Earlier this month, President Biden hosted the Summit for Democracy, bringing together the world’s democratic nations and those struggling for freedom against authoritarian dictatorships. It was an important, much-needed initiative that infuriated Beijing and Moscow. But it is only a beginning. Bringing allies together to talk is the first step, but ultimately, it must lead to action.
This summit was followed by a gathering of G7 foreign ministers convened by the new British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who proposed building “a network of liberty” to defend and promote freedom, democracy and human rights worldwide. Her recognition of China and Russia as the biggest threats to freedom and her call to allies “to take a stand against aggressors” is a timely signal the democratic world is waking up.
Both these initiatives were preceded by the judgment by the independent Uyghur Tribunal that Chinese President Xi Jinping is committing torture, crimes against humanity and genocide in China’s Xinjiang province.
Chaired by British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, the tribunal panel included professors, legal and medical experts, business leaders and philanthropists. The Chinese regime was invited to present its case, excluded any evidence deemed unfair to Beijing and scrutinized hours of oral testimony and thousands of pages of written documentation for a year. Their findings delivered dispassionately and with caution are damning — and deserve a response by governments.
In addition to the charge of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, Beijing has recently rapidly dismantled Hong Kong’s freedoms, human rights and autonomy in defiance of promises made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, registered at the U.N. and valid until 2047. In so doing, it has dismissed the international rules-based order.
This, combined with its continuing repression in Tibet, forced organ harvesting, persecution of Christians, the crackdown on lawyers, media and civil society, make it, in the words of a previous independent tribunal on forced organ harvesting, a “criminal state.”
There is also Beijing’s increased aggression beyond its borders. Representative of a hostile state are its threats to critics and dissidents overseas, its trade war against Australia in retaliation for calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, and, in the past, its freezing of relations with Norway when Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the United Kingdom when former prime minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama. Lithuania is the latest in Beijing’s sights for strengthening relations with Taiwan.
Across the world, there is a growing recognition of the threat the CCP regime poses to its people and the free world and talk of action. Allies are seeking ways to strengthen a coordinated response — through various alliances such as the G7, Five Eyes, the Quad and AUKUS — the new coalition between Australia, the U.K. and U.S., and within the U.N. mechanisms. A coalition of parliamentarians, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, has also been established over the past two years.
All of this is necessary, but there is a need for more.
During the post-WWII race between the U.S. and USSR as the two superpowers, NATO was established, bringing together allies across western Europe and North America with a pledge to defend one another militarily in the event of a Soviet attack. That alliance has endured but evolved, from the original 12 member states to 30 today, but still with the principle of collective security, which means an attack on one is an attack on all.
The time has come to consider the establishment of a nonmilitary equivalent to NATO for democracy around the world, especially in the face of the growing threat from China. Such an alliance, building on the principles of the Summit for Democracy and the U.K.’s “network of liberty,” would be a collective effort to act together to defend democratic values.
Applying the NATO principle of mutual defense military to the economic sphere, when China uses economic coercion to bully brave allies such as Australia, Taiwan or Lithuania, members of such an alliance should automatically and immediately respond by increasing trade with those allies.
When Beijing boycotts Taiwanese pineapples, we should all buy pineapples from Taiwan instead. When China puts tariffs on Czech pianos, we should import pianos from Prague. And when the Chinese regime tries to block Australian wine, we should go and purchase it — as IPAC and others campaigned for a year ago.
Some of this solidarity already happens, but it is time to put these principles into a treaty-based organization. The free world needs to form a united front to counter China’s long-established “United Front” and stand up to Beijing’s campaign of infiltration, influence and intimidation. Such an alliance should collectively impose sanctions against perpetrators of atrocity crimes, coordinate divestment from Chinese companies complicit with grave human rights violations, and work together to reduce our strategic dependency and diversify our supply chains.
The decisions by the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to join Lithuania in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics next year represent an embryo of what we are proposing. But to be sustainable, this coalition needs to be institutionalized and bound by a treaty — to stand together, collaborate and support each other in defense of freedom.
• Jianli Yang is the founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of “For Us, The Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.” Benedict Rogers is co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch and deputy chair of the U.K. Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
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