“Whataboutery” is an old trick much favoured by Stalinists whenever difficult questions about human rights under “socialist” regimes are raised. Apparently the correct term is “tu quoque” — a debating technique based upon the perceived hypocrisy of the opponent rather than the merits of their argument.
Some of the most blatant cases you’ll come across involve the Morning Star and its increasingly desperate efforts to deny or justify the Chinese state’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
This began with a number of articles earlier this year, attacking the findings of Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, in Korntal, Germany, who analyzed Chinese government ads inviting tenders for various contracts concerning re-education facilities in more than 40 localities across Xinjiang, offering a glimpse of the vast bureaucratic, human and financial resources the state dedicates to this detention network. Zenze also uncovered evidence of forced sterilisations of Uyghur women in what looks very much like an attempted genocide. The Morning Star’s response was to point out that Zenz is a born-again Christian with right-wing politics and that the Korntal School is a “missionary” organisation. But numerous other academics (many of them leftists), media outlets, and NGOs (e.g. Amnesty International) have backed Zenz’s research as sound. That may account for why the Morning Star has shut up about Xijiang for a while — until 27 November, when an article by one Keith Lamb revealed with ill-concealed glee perhaps the ultimate opportunity for a spot of “tu quoque”: Tony Blair has raised concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang and said “China is becoming a more repressive society.”
Well, the answer from Mr Lamb more or less writes itself: “Blair’s denunciation of China is rather rich coming from the man who, with the US, commanded Britain’s brave soldiers to shed their blood in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq... he shamelessly feels he is in a position to judge China... He has lost any legitimacy to lecture China which is engaged in working for socialism at home as well as multilateralism and development abroad”.
The only attempt Mr Lamb makes to address the evidence of systematic repression (probably amounting to genocide) of the Uyghurs comes when he compares it to Blair’s “dodgy dossier” claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction: “The Xinjiang ‘evidence’ is actually more sophisticated” he concedes, before going on to state that “it has been financed and disseminated by the military-industrial complex and agencies linked to the US government.”
A Google search reveals that Mr Lamb has lived and worked in China for many years and would appear to have worked in various Chinese educational establishments. The details are unclear, but it seems almost certain that he is an employee of the Chinese state.
In a 2016 interview on the Quora site, Mr Lamb says; “Paradoxically, under the last 30 years of Chinese authoritarian rule Chinese people are experiencing more freedom and improvements than anyone else in the world.”
Still, Mr Lamb does demonstrate one small sign of self-awareness in his Morning Star piece: “No doubt some will say that even Blair can call out China on, for example, its actions in Xinjiang and will claim that I am engaging in ‘whataboutery’.” Strangely, Mr Lamb has no snappy comeback to that particular charge.