The chill of McCarthyism sweeps Westminster

Tom Fowdy
In today's modern Sinophobic political culture, to dare to have any balanced or objective assessment of China is the "ultimate crime."
Tom Fowdy

Over the weekend the news broke that a British "Parliamentary researcher," later named as Chris Cash, was arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

Cash, a Conservative, was undertaking work for the very, very hawkish China Research Group, created by right-wing MPs in 2020 to push hostile policies on the British government, mimicking the previous Eurosceptic European Research Group.

Cash, who had no security clearance whatsoever or access to classified information, was arrested in March following an investigation and bailed until October. It is not known yet if he will be charged, or the extent of the information he was asked to gather.

Yet predictably, anti-China hawks in the Conservative Party seized on the event in order to push their own narratives. In particular, one notable activist stated that his suspicions of Cash were derived from his criticism of MPs who had "extreme views" concerning Beijing, and that he pushed for them to have "nuance" in their assessment of the country.

Of course, as we know, in today's modern Sinophobic political culture, to dare to have any balanced or objective assessment of China is the ultimate crime which will always lead to you being accused of having ulterior or inauthentic motives of some kind. If you do not drink the Kool-Aid of anti-China "yellow peril" dogma, then you are suspect.

Saying that, it would be wise regarding this case to wait until all the facts emerge until commenting further on it. Yet, the point still stands, as someone affiliated with China and of course an advocate of a nuanced, balanced perspective beyond the drivel published in the mainstream media, this news is aptly terrifying and chilling, particularly because it is opening the door for everyone who has a fair view of China and does want to opt into Cold War-laden politics to be accused of this kind of thing, especially those who have some kind of official capacity or role.

I have of course sensed this environment emerging for a while, and it is precisely why I retreated from my social media role this June because quite frankly, the future was grim if I continued otherwise.

Thus, from my perspective alone, to have a proper understanding of China and balanced opinions is alone a mountain to climb, a mountain which is for that matter filled with monsters who will torment you into thinking it's just easier to stay silent. The poisonous atmosphere of McCarthyism which promotes fear, division, paranoia, suspicion and hatred tramples on freedom of speech and debate.

It is to say the least a very fitting development following the release of the "Oppenheimer" blockbuster, that recounts the tale of how the nuclear physicist was equally barbed with the mass hysteria of anti-Communism due to daring to have opinions which went against the mainstream. Of course, I should not pity myself too much, I am after all a white man, and so is Chris Cash.

But for someone who is ethnically Chinese, there is no escaping it and the implications of this atmosphere has far-reaching consequences which can impact every element of their lives and can even surmount to physical violence.

Britain is by some stretch a newcomer to this McCarthyist terror against "Chinese influence" yet for Chinese Americans, Australians and Canadians, this stretches to a whole new level whereby politicians and the media at large have collectively lost their minds. It is little wonder based on all this why I am naturally sceptical of such stories, that's because even if he was caught up in something, there is an element of hyperbole and hysteria to it, one which has been deliberately cultivated by politicians and journalists who have actively bandwagoned on the American agenda to contain the rise of China and vilify the country. I will still publicly declare my contempt for these people, and forever so.

As such, I am right to treat the term "espionage" as one as politically charged and subject to an ambiguity in definition that can be stretched, especially for that matter when the "goalposts" move.

Was the suspect gathering official secrets, classified information, top-secret technology, details on the British military? Such would be an extraordinary feat for a Parliamentary researcher, a poorly paid job as part of a ridiculous right-wing Conservative pressure group.

Thus, while I cannot make comment on the outcome or even the details of everything that has happened, the element of McCarthyism cannot and should be ignored.

From five years of writing about China, I am well aware that there are some people who seek to silence all legitimate debate about this country through fearmongering and the accusation of collaboration with an "enemy."

(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is an English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)

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