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China: Uighurs

Volume 801: debated on Monday 20 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the treatment of Uighurs in China; and what representations they have made to the Government of China regarding such treatment.

My Lords, we have deep and serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the extrajudicial detention of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in what are called political re-education camps, systematic restrictions on Uighur culture and the practice of Islam, and extensive surveillance. We regularly raise these concerns with the Chinese authorities and at the United Nations. Most recently, the UK ambassador to China raised Xinjiang directly with the Vice Foreign Minister on 24 December 2019.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. The Uighurs are being subjected to the largest surveillance and internment of any ethnic minority since the Holocaust. They are subjected to torture in the name of re-education and retraining. The families of British Uighurs are currently detained in camps. Does my noble friend feel that enough is being done to raise this issue with China? Bearing in mind that we will mark Holocaust Memorial Day a week today, do he and the Government recognise the hollowness of pledging to never forget when we allow the horrors of the past to be repeated in full view and with our full knowledge?

My Lords, on my noble friend’s final point, it is a very poignant moment as we reflect on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau next week. My noble friend Lord Pickles and I have just returned from Brussels after attending a meeting this morning focused on anti-Semitism, which remains a scourge in the modern world. My noble friend is quite right on Xinjiang and I agree with her. I assure her that we have raised the issue of Xinjiang, and the suppression of the Uighurs and other minorities, bilaterally with the Chinese Government. As Human Rights Minister, I made it a specific point to raise this issue at the Human Rights Council directly and in partnership and collaboration with other like-minded partners. It remains a key priority that we continue to raise in bilateral and multilateral fora across the globe.

My Lords, is it not time, though, for some more action? Words do not seem to be having any effect. We could be working with our allies to ensure that we have targeted sanctions. I think in particular of the companies making money out of the sorts of things being done in the province. Should we not be working with our European allies to ensure that those companies are subject to sanctions? We need to ensure that China listens and acts.

My Lords, I believe that China is listening. I have sat in international meetings with the Chinese authorities, raising our concern. As to whether the United Kingdom and other countries will raise Xinjiang and, in particular, the situation of the Uighurs, we have consistently done so. Most recently, we have also called for access to Xinjiang for Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. These systematic and focused parts of our strategy continue. The noble Lord raised the important issue of the use of sanctions. As he well knows, the Government are currently contemplating this. We would be looking to introduce Magnitsky-style sanctions, which are geared at ensuring that those who commit human rights abuses are not allowed to enter countries. Restrictions would be placed on them. I am sure that the Magnitsky sanctions regime will play an important part in the overall mix as we consider our human rights policy globally.

My Lords, the Minister rightly points out that over 1 million Uighurs have gone through the indoctrination process to be converted into obedient Chinese communist workers. Is he aware that this is brainwashing on an industrial scale? Is it not time that he contacted the United Nations to see whether a high-level delegation can visit this province of China to see what precisely is happening in some of these camps? The latest satellite evidence demonstrates very clearly the destruction and razing of the graves of the Uighur community. Can the Foreign Office address with the Chinese Government the nature of their actions on some of the Uighur community’s secular burial sites?

The noble Lord raises an important point. I assure him that we are doing exactly as he suggests. Most recently, we called on the Chinese authorities to allow meaningful and unrestricted access to Xinjiang for all UN observers, including Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as I said in response to an earlier question. We have also repeatedly called for this action to be taken forward, in the UN Third Committee statement in October and through our national statements at the Human Rights Council. China is an important strategic partner for the United Kingdom, and our relationship allows us to raise these issues bilaterally. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to do so through international fora such as the UN.

My Lords, has the Minister, in those bilateral talks, challenged the Chinese Government’s campaign against what they call extremism? In Xinjiang, extremism is measured by the length of a beard or the desire to pray in a mosque not controlled by the Communist Party. As we have heard, it leads to incarceration, torture and re-education, and to what a United Nations committee on the elimination of racial discrimination recently described Xinjiang as: a “no-right zone.” As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, should we not be desisting from business as usual with companies such as Huawei, Dahua and Hikvision; that is, funnelling British money into companies which are arms of a communist state responsible for egregious human rights violation, which I wrote to the Minister about on 11 December 2019?

My Lords, on the point about extremism, that has been a narrative which the Chinese have put forward. We all have challenges of extremism; there are ways and means of dealing with them. While I do not have a beard, I fear I would fall short on the second of those signs of extremism: praying in a non-communist-led mosque. That said, the noble Lord raises important issues. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are looking at introducing a sanctions regime. Our relationship with China is an important one, the strength of which allows us to raise serious human rights concerns, as I said earlier.