to tighten the screws on them at home. In many ways they are also their own worst enemies. The UK has become the latest government to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok from government devices over security concerns. Parliament has also banned the app from its network. This follows similar bans from the European Union and 11 countries, including France, New Zealand, Denmark and the US. Western lawmakers are unconvinced by TikTok’s often cack-handed attempts to distance itself from its Chinese parent, ByteDance, and that company’s obligations to the Chinese

We let Hong Kong down: Chris Patten on the end of colonial rule

After 13 years in parliament, rising star Chris Patten had the bad luck to be one of the few Tory MPs to lose his seat in 1992. Had he been re-elected he would probably have become chancellor of the exchequer. Instead, he found himself in the wilderness. But not for long. Within months he had been appointed governor of Hong Kong, tasked with the tricky business of presiding over the transfer of the territory to communist China. It was a lucky break. Had he been chancellor, the odds are that his political career would have come to a sticky end the following September, when the pound fell out of the

China breaks new records in the Surveillance Olympics

Never before have the participants in a major sporting event been so closely monitored as in this Winter Olympics in Beijing. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Soviet Moscow were nothing in comparison. Athletes are competing under a blanket of observation, ostensibly to keep Covid at bay, yet imposed by a paranoid Communist party for whom critical words or thoughts are as dangerous as any virus. Everyone attending the games, including athletes, support staff and media, must install on their phones an app, My 2022, which harvests a wide range of personal data. It has the ability to censor and track its users, according to cybersecurity experts who have examined the

New tactics are needed for the wars of the future

The strategic bankruptcy of the West has twice so far this century demanded that our brave soldiers risk their bodies and minds to fight unwinnable wars. The lessons to be learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed from Libya, Syria and the Sahel, are many; but the original sin was hubris, born of post-Cold War military preponderance and successes in Sierra Leone, Ulster and Kosovo. The consequence of our arrogance, when 9/11 demanded action, was that we failed properly to interrogate, and so to grasp, either the character of the specific conflicts into which we jumped, or the fundamental nature of war itself. Lack of understanding of the particular dynamics

China’s obsessive attempts to subvert the West

Most people who think themselves well informed know little or nothing about China. They – or I should say ‘we’ for I am just as ignorant – understand what the CIA and FSB are, and what they want. But what is the CPAFFC, and, if it arrives in your neighbourhood, should you worry? How about the United Front, the ‘magic weapon for strengthening the party’s ruling position,’ in the words of Xi Jinping? What does it do and why does China’s dictator praise it so? I am back from the last place I expected to learn about the Chinese Communist Party: the Budapest Forum, a conference of progressive European mayors

Why Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square vigil will be different this year

Every year since the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, Hong Kongers have gathered in their thousands to remember the fallen. The annual Tiananmen Vigil, where candles light up Victoria Park, was an event laden with significance. It was a statement that Hong Kongers would not forget those who had died under the heavy boot of the totalitarian state. It was a symbol of the city’s distinctive history and its autonomy from Beijing. Even last year, despite the authorities banning the protest under the pretext of Covid-19 restrictions, thousands gathered peacefully. It’s unlikely the same will happen tomorrow. The organisers of last year’s vigil are in jail. This year’s

Anglo-Chinese misunderstanding: an Oxford don visits 1960s Beijing

This book is a rather startling depiction of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s involvement with the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU), his sponsored visit to China in October 1965 (just months before the Cultural Revolution got under way) and his efforts to find out who actually controlled and funded SACU. Having been induced to be a sponsor of the society on legitimate grounds of interest in China and its history, Trevor-Roper was a last-minute addition to a delegation visiting Beijing and Xian. He was promised freedom of movement and access, though the reality turned out quite differently. The China Journals thus comprises four sections: Trevor-Roper’s diary of his three-week visit; his diary of