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Oireachtas members join international alliance pushing for tougher stance on China

Senator McDowell says Ireland can no longer ignore the “clear challenge” of the Chinese Communist Party.

Image: Shutterstock/Aritra Deb

IRELAND HAS BECOME the twentieth nation to sign up to an international cross-party alliance of lawmakers who are trying to create a coordinated response to counter China on global trade, security and human rights.

Three senators and one TD have joined the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) in a bid to secure a tougher stance on China from the Irish government.

The IPAC works to reform democratic countries’ approach to China and boasts a membership of over 200 legislators from a range of political parties in North America, Europe, and Australia.

The alliance was formed in June 2020 with a stated mission of standing up against “challenges posed by the present conduct and future ambitions of the People’s Republic of China”. Some well-known members include US Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, former leader of the British Conservative Party Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, and former Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt MEP.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne and Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward will both act as IPAC co-chairs to ensure Ireland “plays its part in holding the Chinese government to account” alongside other Irish members TD Michael McNamara and Senator Michael McDowell. 

“As democratically elected legislators we have a responsibility to uphold the cause of democracy not only at home but also abroad. The Chinese government’s crushing of democracy in Hong Kong is an unacceptable breach of international law and a clear challenge to the international rules-based order,” Byrne said.

“Ireland must play its part in holding the Chinese government to account for these abuses. We will only succeed if we stand together, recognising that this challenge is too important to be divided by national or partisan differences.”

Earlier this month Byrne and Ward led calls in the Seanad for the government to offer safe refuge to those fleeing the political crackdown in Hong Kong.

Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong after protests in 2019 that started over an extradition bill and expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the former British colony. The law outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs. It has constricted free speech in the city, and democracy activists see it as a way to suppress dissent.

‘Much closer to home’

Ireland’s membership comes as Dublin man Richard O’Halloran’s two-year-long detainment in Shanghai continues, despite no allegations of wrongdoing being levelled against him. 

He travelled to China in February 2019 to resolve an ongoing commercial and legal issue involving the Chinese owner of the firm he works for – Dublin-based aircraft leasing company China International Aviation Leasing Service.

McDowell says the Chinese Communist Party represents a “clear challenge” to the stability of the international rules-based order, and O’Halloran’s “unlawful and protracted” detention shows that this threat is “much closer to home than we like to think”.

“Ireland can no longer ignore this reality, we must work with our European and international partners to stand against these actions,” he said, accusing the government of having a “timid” approach to China. 

“Ireland must stand resolutely by the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan as they come under increasing pressure from Beijing,” he said.

McDowell’s motion to debate the detention of O’Halloran in the Seanad was postponed for two weeks on 15 February after Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney contacted him saying negotiations with Chinese authorities were at a “delicate stage” and that a debate on the matter might “set the process back”.

McDowell told TheJournal.ie that at the request of Minister Coveney senators, will make statements on O’Halloran’s detention in the Seanad on Monday 1 March rather than debating the motion. 

He said he will postpone the debate for a further two weeks as he is “very confident” that a satisfactory package is being put together for the Chinese authorities to secure O’Halloran’s release. 

McDowell said he believes O’Halloran’s case could have been dealt with in six months rather than two years “if the Department had drummed up the energy to protest strongly”. 

“Your foreign policy can’t just be based on trading considerations,” he added.

Most recently, Coveny asked MEPs Barry Andrews and Seán Kelly to delay tabling a resolution at the March plenary session of the European Parliament condemning O’Halloran’s detainment.

Source: Reuters/YouTube

As a member of the UN Security Council, Senator Barry Ward says Ireland is in a unique position to show the Chinese government that “abuses of human rights are not the actions of a responsible global power and will not be tolerated by the international community”.

“Our criticism is not of the Chinese people, but of the Chinese government. A deep love and respect for the Chinese people and their culture does not stop us from standing resolutely against the grave human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere,” Ward said. 

UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet voiced concern yesterday over China’s curtailment of “fundamental rights and civic freedoms… in the name of national security and the Covid-19 response.”

“Activists, lawyers and human rights defenders, as well as some foreign nationals, face arbitrary criminal charges, detention or unfair trials,” she said.

Bachelet also raised the situation in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, where rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps.

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After initially denying the camps existed, Beijing later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

Bachelet said her office was continuing to “assess the alleged patterns of human rights violations, including reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and sexual violence in institutions, coercive labour practices, and erosion of social and cultural rights.”

The Netherlands became the latest nation – and first European nation – to declare that Beijing’s actions towards minority groups in Xinjiang amounted to genocide.

The Dutch parliament passed the motion on Thursday that “genocide is underway in China against the Uighur minority,” joining countries including Canada and the United States in applying the label.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin hit back at the motion, accusing Dutch lawmakers of using Xinjiang as an excuse to “deliberately smear China and crudely interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

“The facts show that there has never been any ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang,” Wang told reporters at a regular briefing.

He said he hoped the Netherlands would “immediately stop its wrongdoings and take concrete actions to safeguard the overall situation of bilateral relations.”

- Additional reporting from AFP 

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Adam Daly

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