[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered China’s policy on its Uighur population.
I am grateful to the Speaker for allowing the House time to discuss this important and timely issue. Officially, according to the Chinese state, Uighurs have been resident in China since the ninth century; in fact, historians suggest that Uighurs have been around for about 4,000 years, since before the Islamic period. They have certainly experienced trials and tribulations over the centuries, but today, in a so-called industrial nation and a member of the G8, they find themselves in arguably their cruellest moment in history, with the Chinese state undertaking a systematic security, political and cultural assault on their very existence as a people.
Over the past four years, at least 1 million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, out of a Uighur population of about 10 million have been detained without trial in the Xinjiang autonomous region of China. In recent years, a vast network of so-called re-education centres has emerged. The first of these detention centres emerged following the Chinese Government’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism”. The stated aim of the campaign was to bring political stability to Xinjiang after terrorist attacks and unrest that killed 1,000 people and injured 1,700 between 2007 and 2014. I will come back to that later. The current Chinese ambassador to London praised the campaign for creating
“social stability and unity among ethnic groups”,
citing the absence of terrorist attacks in the region in recent years as proof of the campaign’s success. However, the definition of terrorism applied in the region is troublingly vague. It does not allow peaceful protest, human rights activism or even routine religious practice.
Does my hon. Friend think that the individual arrested for terrorism in China after unintentionally clicking on to an international website—that was his only crime—is a good example of a terrorist?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. A troubling aspect of this is that people are being detained for—intentionally or even unintentionally—visiting foreign websites. That has to stop. People should be free to surf the internet as they wish.
The definition of terrorism is worrying, as my hon. Friend points out. Uighurs should be allowed to undertake peaceful protest, human rights activism and religious practice without fear of the Chinese state coming after them. The Chinese Government should not conflate those peaceful activities with acts of terrorism or violent extremism. With mass surveillance and ethnic and religious profiling, leaked Chinese Government documents show that Uighurs are detained for exercising basic human rights and freedoms such as praying, attending a mosque or studying the Koran, applying for a passport, wearing religious dress such as a veil, or simply for being deemed “untrustworthy”—whatever that is—for unspecified reasons by the Chinese state.
The Chinese Government claim that the detention centres are voluntary re-education centres focused on teaching Mandarin, the law and vocational skills, all supposedly to eliminate extremism and improve the prospects of the Uighur minority, but China allows no monitoring of these facilities by the UN or international human rights organisations. For clarity, leaked Chinese Government cables demonstrate that the camps operate as high-security prisons, with intrusive video surveillance, harsh punishments and compulsory Mandarin classes, to supposedly achieve the “ideological transformation” of Uighurs. Surveillance from satellites reveals that the so-called voluntary re-education centres have watch towers, double perimeter walls topped with razor wire and armed guards. Former detainees describe detention of the elderly and seriously ill, forced confessions, rapes and beatings, severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, Muslim detainees being force-fed pork and alcohol, the administering of unknown pills and injections, and detainees being forced to repeat slogans such as “I love China”, and “Thank you to the Communist party”. Tragically, there are reports of significant numbers of suicides among detainees.
On 9 December last year, Governor Zakir of the Xinjiang region claimed that all Uighur detainees had been released, but there has been no independent proof to verify that claim. Indeed, many Uighurs living outside China believe that their relatives are still being detained, while satellite imagery reveals new detention centres being built and existing detention centres being extended. Even those Uighurs who have been transferred from detention centres might not be free as we would define it. Leaked Chinese Government documents show Uighurs released to so-called industrial park employment—in effect, forced labour camps. Perhaps the Chinese are learning bad lessons from their neighbours in North Korea.
A stark report published earlier this month by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that, between 2017 and 2019, approximately 80,000 Uighurs were transferred from detention centres in Xinjiang to factories throughout the whole of China. Once again, Uighur communities have been separated and families torn apart. Worryingly, the same report claims that some of these factories form part of the direct and indirect supply chains to dozens of global brands, including Apple, Nike, BMW, Samsung and Sony—something that these tech companies, many of them suppliers to Her Majesty’s Government, need to explain or convincingly refute. I had the privilege of chairing sittings of the Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee some five years ago. Making profit on the back of slave labour is a criminal offence and has to stop.
In addition to monitoring the activities of Uighurs at home, Chinese authorities have made foreign ties a punishable offence. Uighurs who have been abroad, have families overseas or who communicate with people outside China have been interrogated, detained and imprisoned. Particularly targeted have been those Uighurs with connections to so-called sensitive countries. There are 26 in total, including Kazakhstan, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. As a result, many Uighurs living outside China say they have lost contact with relatives back home, including young children, for months at a time. The sudden tightening of passport controls and border crossings has left Uighur families divided, with children often trapped in China and their parents abroad, or vice versa.
What is more, the actions of the Chinese Government are clear violations not only of international human rights laws but of China’s own constitution, domestic laws and judicial processes. The Chinese constitution is clear: it forbids discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or religious belief. Political re-education camps have no basis in Chinese law. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that China is bound by the universal declaration of human rights and is a signatory of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which China signed in 1997 and ratified in 2001. It is also bound by the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, which it acceded to in 1981; and the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which China signed in 1986 and ratified in 1992. All those international agreements create a duty to guarantee freedom of thought and expression, freedom of religion and association, freedom from discrimination, a prohibition on torture, and the right to a fair trial.
Even if we accept that the Chinese Government are responding to a real and ongoing terrorist threat in Xinjiang, multiple UN resolutions make it clear that in tackling terrorism and violent extremism, all states must still comply with their obligations under international law. In response to reports of human rights abuses, the UN has condemned China’s criminalisation of fundamental rights in Xinjiang and called for it to
“Halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried and convicted”.
Last summer, at a US Government-hosted conference in Washington DC on religious freedom, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called China’s treatment of Uighurs the “stain of the century”—pretty strong words. I was pleased when, in December, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Bill that condemns the
“arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment”
of Uighurs. I pay particular tribute to Senator Markey, a Democrat, and Senator Rick Scott, a Republican, for that rare bipartisan approach in the US Congress on a foreign policy issue. Amnesty International has demanded that UN inspectors be able to verify Chinese Government claims that Uighur detainees have been released. I certainly call for that today as well.
The purpose of the detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang is, I think, becoming alarmingly clear. It is a misplaced counter-violent extremism counter-narrative and, in my view, erroneous counter-terrorism policy, which will inevitably create more terrorists than it will detain or ever re-educate. That is not to deny that Chinese nationals from the Xinjiang region have previously fought in Afghanistan, or previously or currently fought in Syria, with jihadis from other parts of the world, but just like in the UK, those numbers are small compared with each nation’s Muslim population, who predominantly want to live in peace and without conflict.
My hon. Friend is making an exceptionally powerful speech. I feel confident that the Government will agree with him, and with me, that individual criminal acts can never be used to justify the systematic persecution of ethnic or religious groups, in this case the persecution of Muslims, but the Government will need to set out in considerable detail how they intend to do something about that. It is easy to utter warm words, but we will need to use our connections to international institutions with great robustness if we are to act and satisfy my hon. Friend on this matter.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He is absolutely right. There have clearly been, as I referenced earlier, acts of terrorism within China, but those have been committed by a small minority of people. Claims were made by organisations regarding the Beijing attacks, but China said that in fact they were not responsible. A variety of domestic and international groups want to cause harm to Chinese nationals. We would stand with the Government of China and with the people of China against such groups, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that the Muslim population in China want to live in peace and get on with their lives in freedom, like most people around the world. We are talking about a very small minority compared with the 10 million population that I referenced earlier.
I have my own experience of staying with the Uighurs, having spent some weeks in that part of the world. It is clear to anyone who has lived there what a noble civilisation they represent. To cast an entire population as terrorist sympathisers is an absolute travesty and does not in any way justify the Chinese Government’s undertaking population-level oppression and their wholly disproportionate response to a small terrorist incursion.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I was not aware of his personal experience, but he adds real value to the debate by sharing that. He is absolutely right. A one-size-fits-all policy is not right, and I will elaborate on why I think that.
Notwithstanding this debate and what might be perceived as criticism by some in the embassy here, or those in China, it is not criticism. It is what I call critical appreciation, or being a candid friend. China is a strategic partner and a key ally on so many levels internationally. To make this speech and have this debate is not to deny that there is a domestic terrorist threat in China; it is not a denial that, for example, the Turkistan Islamic party is a real threat to the Chinese nation. However, it does appear that the detention and forced labour camps policy is at best a clumsy attempt to reduce the threat of home-grown terrorism and at worst an illegal attempt to eradicate Uighur culture, language and religious practice. I think that either attempt will ultimately fail.
The short-term outcome might be a decline in the number of protests, and reduced Uighur gatherings, but the acts of state-led oppression are, I fear, laying the foundations of the very radicalisation and future home-grown terrorism that the Chinese Government are seeking to avert. It is a tragic irony that, in carrying out these policies, the Chinese state itself is in danger of becoming a recruiting sergeant for its own domestic terrorist threat in the coming years.
Last November, the United Nations issued a report agreeing with that analysis. It stated that
“disproportionate emphasis placed by the authorities on the repression of rights of minorities risks worsening any security risk”
and that such practices
“deeply erode the foundations for the viable social, economic and political development of society as a whole.”
Today, I am calling on the Chinese Government to end the extrajudicial detention of Uighurs and other minority groups in the Xinjiang region; to allow religious minorities to practise their religion peacefully and without state interference; and to heed the UK Government’s call to allow the United Nations to send in observers with unrestricted access to the detention or re-education centres. I urge Ministers to keep diplomatic pressure on their Chinese counterparts, both in bilateral discussions and through the United Nations.
Finally, I say to the Chinese authorities, as a friend—a candid friend—recognising the great and long history of China, China’s huge economic success and its astonishing and positive sociological transformation, that in sowing the seeds of oppression and repression in its own Uighur population, China’s leadership runs the very high risk of reaping a harvest of significant home-grown terrorism in the years that lie ahead.
Order. Before I call Fiona Bruce, I would like to thank her very much for informing me in advance of the debate of her other commitment. That is why I now call her to speak.
Thank you very much, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate. I join him, following his excellent speech, in expressing my deepest concern about the victims of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in Xinjiang.
I speak as a Member of Parliament and the chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Four years ago, we conducted an inquiry, “The Darkest Moment”, which examined the human rights situation in China up to 2016. We mentioned the ethnic discrimination against Uighurs. Sadly and very concerningly, their situation appears to have dramatically deteriorated since then. That is why we are here today.
Last week the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission instigated a new inquiry on human rights in China, which will involve hearings in Parliament and a call for written submissions. It will focus on several aspects, including the Uighurs’ situation and the situation in Xinjiang. We have our first hearing with Uighur witnesses and experts next Monday at 5 o’clock in room Q of Portcullis House. I invite all concerned colleagues to join us there.
A variety of reasons are offered for the detention of Uighurs in the camps, which we have heard about: having the messaging service WhatsApp on one’s phone, having relatives living abroad, accessing religious materials online, having visited certain sensitive countries, communal religious activities, behaviour indicating “wrong thinking” or “religious extremism”, and sometimes no reason is given at all. The latest estimate I have is, staggeringly, that up to 3 million people may have been incarcerated in these camps. That heightens the already critical level of fear that pervades the region. Disappearances can happen at any time, to any person, without warning.
I want to focus on the position of children in the region. I thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which does such excellent work highlighting these issues, for drawing this to my attention. The children of individuals detained in the camps are reportedly sent to what are called state-run orphanages; otherwise they may be called training centres or welfare facilities. One way or another, those children are also being arbitrarily detained.
Wrenched from their families, homes and villages—which are often completely abandoned—the traumatic effect on the children cannot be overstated and, for many, will be lifelong. The conditions in the camps in which they are kept are completely unimaginable. A Uighur worker at one of these so-called orphanages told Radio Free Asia that the facility was seriously overcrowded, with children as young as six months
“locked up like farm animals in a shed”.
Ethnic minority schools in Xinjiang have reportedly been effectively closed. In some cases, the schools have been changed. According to China Aid, the fourth Uighur secondary school of Xinjiang is now a political training centre, and the Chinese authorities are only permitting schools with a Han Chinese background to operate, closing those that specifically cater to Uighur, Kazakh and Mongolian children.
The conditions in which some of the children are kept are unimaginable. Teenagers are reportedly now held in adult re-education camps. According to Radio Free Asia, in March 2018, a 17-year-old Uighur boy, Naman, died of unknown causes. He was detained at a political re-education camp in Kashgar. His family was forced to bury him under police supervision. Concerningly, he was arrested after travelling to Turkey as a tourist with friends. A child’s right to an education without discrimination is guaranteed by article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights and article 13 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which China has ratified.
I have several asks of the Minister. Will the UK Government call on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to respect and protect the wellbeing and rights of children in Xinjiang by ceasing the practice of forcibly removing them from their homes and families, and by ensuring that minors are not detained in adult facilities? Will the UK Government press the Chinese Government to grant access to UN special procedures and other international human rights bodies and experts, particularly to examine what is happening to children in the region? More widely, will the UK Government call on China to abolish the use of these re-education centres, particularly for children, and all forms of extra-legal detention, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, to release detainees immediately and without condition, and to ensure that no citizen is detained incommunicado and that family members of detainees are informed of their whereabouts?
Finally, I ask the Government to press the international community. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who is so concerned about such issues, has referred to this. We must press the international community to consider all means of investigation into human rights abuses in the region, including inquiries into whether abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Government constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, and to consider sanctions against policymakers responsible for the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Looking at the number of hon. Members wishing to speak, and given the time allotted to Front Benchers, I appeal to you to be brief. At this point, I will impose a time limit of six minutes, but that may be reduced. You do not have to use six minutes, if you can use less.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate and his powerful, factual speech.
The situation in the People’s Republic of China for Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities is beyond disgusting. It taints the meaning of humanity and compassion. In Xinjiang, we see an oppressive system that brings all the powers of the state down on a disenfranchised minority, whose culture and people have committed no crime, but the state has determined their very existence to be a crime.
Across Xinjiang, we see Uighurs in their millions being imprisoned in detention centres and re-education camps. They are under constant surveillance. Their biometric data is forcibly taken by the state. There are restrictions on travel and their phones are monitored.
The Government claim that those are preventative measures against Islamic extremism. However, the disproportionate nature of those oppressive acts shows that they are systematic, racially motivated actions by the state. It is not just limited to the Uighurs; it extends to other minority groups, such as Christians, Tibetans and Falun Gong.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination are all raising grave concerns about the Chinese Government. Even more horrifying are the findings of the independent China Tribunal, which is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a leading war crimes prosecutor. The tribunal released its 562-page report on 1 March. It found unanimously and beyond all reasonable doubt that China is operating a forced organ-harvesting programme on prisoners of conscience and on ethnic and religious minorities, such as Uighurs and Falun Gong. The organs, which are forcibly taken from healthy living people, are either given to Han Chinese or sold to wealthy tourists, who are willing to pay vast sums to extend their own lives at the expense of other human beings. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has been quoted as saying that
“It is now the responsibility of all those who interact with the Chinese government and international bodies to remember the duty every individual, and every organ of society, has to respect the entitlement of all on this planet, near or far, to the right to life. This cannot be done by wilful ‘blindness’ or ‘deafness,’ ‘pragmatic’ silence and inactivity. It requires action.”
Despite that, the World Health Organisation reports that China operates
“an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system in accordance with international standards”.
We would be right to ask how that can be, when the China Tribunal has evidence beyond all reasonable doubt that China is operating the exact opposite of an ethical and voluntary system. The answer is that under WHO rules China is able to self-assess its organ transplant system, so all we hear through WHO—a normally trusted international organisation—is the Chinese state’s party line. In a sense, we are asking the criminal to judge their own trial.
If I were to describe a state that was oppressing minority groups through mass surveillance, detention and re-education, and that harvested organs from living people to sell to the wealthy, people would think that I was describing a make-believe state in some dystopian novel. Sadly, that description is all too real and these practices are happening now within the borders of the People’s Republic of China. We cannot allow those practices to continue; we must take every diplomatic and judicial step we can to bring this abhorrent situation to an end.
I understand that China has risen to become the second most powerful economy in the world. However, we must ask ourselves whether will we allow the moral foundations of our nation to be sold out for economic profit, and will we allow innocent men, women and children to live and, sadly, often die in such horrific conditions in order to maintain our economic bottom line?
We have a tradition in this place of standing up for the voiceless and ending abuses of human rights within our own borders and within the borders of other nations. It is on this site that we became the first nation to abolish slavery; it is on this site that we voted to fight the ideology of fascism; and it is on this site that we stood up for nations ensnared by the oppressive Soviet Union when it was the world’s second greatest superpower. I ask all right hon. and hon. Members, and the Minister for Asia, who will reply to the debate, whether they will turn their back on that tradition. Will they turn their back on Uighurs, Falun Gong and others who are crying out for their support?
I therefore call on the Government to increase their diplomatic pressure on the People’s Republic of China and apply the Magnitsky Act to individuals in China who perpetrate organ-harvesting. I also call on the Government, and on right hon. and hon. Members of Parliament, to pressure the WHO to change the way that it assesses organ transplant systems, to move away from a self-assessment system and towards independent assessment.
We know that there is only so much that we can do in this place, but it is our moral duty to do all that we can do to help; to do any less would be to betray our morality, our history and the millions of voiceless people who are suffering and need our help.
I stand today to speak for those who have been silenced, and to call for my Government to respect our responsibility to protect the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of Uighur men, women and children being detained by the Chinese authorities in internment camps, which the Chinese authorities spin as “hospitals” to treat the “infection” of those people’s beliefs. However, religious belief is not a pathology. There are reports of torture in the detention centres, of people being forced to listen to Communist party propaganda, of deaths, and of people being forced to do all sorts of inhumane and even inconceivable activities.
Unforgivably, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said, children are being ripped from their families; they are being kidnapped from their loved ones and placed in orphanages. The goal is to brainwash them into rejecting their culture, their people and their families. In 2017 alone, half a million children were forcibly removed from their homes. Their new so-called schools have 10,000 V electric fences around them; to my mind, those are not schools.
The actions of the Chinese authorities must constitute the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today. For those who are not forced into detention centres, there are mass surveillance programmes in place. This monitoring goes so far as to force Uighur families to have Chinese state officials live in their homes and monitor them at all times. There are also forced work programmes, as my hon. Friend so aptly described.
Sadly, all of this is nothing new. Since the 1960s, the Uighurs have been subject to tests in so-called experiments that conjure up images of the Nazis’ so-called hospitals. There is evidence and reports of forced sterilisation of women, organ-harvesting and electrocution, and it is understood that, between 2016 and 2018, 15 million Uighurs had their blood and DNA tested by the Chinese authorities. Forced cheek swabs have become commonplace.
Why would a Government forcibly create a genetic information database? It is to monitor, control and repress individuals and communities, who have been demonised, detained, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Religion is not a disease, and those acts are grievous and constitute crimes against humanity. For years, the Uighurs have been persecuted, yet there has been no meaningful international help for them. The current claims about counter-terrorism operations are misleading, because this discrimination has been going on for at least 60 years.
I call on the Chinese Government to uphold their international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion and belief. Yes, China faces a small number of radicalised individuals, but the response of a nation should never be crimes against humanity against an entire ethnic group.
China is a wonderful, beautiful and culturally rich land, and I am sure that if the people of China knew the extent of the atrocities being committed in their country under the guise of counter-terrorism operations, they would stand with me against it.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Chinese Government will heed my cries. So, today I urge the Minister to respect our responsibility to protect, a political commitment that UN members, including the UK and the Chinese Government, agreed to in 2005, in order to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In so doing, like my colleagues I call for us to consider global Magnitsky sanctions on the perpetrators of human rights abuses—in this case, Chinese Government officials. I ask that we demand change ahead of the 2022 winter Olympics and threaten to boycott those games if we do not see some change in the treatment of the Uighurs. I also ask that we use the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to trace missing family members of the Uighur community; we have already acted in this way in Syria, so we can do so again in China.
I urge the Minister to use his ability to talk to our partners in countries with Muslim majorities, asking them to speak out and raise this issue with China. Most of all, I ask for the UK to table a resolution at the UN’s Human Rights Council to establish a special rapporteur to report back to the HRC on whether crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and torture have indeed been committed. If we feel unable to do that, at the least the UK Government should appoint a special envoy on the Uighurs.
Members may have seen that recently Amnesty International published testimonies of further harassment of members of the Uighur population and other Muslim ethnic groups even after they have left China. So, does the hon. Member agree that it would be helpful for us to know whether the UK Government are aware of that activity and the extent to which they will follow up on it?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. The reach of the Chinese Government is significant and, where possible, the UK Government should provide support to those individuals, who are political refugees. They are refugees from a state that has turned against them and that would harm them if they were to return home, so we should support them.
When atrocities such as those are perpetrated by a state, there can be only one goal, which is the eradication of a group—in this case, the eradication of the Uighur. We have seen the Rohingya and the Yazidis, and we still see the Uighurs, being treated in that way. Those actions are, without question, crimes against humanity; indeed, I would go so far as to say that they are acts of genocide.
The world can and must do better, and we must play a role in that process. For my part, I will be a voice for the voiceless, and I will refuse to be silenced. I hope that the UK Government will stand up for what is right and make their voice heard.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate. Alongside the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), I am the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human rights in Xinjiang province. The Uighurs are a separate religious and cultural group, but their very existence is being threatened. The tensions in Xinjiang are decades old. It is an area full of oil and gas, but there has been a dramatic shift in China’s policy towards those people since 2016. About 3 million Uighurs have been detained in so-called re-education camps since 2017, and the Chinese Government have subjected 13 million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims to repressive surveillance.
The Chinese Government have banned beards and headscarves, forced Uighurs to eat during the month of Ramadan, and forced them to eat pork and drink alcohol. Ethnically Han men have stayed in Muslim households, even to the extent of being in the women’s bedrooms, to carry out surveillance. Leaked video evidence has shown that the camps are unsanitary and overcrowded. Detainees are subject to beatings, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, and they are forbidden to eat the food that they want to eat.
Recent reports from The New York Times show that the Chinese Government have the details of at least 3,000 individuals and examine the intimate aspects of their lives—for example, how they pray, who their family members are and who they speak to. The document proves that there is an active policy of persecuting and punishing the normal practices of traditional religious beliefs, and that there are plans showing how an entire ethnic minority population should be detained or forced to assimilate to the dominant culture. There is even a manual on ethnic cleansing.
Last September, the UN Human Rights Council was advised by the London-based China tribunal, which is investigating the issue, that China is actively selling human organs on an industrial scale to be used for transplants. The Uighurs are being operated on while they are still alive. Their ears, kidneys, livers, lungs, corneas and skin are being removed, and the rest of the body parts sent for testing. Some 15 million Uighurs have had their DNA forcibly collected. What is taking place is incredibly chilling.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the China tribunal and prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against Slobodan Milošević, has said that he has heard compelling evidence from human rights and medical experts and other witnesses about China’s organ trade. He said that the international community
“can no longer avoid what is inconvenient for them to admit.”
He says that the events inside China amount to “genocide” of a racial and religious group. The organ transplant industry is worth about $1 billion a year to China. Some countries, such as Spain and Italy, restrict travel to China for transplants. What will the Minister do to ensure that we do the same?
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think-tank that has received massive media coverage, detailed the transport of Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities across China to work in factories under guard. The report “Uyghurs for sale” names leading international brands that use China as part of their global supply chains. Involved in that are 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, such as Apple, BMW, Huawei, Nike and others. Just like the re-education camps in Xinjiang, the forced labour programme is part of Beijing’s effort to destroy Uighur culture. The factories are often far away from people’s homes, and those people are made to live in segregated dormitories and undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training. They are subject to surveillance and forbidden from participating in any religious observance. Numerous sources, including Government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom.
When South Africa’s apartheid regime was in full swing, we did not simply continue our involvement in order to somehow improve the oppressive context. We responded with divestment and sanctions. That drastically reduced the profits derived from oppression and ultimately, along with many other actions, led to the end of apartheid. We have left the European Union and we need to develop international trade links, but we should not do that at the expense of our morality or by ignoring what is happening in China.
To remain silent is to be complicit. What consensus is the United Kingdom building with other countries to ensure that the detainees are released? Not only that, but what is being done to ensure that the abuses taking place in Xinjiang and things such as organ transplantation are investigated, and that the Chinese Government are persuaded to desist from those practices? If they do not, although China is a powerful country both militarily and economically, we can take a moral stance in economic relations.
I thank the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) for securing this debate and for his support for the Uighur population in China. As chair of the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, it is my duty to come here and speak out on behalf of those with Christian belief, those with other beliefs and those with no beliefs. This debate will encompass all those people.
China’s deteriorating policy towards its Uighur population, and the general worsening climate of religious intolerance in China today, is serious and concerning, so I welcome this discussion and I hope the Minister will give us a positive response. I look forward to that. Since the emergence of large-scale labour camps in the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, which was brought to the world’s attention when the United Nations human rights panel cited credible, evidential reports stating that 1 million Uighurs were being forcibly detained, disturbing allegations of human rights abuses have come from the region. They include harrowing stories of abuse, torture, rape and forced labour, as recently highlighted in several media reports, which include allegations that Uighurs have been forced to make products for 83 globally recognised brands, such as Nike, Apple and Dell. Those companies have a lot to answer for.
One thought-provoking example comes from a documentary called “Letter from Masanjia”. It tells the story of a Falun Gong detainee from China’s notorious Masanjia forced labour camp, who managed to smuggle an SOS letter out, pleading for help from the international community with the conditions and circumstances they were forced to endure. The letter was found in a box of Halloween decorations by a lady from the United States, and the story quickly gained worldwide media attention and drew claims from Chinese officials that the labour camp system had been shut down. Recent reports, however, demonstrate clearly that that is simply not the case.
The author of the SOS letter was a gentleman called Sun Yi, who was eventually found and bravely agreed to feature in the documentary. However, as a result of his bravery, and towards the end of filming, he was killed by poison under very suspicious circumstances. Sun Yi risked and lost his life to let others know the truth about what is happening in China today. We are very aware of the large contribution that he and others have made. The international community cannot ignore the recent media reports highlighting the scale and seriousness of forced labour in China endured by the Uighur population and others. They have been ignored for far too long.
Every Member so far today has spoken about this. The harrowing conditions are brought into stark focus when we turn our attention to the horrific plight of illegal forced organ harvesting, about which I have spoken and led debates over the past few years. The China tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, which others have referred to, recently published its full and final report on March 1, 2020. The judgment declared that crimes against humanity against the Falun Gong and Uighurs had been proven beyond reasonable doubt. Governments who interact with the People’s Republic of China should recognise that they are interacting with a criminal state that has abused many people’s human rights and has a very low opinion of its citizens.
The conclusions from the China tribunal stem from a robust year-long investigation in which more than 50 witnesses and experts testified during the London-based hearings, providing enough details to warrant a 562-page report. This is not the Minister’s responsibility, but what is being done to address the issue of transplant tourism whereby people can leave this country and get an organ transplant in China? The underlying connection between the horrific treatment of Uighurs and Falun Gong in labour camps and the illegal practice of forced organ extraction on an industrial and commercial scale is undeniable. The evidence is there. It is well documented that before the world’s attention was focused on the re-education camps in Xinjiang, there was a targeted campaign focused specifically on Uighur Muslims in the region. The campaign involved the mass collection of biometric and DNA data, and reports suggested that some 12 million to 15 million Uighurs were forced to undergo the process.
According to a report from Vicky Xu, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s cyber-policy centre, the idea that Huawei is not working directly with local governments in Xinjiang is “just straight-up nonsense”. There was a Westminster Hall debate on Huawei a few days ago, and there was a vote in the Chamber yesterday. When we consider the persecution faced by the Uighurs, we must also look at the general landscape of religious intolerance imposed on millions throughout China. Whether one focuses on the well documented cultural destruction of Tibet, the persecution of Falun Gong—now entering its 21st year—or the increasing levels of oppression faced by Christians, it is hard not to see a common theme repeating itself in modern Chinese history. Bitter Winter, a watchdog on religious freedom and human rights in China, recently stated that the situation in China is going from “bad to worse” following on from the enactment this year of China’s harsh new rules governing religious groups. Every day there is oppression of religious groups.
To stem the tide of religious persecution and intolerance sweeping across China, Members of this House must declare that action has to be taken to help to bring an end to injustices such as those being inflicted on the innocent Uighurs living in Xinjiang, and everyone else in China.
The time limit is four minutes.
It always changes just before I start, Mr Sharma. I do not take it personally, of course.
I want to start off on a slightly different tack. In March 1936, the Conservative MP for Chelmsford was a man called Jack Macnamara. He travelled to Germany to celebrate the remilitarisation of the Rhineland. Perhaps we might think that unusual today, but many people at the time thought that Germany should be allowed to stand on its own two feet again, after the Versailles treaty.
What changed his mind about Germany was visiting Dachau. The Germans showed it off. Most of the people in there at the time were political prisoners. They were members of the Communist and Social Democratic parties, or freemasons. Some were dissident clergy of various different Churches, and some were Jews. A significant number of them were homosexuals. The Nazi regime said they were there for their own protective custody—their re-education. They were kept in camps where they had to work hard every day. They were told what they had to do. They were told what they had to listen to. They were shown antisemitic magazines and horrible material that they had to inwardly digest. If they ever told anyone what was going on there, whether they told the truth or not, they were subjected to even harsher punishment. On top of that, it was felt that many of those people were being deliberately driven towards suicide.
Every one of those elements is present in what is going on in Xinjiang province in China at the moment. I want to say to Chinese friends that, just as that British MP in 1936 went to the new Germany as its friend and came back a harsh critic of Hitler’s regime—he ended up fighting and losing his life in the second world war to protect the freedoms of the kinds of people who were in Dachau—there is a danger that so too will China completely alienate the whole world community because of its actions in Xinjiang province and its treatment of the Uighurs. In many ways, some of what is happening to the Uighurs is even worse. There is the religious oppression, the refusal to allow people to have their own thoughts, the re-education, the deliberate reculturation and the attempt to destroy a whole community, but it is also applied to children. At least there were not children in Dachau.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and happy to give him an extra minute by intervening on him. He mentioned alienating the whole world, but does he agree that it is not just about that—whether it happens or not—because, clearly, if China is breeding a counter-terrorism problem for itself, that will also be a counter-terrorism problem for the whole world, including the United Kingdom? Terrorists do not abide by national borders, so that is another incentive for the British Government to be slightly more robust on the issue than they probably have been to date.
There is a patent injustice, and injustice tends to lead to people taking some form of action. We would always want it to be legitimate and peaceful. The danger is, as the hon. Gentleman says, that the action being taken will be entirely counterproductive. China says that what is happening is meant to prevent terrorism, but it is far more likely to create it, in China and other parts of the world. Many people see their brothers and sisters on the other side of the world and feel that they are being hard done by, and want to do something about it.
What angers me is that the situation is all of a piece with the creation of a security state. I thought that the whole point of communism was to create a welfare state, but a security state is being created—exactly the opposite. I would also make the point to China that it has done extraordinarily well in the last 20, 30 or 40 years out of the international rule of law. It has served it well and China has managed to make enormous advances economically and culturally. Now it stands, having previously tended to sit to the side in the international community, wanting to take a much more central part in the world—hence all the various initiatives it has come up with around the world. It will not be able to do that if it does not abide by the international rule of law in its own country. On those two points its actions are utterly counterproductive—even if one were to accept the moral outrage that is what is happening to the Uighurs.
I want to end with a point about the Magnitsky Act. It is about time we had such legislation on the statute book. It has been promised repeatedly by the Foreign Secretary and I hope that the Minister will update us on when it will be published, when it will be able to go through, and when we will be able to use it.
It is a huge pleasure to join today’s debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on bringing the matter to the House. He made valid points about China living up to its constitutional commitments to non-discrimination and its commitments made through the United Nations, and he asked searching questions about what exactly is going on there.
By way of background I shall make what is, if you like, a quick declaration of interest. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on China and I lived in China for several years. Most relevantly to this debate, I spent considerable time in Xinjiang and was part of the first ever successful crossing of the Taklamakan desert in 1993 with a small group of other Britons, Uighurs and Han Chinese. I should, I say as a matter of observation, have died there of amoebic dysentery.
A few years ago, I took the all-party group to Xinjiang—and a sad experience it was, too. The vibrant markets were closed, there were armoured cars on every street corner, young Muslims were banned from mosques, and much more besides. I paid tribute then, and do so again now, to our embassy officials who deal with human rights in the British embassy in Beijing, who continue to do their best to keep informed of the situation.
The situation today is of course always difficult to analyse. Few people in the Chamber, if any, will have been to Xinjiang in the past 18 months. Some of us may have found helpful Twitter accounts such as @dakekang where there are plausible accounts of what is going on. Most relevantly, of course, Her Majesty’s Government have raised the issue most profoundly with the United Nations. It was emphasised in the statement of 23 nations to the United Nations that we had concerns about the situation with respect to human rights, security and travel restrictions, as well as China’s move possibly to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s forced labour convention and a series of other points —validating, in effect, the eight recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, whose 2018 report remains a seminal document for those interested in Xinjiang.
This is a time when there are huge difficulties with different types of human rights in China as a result of the tragic expansion of coronavirus, and we should be sensitive to that. We should also be sensitive to the fact that in the past, there have been Uighur terrorist activities, not least the bombing at Chengdu station and the car in Tiananmen Square some years ago, so we should not be naive about everything that happens there. Will the Minister update us on the Foreign Office’s analysis of terrorist activities in Xinjiang? Will he update us on China’s progress towards ratifying that important ILO convention?
This issue matters, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly said, because ultimately, if there is substantial proof that global manufacturers are using forced Uighur labour deported elsewhere in China, that will seriously undermine their own brand reputations. It will create problems for their continuing manufacturing in China and that in turn could cause serious problems for growth, jobs and the economic prosperity of China.
Ultimately, this is my final appeal to my friends in China. It will be impossible to hide what is going on in Xinjiang forever. Sooner or later the world is going to know. Some of the accusations may be inaccurate, but many of them may prove to be very accurate, and if that is the case, China as a great nation should surely do her best to preserve her reputation and right what is not right.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I am battling through a cold at the moment, so I hope Members will bear with me.
It is definitely a cold—that has been confirmed.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) for securing today’s debate. The hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) all made impassioned speeches, and I think the debate has been enriched by that.
At the risk of repeating what has already been said, I will seek to limit my remarks to a few key areas. This matter is certainly not new. It has been widely reported as far back as April 2017 that the Uighurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, have been detained. The fact that we are talking about this issue three years later is shameful. What is truly alarming about the situation in Xinjiang is the sheer scale and institutional nature of the repression. Reports from the region paint a very bleak picture indeed. More than 1 million Uighur Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in re-education camps. Most of the people detained have never been charged with any crimes and have no legal avenues whatever to free themselves. For many of those who have been detained, the harsh reality is that their only crime is being Muslim.
Uighur Muslims have been identified as extremists purely for practising their religion, but this is not the first time that I have spoken about freedom of religious belief in China. Many will be aware of the persecution of Christians and Falun Gong adherents, to name but two religious minorities. That of course flies in the face of China’s own constitution, which specifically protects freedom of religious belief, yet time and again we see that not to be the case at all.
What particularly worries me is the UK’s response. A recent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee notes that some of China’s international interests actively conflict with those of the UK Government. It stated that the
“current framework of UK policy towards China reflects an unwillingness to face this reality.”
The report further urges the UK Government to actively respond
“to China’s attempts to subvert international human rights mechanisms, and support UN efforts to investigate the extremely concerning situation in Xinjiang.”
Our post-Brexit reality adds a new aspect to the situation. The former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), believed—perhaps naively—that we should look to China to replace our lost trade with Europe and deliver our future economic salvation. We have passed that point now, but there really are fundamental issues at play regarding trade and the price we are prepared to pay. For me, turning a blind eye is simply not an option, and I am on the record saying that many times, particularly in relation to India. I have this overwhelming fear that human rights may be forgotten or overlooked in the rush and scramble to conclude a trade deal. I am sure the Minister will seek to reassure me on that point when he responds. However, he can understand my scepticism, given the Government’s track record.
Since the EU referendum in 2016, the number of arms export licences issued to countries on the Foreign Office’s own human rights watch list has doubled, so the Minister will understand my concern and why so many of us in this House seek proper reassurances and guarantees on the Government’s commitment to human rights and freedom of religious belief. Last week, the Minister tried to reassure me in the Chamber that the Government
“will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2020; Vol. 672, c. 755.]
While that reassurance is welcome, we need to see it become a central tenet of any trade negotiations with other countries. I know that many here will share the view that human rights should form the foundation of any such talks, rather than being a consideration.
Moving forward, we need to see the UK exercising soft power where Xinjiang is concerned. I would like to hear a commitment from the Minister today that the Government will exert influence on China to welcome UN officials to the province without restrictions. We all need reassurances that the Government will also do all they can to encourage other countries to do likewise, because if we ignore persecution against religious minorities, we open the door for every kind of intolerance and persecution.
One thing we have to be aware of is that while we and the other 22 countries that signed the letter are doing our best to pursue some of these key issues in Xinjiang, very few, if any, Muslim countries in the world have spoken up about this. Does that not strike the hon. Gentleman as odd?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. We and every Government have a responsibility to make that point and to ensure that we are standing up for Uighur Muslims, so he is right to put that on the record. I certainly encourage Governments in all countries to do that. As a practising Christian, I am very much of the view that although there might not be persecution against me, it is my duty as part of my religious faith to stand up for minorities and other religions. I think that is something we are called to do. I implore other countries to put that point on the record.
To conclude, we need to do the right thing and take action. Members of the House have made impassioned speeches on the issue, and there is a consensus. The Minister would have our support in taking that forward to get proper action to protect Uighur Muslims.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate and I thank him for his passionate and powerful contribution. We have heard many excellent speeches from other Members covering the subject.
The persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, is an issue that I have raised multiple times in Parliament. Having learned more graphically about the practices in China, I am simply appalled and disgusted. Sadly, the issue is ongoing. I have been deeply disappointed by the Government’s response and attitude. Calls from fellow Members, UN Human Rights Watch and even the Foreign Affairs Committee have fallen on politically deaf ears. The Committee voiced its concern over the treatment of the Muslim population in Xinjiang and warned:
“China is sowing the possibility of conflict into its future.”
More than 1 million individuals are believed to have been detained without charge in political re-education camps since 2017. Recent estimates are as high as 3 million. The reasons for detention in the camps include having the messaging service WhatsApp on one’s phone, having relatives living abroad and communal religious activities. Sometimes no reason is given at all. Conditions inside the camps are dangerously unsanitary and overcrowded. Detainees are subject to beatings, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. In October 2018, reports emerged of camp detainees being transferred to prisons in other parts of China.
In the light of the coronavirus outbreak, the poor conditions in the camps are even more worrying. Confining large groups of people together without adequate access to germ-killing soap and water will increase the likelihood of an outbreak. That is even more reason to close the camps, which would reduce the threat of the virus spreading. What steps has the Minister taken to urge China to release detainees immediately and without condition, given the risk of a coronavirus outbreak?
Individuals sent to re-education camps do not have access to legal counsel and there is no mechanism for appeal. Their families are typically not told where they are being held or when they will be released. Given the religious persecution and mass imprisonment of Uighurs in these so-called re-education camps, it is clear that an independent investigation is required. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s comments on that. Will he also tell us what representations he has made to the Chinese authorities over the mass imprisonment of Uighurs?
Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uighurs are working in factories of at least 83 well-known global brands, including Apple, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen—hon. Members have listed other companies as well. It seems as though the Government’s approach is to prioritise economic benefit over human rights due diligence.
Another deeply concerning area that hon. Members have highlighted is the role of technology in enabling human rights abuses. From the phones in people’s pockets to the tracking of 2.5 million people using facial recognition technology, Chinese technology companies—including Hikvision and SenseTime—are deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Hikvision alone has provided 35,000 cameras to monitor streets, schools and 967 mosques, including video conferencing systems that are being used to ensure that imams stick to a unified Government script.
I find it alarming to learn that the Government have been engaging with companies such as Hikvision, which has been blacklisted by one of the UK’s most powerful allies, the US. The director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum referred to the terrifying persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang as “crimes against humanity”. Does the Minister think it appropriate to engage with companies that have been implicated in heinous human rights abuses? The highly sophisticated facial recognition technology being used has in-built biases within the algorithms that can help to identify Uighurs. In the UK, the Metropolitan police has rolled out facial recognition technology, which I find unsettling, given that we can see the extreme dangers of its use.
Credible research from multiple organisations, including the British Medical Journal, suggests that many thousands of people are being killed for their organs, including the Uighurs. Many hon. Members have touched on the subject. There are strong, well-documented allegations that Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uighurs have been victims of that horrific practice. My primary concern is that people are being harvested for organs because of their beliefs.
The international community has strongly condemned organ harvesting in China. Action needs to be taken to end the abhorrent and unethical practice. The UN special rapporteurs on torture and on freedom of religion or belief have both requested that the Chinese Government explain the sources of the organs and allow them to investigate. There has been no response. Medical ethics aside, an unregulated system where organs are being delivered not to the most deserving recipients, but to the highest bidders, must be held to account.
I strongly advise the Government to follow in the footsteps of the European Parliament and the US Congress, both of which have called for an independent investigation, and several countries that have already taken legislative action to prevent their citizens from taking part in transplant tourism. Will the Minister explain why the UK Government are dragging their feet on this issue? Why are we not holding the Chinese Government to account on these blatant human rights violations?
Will the Minister also urge the Government to publicly condemn any form of live forced organ extraction in the strongest possible terms, and to call for its end? The world’s condemnation of China’s re-education camps must be matched by the Government's actions.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate and on his excellent, well-informed speech. I thank hon. Members for their contributions, which included some powerful and well-informed interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell), for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew)—he brought his own personal perspective to the debate—and from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum).
As hon. Members know, the UK’s relationship with China is a long-standing one; we work together on many areas, including trade and climate change. However, as we have heard in the debate today, ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang are continuing to experience significant and indiscriminate restrictions on their basic freedoms, including their freedom of religion or belief, speech and association.
The intense crackdown we see today has its roots in China’s “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” Campaign which began in 2014, following a series of terrorist attacks in the region. In Xinjiang, Chinese officials seek to disrupt what China calls the “three evil forces”—separatism, extremism and terrorism. That includes restrictions on religious freedom. Chinese authorities have banned traditional, unexceptional expressions of religious observation, from giving children religious names to having what is described as an abnormal beard or wearing a veil, to attending a mosque under the age of 18—bans that we in the UK find deplorable. There are also credible reports to suggest that Chinese authorities use a highly sophisticated central database to flag individuals deemed as suspicious. Such individuals, if identified, are likely to be detained.
Our diplomats most recently visited Xinjiang in May and November 2019. Their reports, much like some of the experiences of hon. Members here, paint a bleak picture of the oppression suffered by millions of Uighurs and other minorities. Their observations supported much of the recent open-source reporting on the region, reports by non-governmental organisations and leaked documents from the Chinese Government.
We have also seen credible evidence to suggest that Uighurs are being used as a source of forced labour in Xinjiang and across China, and that if individuals refuse to participate, they and their families are threatened with extra-judicial detention.
I am sorry to put the Minister on the spot, but we are not here to play games. These are serious issues. As I am on my feet, there are currently men, women and children illegally incarcerated in China. Will he commit today that the Government, through their procurement office, will write to all the suppliers to Her Majesty’s Government that I have referenced today in this Chamber, to seek assurances that they are not using slave labour or forced labour to manufacture their goods?
Our concerns about this area and the report that my hon. Friend refers to are very well known. The research in the report, and the potential use of forced labour, gives us a better understanding of the situation. We contributed a small part of the overall funding to that research, although we did not play a part in the drafting of the report. It helps to inform us, and my hon. Friend raises a very good point.
Will the Minister give way?
I will move on; I do have to finish, and I hope to give my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin a couple of minutes at the end. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand.
Our intelligence is that families are also obliged to host Chinese officials in their homes for extended periods, to demonstrate their loyalty to the Communist party. On the streets, Uighurs and other minorities are continuously watched by police, supported by extensive use of facial recognition technology and restrictions on movement.
Of all the severe restrictions, our greatest concern is that more than 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities—more than 10% of the Uighur population—have been detained in internment camps. The deputy party secretary of Xinjiang stated in December that all detainees have been released from the camps. We have not seen sufficient evidence to support that statement and assess that a significant proportion remain in detention. It is unknown how long each individual is detained, what chance they have of release or whether they can appeal their detention. Clearly, detentions have split families, left children effectively orphaned and created a culture of fear.
China’s initial response to allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang was to deny the existence of the camps, but after a significant amount of evidence was reported and international attention increased, that position became untenable. China now describes the camps as education and training facilities. We recognise that Xinjiang is of significant geopolitical importance to China, both as an economic corridor to markets in central Asia, the middle east and Europe, and as home to large gas fields, half of China’s coal deposits and an estimated 20% of its oil reserves. However, although that may partly explain China’s strong security interests in Xinjiang, we believe, based on all available evidence, that its actions are disproportionate, systematic and counterproductive.
Innocent citizens have suffered greatly under the policies. We have been calling, via the UN, for China to close the camps, cease indiscriminate surveillance and restrictions on religion and culture, and allow UN observers unfettered access to the region. China is contravening its own constitutional provisions on freedom of religion and its obligations under the 1948 universal declaration of human rights. I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin that the human rights situation in Xinjiang remains a priority for me, the Foreign Secretary and the UK Government as a whole. We strongly believe that everyone, everywhere, should enjoy equal rights and protection under the law.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made the sensible point that China’s actions could be counter- productive in terms of the potential for being a breeding ground for terrorism. That argument is difficult to disagree with. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who knows the region incredibly well, made a similar point. China has some genuine terrorism concerns, but as I said, its actions are indiscriminate and disproportionate, and will be counter- productive in the long term.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) talked about the rights of children. I share her deep concern about the impact of the policies on children in particular. She also mentioned sanctions, as many Members did, including the hon. Member for Rhondda. The Foreign Secretary has announced that the UK will establish a global human rights sanctions regime under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. We will lay secondary legislation to establish that regime in the coming months.
It would be inappropriate to comment on potential designations before the regulations come into force.
But when will you lay the regulations?
The reality is that, now we have left the EU, designing the first piece of UK autonomous sanctions legislation will be complex, and it is worth taking the time to get it right. The hon. Member will have to have some patience, but the matter is very much on our radar and we will do it.
The Minister probably cannot do it before the end of the year, but perhaps he could make a statement setting out the answers to some of the questions in detail, because we want to know what the Government are going to do.
That is absolutely right. Members have my commitment that we will introduce our own sanctions regime, but we have to put the secondary legislation in place to ensure that we get it right.
The hon. Members for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) mentioned the allegations of organ harvesting. We have been in touch with the World Health Organisation on that issue. We note the publication of the findings of the report on forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China. We are reading that report very carefully and considering it alongside all possible evidence. Our position is quite simple: if this is true, the practice of systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting would be truly horrifying.
The hon. Member for Bolton South East asked what we are doing to ensure that people are released. I assure her that all our diplomatic activity is focused on urging China to end the policy, including closing the camps and releasing those detained. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) asked about international engagement. I assure her that lots of our engagement includes Muslim-majority countries, which is crucial. She rightly talked about the Human Rights Council action, including a resolution. I hope to set out the extensive UK activity and leadership in the area.
We have repeatedly raised Xinjiang in our national statements, and most recently in the current human rights session yesterday. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, raised CCTV and the company Hikvision. He may or may not be aware that, in the last few days, the Home Secretary cancelled the invitation for Hikvision to attend a security conference in the UK. That is very important.
We condemn the actions of the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang in the strongest possible terms. China is pursuing policies that prevent people in Xinjiang from lawfully practising their rights to freedom of religion or belief, speech and association. More than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have been extra-judicially detained. We continue to urge China to end those policies. It is in the interest of China’s international reputation and the long-term stability of Xinjiang that China honours its commitments to its own constitutional provisions on freedom of religion or belief and the universal declaration of human rights. I assure all Members that we will continue to urge the Chinese Government to change course and to do so.
I always valued and admired the approach of Kim Howells, a former Labour Member of Parliament and Minister at the Foreign Office. He was driven with moral purpose and always gave clear responses, certainly in my experience. I think today is the first time in my 15 years here that I have heard a Minister from the Foreign Office, notwithstanding Mr Howells, be prepared to say on record that he condemns the action of China. I applaud him for his clarity and candour, which will bring huge encouragement to the Uighur population of China.
In our discussion about China’s policy on its Uighur population and the illegal detention of Uighurs, the Minister—this may be the quickest that he has ever heard quotes back from his own speech—used the words “indiscriminate”, “disproportionate” and “counterproductive”. As friends of China in this Chamber, we call upon the Chinese Government to think again about the policy, to end it and to abide by its international obligations and by international human rights and humanitarian laws. They are stoking up a terrorism problem for the future, which will be not only China’s problem but that of the region and then an international problem, affecting the United Kingdom. I applaud the Minister for his response and for his clarity. I hope that China is listening.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered China’s policy on its Uighur population.