Government agrees funding for academic to investigate MPs who challenge China

·4 min read
Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping

The Government has agreed to pay more than £80,000 for an academic to write a thesis expected to accuse MPs of spreading “moral panic” about China.

The taxpayers’ money will support the researcher to criticise the China Research Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which is made up of legislators from across the political spectrum in multiple countries.

The groups campaign against Chinese human rights abuses, such as Uyghur oppression, as well as seeking to highlight economic and infrastructure threats posed by the regime to the west.

The formal proposal for the thesis describes the CRG as having played “a major role in the social and political construction of China as the new “international pariah””.

It will also explore “the potential role of the CRG in the construction of a new international political moral panic focused on China”.

The proposal to the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), places the CRG “in the context of similar groups that have emerged internationally such as the Committee on the Present Danger: China (CPDC) in the US, and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC)”.

‘How incompetent and ludicrous’

The University of Birmingham academic, Rong Wei, is due to receive £20,892 plus inflation annually for the next four years.

On Saturday night, Iain Duncan-Smith, a British IPAC member, called for an investigation into how the grant was awarded.

“It is unbelievable that a British government can sponsor a research project whose purpose is to denigrate legitimate parliamentary research, in IPAC’s case across 22 countries, both on the left and the right,” he said.

“How incompetent and ludicrous that they should use taxpayers’ money for that purpose.”

Chaired by Tom Tugendhat, who also chairs the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, the China Research Group was established in April 2020 in the wake of controversies over the origins of the pandemic and the Huawei debacle.

In March this year, Mr Tugendhat and Mr Duncan-Smith were two of nine UK individuals and four organisations placed under sanctions by Beijing.

In response, the Chinese Ambassador to London was banned from stepping foot in the Palace of Westminster.

‘Appalling violations’

Several countries, including the US, Canada and the Netherlands, have accused China of committing genocide in respect of its treatment of the Uyghur population, with allegations of mass incarceration and the forced sterilisation of women.

Dominic Raab, when foreign secretary, said the treatment amounted to “appalling violations of the most basic human rights”, while in April, Parliament declared that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang.

UKRI is a non-departmental public body that is funded through the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Earlier this month, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that it was paying more than a quarter of a million pounds to improve productivity on caged chicken farms in China.

Mr Duncan-Smith is preparing to table an urgent question in Parliament this week about this latest UKRI grant.

“The British Parliament has banned the Chinese ambassador from its precincts because of its sanctioning of these people, yet they [UKRI] have ignored that,” he said.

A UKRI spokesman said: “This project is a studentship awarded by the Midlands Doctoral Training Partnership, which is a consortium led by the University of Warwick. The University of Birmingham is one of the partners in the consortium.

“ESRC funds Doctoral Training Partnerships to enable research organisations to make decisions about how to invest in postgraduate studentships in ways that best suit their institutional strategies and support for doctoral training.”

Alicia Kearns, who sits on the steering committee of CRG, said: “The China Research Group was set up to share knowledge and fresh thinking about how Britain should respond to the rise of China. I'm pleased that the University of Birmingham recognises our impact on shaping the UK's foreign policy toward China.

“Taxpayers may be surprised that their money is funding research which has as its base assumption that the threat of China has been exaggerated.

“The CRG will continue to publish research which analyses the challenges and opportunities associated with China’s industrial and diplomatic policies.”