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Xinjiang Internment Camps: Shoot-to-Kill Policy

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if she will make a statement on the shocking revelations on the BBC by Professor Adrian Zenz that the internment camps in Xinjiang do exist and operate a shoot-to-kill Uyghur policy in contravention of the previous statement by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

Today’s reports provide further shocking details of China’s gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. They add to an already extensive body of evidence from Chinese Government documents, first-hand testimony, satellite imagery and visits by our own diplomats to the region. The reports suggest a shoot-to-kill policy was in place at re-education camps for detainees seeking to escape. This is just one of many details that fatally undermine China’s repeated assertions that these brutal places of detention were in fact vocational training centres, or a legitimate response to concerns about extremism. On the contrary, the compelling evidence we see before us reveals the extraordinary scale of China’s targeting of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, including forced labour, severe restrictions on freedom of religion, the separation of parents from their children, forced birth control and mass incarceration.

We have already taken robust action in response. We have imposed sanctions, led joint statements at the UN, taken measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains, funded research to expose China’s actions and consistently raised our concerns with Beijing at the highest levels. The Prime Minister did so most recently in a phone call with President Xi on 25 March. In 2019, we were the first country to lead a joint statement on China’s human rights record in Xinjiang at the UN. Our leadership has sustained pressure on China to change its behaviour. We work tirelessly to increase the number of countries speaking out. By October 2021, our efforts had helped to secure the support of 43 countries for a joint statement on Xinjiang at the UN Third Committee, including Muslim-majority Turkey and Albania. In response to today’s revelations, we will continue to work with our partners to raise the cost to China of its actions. We will continue to develop our domestic policy response, including introducing further measures to tackle forced labour in UK supply chains.

The UK stands with our international partners in calling out China’s appalling persecution of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. We remain committed to holding China to account.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. She said so many things that will be so close to the evidence that was submitted to the independent inquiry that took place under Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. The inquiry determined that genocide against the Uyghurs is taking place. What more evidence do the Minister and the Department need to enable them to put in place their obligations under the genocide convention?

Today’s leak of the Xinjiang police files contains more than 2,000 photographs of individuals aged from 15 to 73, who have been incarcerated just for being born Uyghur or Muslim. If someone does not drink alcohol or smoke, or has a beard, he is incarcerated.

One of the markers of genocide is breaking the link between parent and child: there are children in the re-education centres. Let us not forget the Chinese Communist Party’s own words—they put the children in those centres to break their roots, break their lineage, break their connections and break their origins. That is a marker of genocide and I urge the Minister to call it out for what it is—the Uyghur genocide.

The evidence was on the BBC this morning because it coincides with the visit of Ms Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is a rare visit, but the CCP has said that because of covid it will be a closed-loop visit. It will be in a bubble, and the CCP will control who Ms Bachelet sees and who she meets. That is another example of the UN being bullied by the CCP. Does the Minister share my concern that the UN visit, and any report produced, will deny the absolute truth of what is happening to the Uyghur people, which is genocide at the hands of the CCP?

The Foreign Secretary made it clear this morning that these latest reports provide further shocking details of China’s gross human rights violations in Xinjiang, adding—as I said—to the already extensive body of evidence. I understand the strength of feeling in the House. As Members will be aware, it is the longstanding policy of successive British Governments that any judgment on genocide is a matter for a competent national or international court, rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) mentioned, this coincides with the visit by the UN High Commissioner, and we reiterate our longstanding call for the Chinese authorities to grant her unfettered access to the region so that she can conduct a thorough assessment of the facts on the ground. We are watching her visit very closely.

I thank the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) for once more bringing the question of the appalling human rights situation in Xinjiang to the House. The latest revelations are horrendous, but sadly not surprising. The Uyghur minority in the west of China have been systematically stripped of what few civil liberties they had, and subjected to treatment that this House has voted to call genocide.

We have known for some time that the situation in Xinjiang, so closely examined by the BBC’s John Sudworth, constitutes outrageous human rights abuse, and the House has dedicated considerable time to urging further action by the Government to hold the Chinese authorities to account. Today is no different. The leaked police files we have seen today shed further light on the treatment of the Uyghur people, with a reported shoot-to-kill policy for escapees from the camps and other securitisation measures that expose as materially false the Chinese Government’s claims that they are just vocational training centres.

The Minister will have heard the House today, so I will ask some brief questions. First, further to the meeting that the Foreign Secretary had with sanctioned UK parliamentarians, some of whom are in their places today, what progress has been made on reforming the Government’s policy on genocide, in light of these disturbing findings? Secondly, what assessment has she made of the genuinely unfettered access that Michelle Bachelet will have when in the region? Thirdly, will the Government use the Procurement Bill and the modern slavery Bill in this new Session of Parliament to protect British consumers from complicity in the Uyghur genocide and support British businesses who genuinely want to do the right thing?

What steps will the Government take to ensure that the equipment used to carry out the repressive surveillance detailed in the leak is no longer used in Government Departments or public bodies in the UK? Do the Government plan to impose further sanctions on entities and officials who have directed or carried out atrocities against the Uyghurs, including those named and quoted in these documents? Finally, will the Government provide support and refuge to Uyghur people fleeing the genocide, including those fleeing third-party countries in which they are at risk of detention and deportation back to China?

Let us be really clear: genocide is a crime and, like other crimes, whether it has occurred should be decided after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible judicial process. I am aware that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary met parliamentarians sanctioned by China, and the fact that that meeting took place demonstrates how seriously we take the issue.

On future policy, as I set out in my statement, we will continue to develop our domestic policy response, including introducing further measures to tackle forced labour and UK supply chains. On technology, we have a long-standing policy of not commenting about the detail of those arrangements. Finally, on sanctions, we have acted to hold to account senior officials and organisations responsible for egregious human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang. We keep all evidence and potential listings under close review, but it would not be appropriate to speculate about who may be designated in the future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on gaining the urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, on having the foresight to grant it. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that in essence this is really not good enough. We have been going on about this for some time. The Government still cannot decide whether there is genocide—we, alone among all the developed nations, are stuck on a ludicrous definition—and it is high time that they did. Is she aware that Alena Douhan, a UN human rights monitor, was in receipt of $200,000 from China in 2021? That was unheard of in the past. Meanwhile, a UN high representative is going to China. What faith can we have that the UN will not be used as apologists for China? It is time we called that out and said, “Enough is enough. Unless you get direct access, we will not listen to a single word you say. China is guilty of genocide”?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I reiterate that the Foreign Secretary made it clear that the latest reports provide shocking details. She also made it clear in her statement this morning that it is essential that the Chinese authorities grant unfettered access for the high commissioner’s visit. If such access is not forthcoming, all that will do is serve to highlight China’s attempts to hide the truth of its actions in Xinjiang.

The Xinjiang police files provide some of the strongest evidence to date for a policy targeting almost any expression of Uyghur identity, culture or Islamic faith and of a chain of command running all the way up to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. That follows the Uyghur tribunal that concluded that there is proof “beyond reasonable doubt” that China is committing crimes of torture, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. We simply cannot collect more and more evidence of atrocities being committed; we must act now. What plans are there to impose sanctions on Chinese officials named today, including Chen Quanguo, who chillingly told senior military figures:

“even five years re-education may not be enough”.

Let us remember that he was responsible for many of the human rights abuses in the sovereign state of Tibet, which has been illegally occupied by China for some decades.

In line with recommendations from the Foreign Affairs Committee, has the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office begun engaging in dialogue with the International Criminal Court on the feasibility of an investigation into crimes committed against the Uyghurs in Xinjian—yes or no? Will the UK Government finally declare that China is committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang?

I have been clear on the shocking details that have emerged today, which are adding to an already extensive body of evidence, and very clear that we have been standing with international partners in calling out China’s persecution of the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. We remain committed to holding China to account. It is important to note that our policy on genocide determination does not prevent us from taking robust action, and we have done that. As I said in an earlier answer on future sanctions, we keep all evidence and potential listings under review, but it would not be appropriate to speculate.

This is shocking new evidence: 250,000 Uyghurs detained; re-education camps; in one county, 12% of the adult population actually detained over a couple years; shoot-to-kill policies; and everything else we already know about. This is genocide. What more evidence do we need that this is genocide? The Minister referred to the meeting that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary had with sanctioned Members of Parliament last month, at which the Prime Minister expressed surprise that we seemed to be out of kilter with other countries in the way we define genocide. He promised to look at that again and come back to us to see if we can reform the way the Government define genocide, in keeping with the unanimous vote of this House to recognise that genocide has happened. Will the Minister update us, particularly those of us who have been sanctioned, on what progress is being made on that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I say, there is a long-standing policy of successive Governments in terms of any judgment on genocide. However, I do really understand the strength of feeling. I am aware that he met, with colleagues, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The fact that that meeting took place demonstrates how seriously the Government take the issue.

The chilling report leaked today shows that China’s bloodthirsty campaign against Uyghur Muslims is showing no sign of slowing down. Despite repeated calls, the Government have been far too slow to act. Will the Minister finally—I ask again—commit to sanctioning Chen Quanguo, the chief architect of the massacre we are witnessing in Xinjiang? Will the Government use the Procurement Bill and the modern slavery Bill to ensure British supply chains are not tainted with the Uyghur genocide?

The UK has taken robust action. We have imposed sanctions, led joint statements at the UN and taken measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains. As I mentioned, we will continue to look at policies in this area.

The genocide of the Uyghur people has been taking place on an industrial scale for decades and we should not be unjust to the victims by pretending that what we are hearing today is somehow new or not something we did not already know. China is not being held to account: the UK is still shipping in products made from Uyghur blood labour; Canadian Solar plans to impose its solar panels on Rutland; and the Government are still contracting firms that are complicit in genocide, such as Hikvision. Will my hon. Friend please confirm that we will use the new Procurement Bill to end the ability of China to build its tech-totalitarian state on the backs of British biometrics and data, and the blood of the Uyghur people?

As I said, what we have seen in the latest reports this morning is truly shocking and adds to the existing volume of evidence. We are taking strong action, but we will continue to develop our policy response and introduce further measures to tackle forced labour in UK supply chains.

May I express just how angry and disgusted I am? I feel a deep abhorrence and a pain in my heart, as everybody else does—I know that you feel the same way, Mr Speaker—as China at the very highest level has the blood of innocents on its hands. Given the overwhelming evidence of the atrocities being committed in Xinjiang, as is apparent from the media today, will Her Majesty’s Government and the Minister make an assessment of whether the actions of the Chinese Communist party in Xinjiang constitute genocide or crimes against humanity? I think they do, Minister—do you?

As I said, genocide is a crime and, like any other crimes, the position should be decided after consideration of all the evidence by a competent national or international court. But let me be absolutely clear: the latest reports are truly shocking, and the Foreign Secretary made that very clear in her statement this morning.

As the Foreign Secretary made very clear in her statement this morning, if access is not forthcoming, the visit will serve only to highlight China’s attempts to hide the truth and its actions. We have been absolutely clear that unfettered access is essential.

There are cases where a man has been jailed for almost 17 years because the Chinese state determined his beard to be illegal and where someone has been jailed for having studied Islamic scriptures with his grandmother. We have now been made aware of reports that machine guns and snipers have been placed with orders to shoot to kill anyone, from the almost 2 million prisoners, who tries to escape those camps. What we are seeing in Xinjiang are Muslims being denied their Muslimness and the most grotesque and extreme versions of Islamophobia. Does the Minister agree that the latest revelations demonstrate the need for the British Government to take action and sanction Chinese officials involved in the human rights abuses in Xinjiang?

What we are seeing is truly shocking and adds to the body of evidence. We have been holding officials to account, and we have sanctioned senior officials and organisations, but we keep all the evidence and potential listings under review and I cannot speculate about future sanctions.

I suspect that the Minister gave a more revealing answer than she had intended to give to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), when she said that if there are to be restrictions on the UN party visiting the province, that would achieve only one thing: to expose China as a country that disliked outside scrutiny. That would hardly be exposing something that is a secret. Many of us hoped that that would trigger something more substantial by way of meaningful action from the Government.

Let me give the Minister the opportunity to answer the question posed by the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), and the Minister’s hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who asked about Hikvision. Hikvision has produced the equipment that is used for surveillance in Xinjiang and it now wants access to our market. It would send a really powerful signal to say, “If you provide equipment of that sort to a place like China, you are not welcome in this country.”

On Hikvision, we are deeply concerned by China’s use of high-tech surveillance to target the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang disproportionately. We regularly raise those concerns alongside our partners, including in a joint statement that we supported, with 42 other countries, at the UN. Over the past year, we have introduced enhanced export controls that have strengthened our ability to block exports of software and technology that might facilitate human rights violations.

Today’s reports provide further evidence—not that it is needed—that tens of thousands of innocent Uyghur men, women and children are being tortured and killed in concentration camps as part of a continued genocide. Why? Because they dare to grow a beard; they dare to talk about their faith; they dare to practise their faith; they dare to be Muslim. All we get from Government Front Benchers again are words without any action. The Minister, the Government and the international community must accept that their continued inaction leaves international Islamophobia unchallenged.

The reports have demonstrated further shocking details, adding to the evidence, but we have taken robust action. We have imposed sanctions; we have led joint statements at the UN; we have taken measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains; and we consistently raise our concerns with Beijing at the highest levels. As I said in my opening remarks, the Prime Minister did so in his recent phone call with President Xi. We are taking action.

We are talking about internment camps for peace-loving people, people who have a different faith from other Chinese people. This is once again about a Communist Government. During the past few months, there has been a rush from our Government to remove our dependency on the Russian economy due to its invasion of Ukraine. It is now widely acknowledged that the Government started that process too late. The World Health Organisation has even said that the Chinese had an ethical organ removal and transplant system. That was based on the Chinese Government’s self-assessment, and it is now accepted—they have everybody in their pocket, including, it seems over here. When will the Government start the process of removing our dependency on the Chinese economy? If we leave it too late, it will be too hard to handle. China will be even harder than Russia to tackle, so will the Government please get moving? What is happening now is not achieving anything. I ask the Government please to take the proper action that we need.

I have set out on a number of occasions the actions that we are taking. When it comes to trade with China, it is essential that the trade is reliable, avoids strategic dependency and does not involve the violation of intellectual property or forced technology transfer.

We heard, by way of example, of the case of a mother who has been interned and may be subject to the shoot-to-kill policy because she is associated with her son, who has been imprisoned for 10 years on the grounds that he does not smoke and drink and may therefore have leanings towards religion. The Chinese Government at the highest levels seem to have no respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy and are allowing genocide, yet we are not taking proper action on procurement and through the modern slavery Bill. High Speed 2 and Hinkley Point are reliant on China. We are selling off our microchips. Our universities are impregnated. What are we doing, in alliance with the United States and others, to take a concerted economic approach so that we stand up for our values and against genocide?

I have set out a number of our actions, which include standing with our international partners in calling out China’s persecution of the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. We remain committed to continuing to hold China to account.

I do not weep very often, but I wept when I heard from a Uyghur survivor about the forced abortion policy and its impact on her. It was horrendous evidence to hear.

The Chinese Government are simply not being held to account. There is no justice and no end in sight, despite all the measures that are being outlined. If this looks like a genocide, it is a genocide. If there is evidence that it is a genocide, it is a genocide. If the Uyghur tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has found that there is a genocide in which

“Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs…have been…subjected to acts of unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity”,

it is a genocide. What steps will the Minister take towards declaring it a genocide? What practical measures will she be taking now? When will it be declared?

I understand the strength of feeling in the House today, but as hon. Members are aware, the long-standing policy of successive British Governments is that any judgment about genocide is a matter for a competent national or international court.

We have seen the careful, deliberate administration of the abuse and persecution of minorities before; we know what it means and where it leads. I appreciate the Minister’s difficulty today. She has said on several occasions that these matters are being kept under review, so on the publication of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the conclusion of her visit, will the Minister commit to the review of which she speaks?

As I said earlier, it is important that the high commissioner makes this visit and that the Chinese authorities grant her full and unfettered access so that the review can be a thorough assessment of the facts on the ground. We are following her visit very closely.

John Sudworth’s BBC report this morning was chilling, both in scale and in content. I have to say that the Minister’s response is woeful. The reality is that she is the person with the power that could make a difference to the genocide in China. What discussions has she had this morning with Chinese officials since the revelations in these papers? What was the response?

As I have said repeatedly, the evidence that we are seeing is shocking. The Foreign Secretary has made it very clear that these are shocking details that add to what is already an extensive body of evidence. I want to reassure the House that FCDO Ministers, civil servants and diplomats regularly raise the matter; I have raised it with the Chinese ambassador in London, for instance, and the Foreign Secretary has raised it with her counterpart, as has the Prime Minister. We regularly raise these issues.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The latest reports from Xinjiang confirm what we already knew: that appalling crimes, human rights abuses and genocide are happening to the Uyghur people.

I return to the issue of security used in this country. The Minister cannot just say that this is an issue of a commercial nature or one with security considerations. She is the Minister. This security equipment and these companies are being used by the British Government, their agencies and their public bodies. She could say today that we are not going to use them. Why does she not do so?

As I have said, we take the security of our citizens, our systems and our establishments incredibly seriously. We have a range of measures in place to scrutinise the integrity of our arrangements, but it is our long-standing policy that we do not comment on the details of those arrangements.