Relations between China and the UK reach breaking point

Tit-for-tat decision by Beijing to ban the BBC World News after CGTN rebuke increases Sino-British tension

Relations between China and the United Kingdom have reached an impasse. But then, it was always going to happen when you throw democratic values into the mix.

President Xi Jinping and his Communist Party elite have an underlying fear of liberal democracy. The concept of universal suffrage is an anathema to the CCP.

Instead, the state is involved in every aspect of life in China, strangling human rights, such as free speech, and embedding Party law into Chinese companies from manufacturing to the media. In short, the Party rules, OK!

Hardly surprising then that the BBC has finally been banned in the country. The tit-for-tat response came a week after China’s state-controlled broadcaster CGTN had its license revoked in the UK for breaking  “ownership” regulations.

On Friday, China’s National Radio and Television Administration announced that BBC World News had “harmed” China’s interests and undermined “national unity.”

“The BBC does not even bother to hide its anti-China rhetoric. It deserves such punishment,” Wang Sixin, a professor of law at the Communication University of China in Beijing, told the state-run Global Times, a fiercely nationalistic tabloid.

The facts:

  • CGTN was refused a license after a lengthy investigation by Ofcom in the UK.
  • The network is owned by China Central Television, a state-run broadcaster funded by the ruling Communist Party.
  • Independent media is frowned upon in the world’s second-largest economy.
  • BBC World News only had limited access in China, where the media is strictly monitored by government censors.
  • It has been at the forefront of reporting systematic human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
  • Up to 1.4 million Uighur Muslims have been held in internment camps there with the BBC reporting allegations of “rape, sexual abuse and torture.”
  • Beijing has accused the BBC of “fake news.”
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described China’s repression in Xinjiang as “genocide.”
  • Another flashpoint has been Hong Kong and the oppressive crackdown on pro-democracy activists after China rolled out a draconian national security law in 2020.
  • Both issues have triggered wide-spread condemnation from the UK government and other democracies across the world.
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What the BBC said: “We are disappointed that the Chinese authorities have decided to take this course of action. The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favor.”

What China’s National Radio and Television Administration said: “As the channel fails to meet the requirements to broadcast in China as an overseas channel, BBC World News is not allowed to continue its service within Chinese territory.”

What the UK government said: “China’s decision to ban BBC World News in mainland China is an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom. China has some of the most severe restrictions on media and internet freedoms across the globe, and this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said, leading a chorus of criticism.

Reaction from the United States: “It’s troubling that as [China] restricts outlets and platforms from operating freely in China, Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation,” Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, said at a media briefing.

China’s view: “[The] BBC has gone on a spree to spread explicit falsehood about China’s policy in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. BBC’s only mission has [been to] wage [an] information war on China. When attacked, China defends itself. A news organization shouldn’t operate on a hard-line political agenda. An agency that does has no place, no right, no integrity to continue reporting in China,” a First Voice commentary on CGTN said as reported by the state-run China Daily.

China Factor comment: The BBC ban has illustrated the depth of distrust between Beijing and London. Spy scandals, the ban on Huawei, human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong have dominated British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s foreign policy when it comes to China. Hong Kong has become a particularly sensitive subject since it was a former UK colony. Johnson has even offered an escape route for more than two million Hong Kong residents. Holders of the British National Overseas passport can now move to the UK. Beijing has denounced the decision. Expect more bullish behavior from Beijing in the Year of the Ox.