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China: Governor of Xinjiang’s Visit

Volume 827: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe to an Urgent Question in another place on the planned visit of the governor of Xinjiang. The Answer is as follows:

“We understand from the Chinese embassy that the governor of Xinjiang may visit the UK next week. To be clear, he has not been invited by the Government or to the FCDO, and we have no confirmation that he will, in fact, travel. He will travel on a diplomatic passport and has not been granted a visa. If he does visit, I assure this House that under no circumstances will he be dignified with a ministerial meeting.

China’s actions in Xinjiang are abhorrent and we will not legitimise them in any way. However, robust engagement to challenge human rights violations and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed is at the core of the UK’s diplomatic work around the world. We must be prepared to use diplomatic channels to achieve that end, hence officials would be prepared to offer him a meeting. In line with that principle, there is only one reason why such a meeting would take place—to make absolutely clear the UK’s abhorrence of the treatment of the Uighur people and to say that we will not relent from exposing the horrors to which they are subject. That point needs to be set out clearly to China. It is only right that people responsible for human rights violations are confronted on these issues.

The UK has played a leading role in international efforts to hold China to account on Xinjiang. In 2019, we became the first country to step up to lead a joint statement on China’s actions in Xinjiang at the UN. Since that first statement, which was supported by 23 countries, we have worked tirelessly through our global diplomatic network to broaden the caucus of countries speaking out. Our leadership has sustained pressure on China to change its behaviour and consistently increase the number of countries speaking out. Most recently, our diplomatic effort helped to secure the support of a record 50 countries for a statement on Xinjiang at the UN third committee in October.

We have imposed sanctions on four individuals and one entity in Xinjiang, and have introduced robust measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains. We have consistently raised our concerns at the highest level in Beijing. Let me be absolutely clear that we will continue to emphasise at all levels that the world is watching what China’s authorities say and do in Xinjiang. They cannot hide their abuses. The UK and our allies will not turn away.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the response to the Urgent Question from Sir Iain Duncan Smith. When I read the exchanges that took place, I was particularly concerned about the one between the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Leo Docherty, where the Minister confirmed from the Dispatch Box that Ministers had approved this visit. As Alicia Kearns said, he is one of the masterminds of the genocide in Xinjiang. Therefore, will the Minister tell us at what level political approval was given? What ministerial level was it—was it Leo Docherty, or did it go higher? Was the Foreign Secretary involved in giving this political okay for a meeting to take place? It is really important that we hear a response to that.

May I also ask about the assessment that the department may have made on Erkin Tuniyaz? Why is he so different from Chen, the former governor, who was sanctioned? Again, we need a specific response on that, so that we understand what sort of consistency the Government have on their policy of challenging these huge abuses of human rights in that province.

I thank the noble Lord for his questions. In truth, I was not able to hear the full exchange that happened earlier in the other place.

The noble Lord is ahead of the game. I have not yet had a chance to go through it in detail. However, I can say that the governor was not invited to the UK by the Government, nor do we have confirmation that he will indeed be travelling. We understand that he intends to engage in discussions with a range of interlocuters about the situation in that region, but we do not know that.

On the issue of approval, I think that what the noble Lord has said is wrong. I am not suggesting that he is wrong: he may be quoting someone else who is wrong. The visa has not been granted for the visit. If he travels, he will be travelling on a diplomatic passport, for which he obviously does not need a visa. The reality is that we do not know, and the visit might not happen at all.

The noble Lord asked another question. There is consistency in our approach. I cannot go into the specifics about sanctions for individuals—we never do—but, in March 2021, we imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials and on an organisation responsible for the appalling human rights violations taking place in that region. By acting with 29 other countries on an agreed set of designations, we increased the reach and impact of those measures and sent the clearest possible signal of our concern and willingness to act. The Foreign Office keeps all evidence and potential listings under close review but, as I said, I cannot speculate on who may or may not be designated in future, as doing so would probably reduce the impacts of those designations.

My Lords, I politely point out to the Minister that that exchange is in Hansard. I am pretty certain that the Minister’s office should have briefed him on the proceedings in House of Commons Hansard so that he was aware of what the Minister there said in reply to the chair of the committee.

Indeed, Mr Docherty said it was the “judgment of Ministers” that this would be an extremely useful opportunity to meet this individual—yes, to pass on strong messages but, nevertheless, I think that senior officials meeting this individual would legitimise his visit if he came. It beggars belief. I will deeply condemn officials from our Government and the European Union if he does come; as I understand it, the visit is planned to be in London then Brussels. This individual is sanctioned by the United States under the Magnitsky system. He was sanctioned in December 2021 because he is linked to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. As we have heard, this individual has played a part in the construction of a system of repression in the region, which, as we have debated time and again, has made its people subject to gross human rights abuses.

So far, the Government’s language has been interesting; they say that he will potentially come here on a diplomatic passport. My understanding of the immigration regime is that there is still conditional access for such people even if they arrive on a diplomatic passport. He is not a member of the mission; therefore, it is not an automatic entry. He is a member of the Chinese Government; therefore, his entry is conditional with regard to the Immigration Rules. Can the Minister confirm that? If he cannot do so now, could he do so urgently in writing? I have a suspicion—here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins—that Ministers have the opportunity to block this visit but have decided that they will not take it up. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether Ministers have the ability to state that this person is not conducive to the public good and, therefore, to block his entry.

My Lords, before I come on to the specifics, I will take umbrage with the noble Lord. I think that he was a little churlish in his reference to the written record. As he knows, in this place, Ministers stand in for other Ministers at very late notice; if he would like to see my diary for today, I would be happy to share it with him, but there was not a minute wasted dealing with issues that are not absolutely top priorities for the United Kingdom. He would appreciate that were he to take a good old look.

There is no doubt that, if this character comes to the United Kingdom, he will not be doing so to be feted or treated in any way by the United Kingdom Government. The only possible reason for there to be any meeting between him and officials would be so that the UK can again put on the record our views in relation to what has happened on his watch. The UK’s abhorrence at the treatment of the Uighur people is very much on the record. The idea that this measure will in any way legitimise, or amplify the importance of, this governor is absurd. If anything, if there is a meeting of any sort with UK Government officials, it will be for us to be able to issue a public reprimand.

It is worth reiterating that the United Kingdom Government have led international efforts to hold China to account for its violations in Xinjiang. We were the first country to step up and lead a joint statement on China’s human rights record in Xinjiang. We have engaged in a huge diplomatic effort to encourage other countries to join us. Since that first statement in 2019, we—Ministers and officials—have worked tirelessly through our global diplomatic network to broaden that international caucus of disapproval.

We have succeeded, and of course we want more countries to join us in publicly condemning these atrocities in China. However, I do not think that anyone can reasonably doubt the commitment of the UK or the leadership that we have taken in challenging China on these issues.

My Lords, I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.

The planned meeting with FCDO officials from this head of a regime which presides over what an independent panel has determined is genocide has caused great concern, not just to the Uighur community and its supporters but to the Hong Kong and Tibetan exile communities. In light of that, Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong made a formal submission to the Foreign Office in November about sanctions against serious violations of human rights in Hong Kong. Can the Minister assure me that there will be a rapid consideration of that report and a rapid response to it?

I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that there will be a rapid appraisal of, and I hope also a rapid response to, that assessment.

To correct one thing, there is no planned meeting with officials. I am not suggesting that there will or will not be meetings. I do not know. There are no plans for meetings to happen between officials and the governor. If there were meetings with the officials, it would be for the reasons that I articulated in my previous answer. However, based on everything I know—and I will correct the record if I am wrong on this—there are no planned meetings between UK government officials and the governor. I think that is what the noble Baroness said.

House adjourned at 6.21 pm.