UK sanctions Chinese officials over Xinjiang human rights abuses

22 March 2021, 19:49

China has been widely condemned for its treatment of Uighur muslims in Xinjiang. File photo.
China has been widely condemned for its treatment of Uighur muslims in Xinjiang. File photo. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The UK Government has announced coordinated sanctions against four senior Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Working alongside 30 allies - including the EU, US and Canada - the sanctions slap travel bans and asset freezes on senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

Announcing the measures in the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the abuse of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang was "one of the worst human rights crises of our time" and the international community "cannot simply look the other way".

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He told the Commons: "State control in the region is systemic. Over a million people have been detained without trial, there are widespread claims of torture and rape in the camps, based on first-hand survivor testimony.

"People are detained for having too many children, for praying too much, for having a beard or wearing a headscarf, for having the wrong thoughts.

"I'm sure the whole House will join me in condemning such appalling violations of the most basic human rights."

China previously denied the existence of camps for detaining Uighurs in Xinjiang but has since described them as centres to provide job training and re-educate those exposed to radical jihadi thinking.

Officials deny all charges of human rights abuses there.

China's foreign ministry responded immediately, denouncing the sanctions as "based on nothing but lies and disinformation" and issuing its own retaliatory measures.

The ministry announced sanctions against 10 individuals and four institutions that it said had damaged China's interests and "maliciously spread lies and disinformation".

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The UK sanctions against China are made in coordinated with 30 allies, including the US.
The UK sanctions against China are made in coordinated with 30 allies, including the US. Picture: PA
Labour's Lisa Nandy accused Dominic Raab of playing to his backbenchers.
Labour's Lisa Nandy accused Dominic Raab of playing to his backbenchers. Picture: House of Commons/PA

Despite the pushback from China, Mr Raab said he believes “the evidence is clear as it is sobering”.

"It includes satellite imagery, survivor testimony, official documentation and indeed leaks from the Chinese government itself, credible open source reporting including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated other reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups," he told MPs.

The foreign secretary added: "It's the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since the Second World War and I believe one thing is clear - the international community cannot simply look the other way."

However, he stopped short of labelling it a genocide, despite being called out on the wording by multiple conservative MPs, instead saying it was right to “allow a court to make those determinations”.

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Labour welcomed the decision but questioned why it had taken the government so long to act given the evidence of abuse against the Uighurs has been "known about for years".

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy accused Mr Raab of using the sanctions “to send a signal, first and foremost, not to the Chinese government but to his own backbenchers”.

“For all the talk of being a force for good in the world, it is only when this Government is staring down the barrel of defeat that it discovers a moral centre.”

The comments were in reference to disagreements within the Tory party about how to deal with China’s human rights abuses.

In January, 33 backbench Tory MPs staged a rebellion against the government, backing an amendment that would have automatically revoked trade deals if countries were found guilty of genocide.

It was narrowly defeated by 319 votes to 308.