MPs urge government to ban imports from Xinjiang over treatment of Uyghurs

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is also demanding a fast-track asylum system is set up for Uyghurs fleeing China

Kim Sengupta
Diplomatic editor
Thursday 08 July 2021 03:22
<p>MPs want to form a coalition of ‘sanctuary states’ which could offer refuge to the persecuted minority</p>

MPs want to form a coalition of ‘sanctuary states’ which could offer refuge to the persecuted minority

The British government has been urged by MPs to ban imports from Xinjiang, partially boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, and discourage companies from sponsoring the Games in response to China’s repression of Uyghur Muslims.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also recommended that Chinese surveillance company Hikvision, producers of the security cameras which recorded Matt Hancock with his lover in the Health Department, should be banned from this country.

The company has been accused of providing equipment to prison camps where thousands of Uyghur Muslims are being held in arbitrary detention and subjected to severe human rights abuses.

The MPs are also asking the government to set up a fast-track asylum system for Uyghurs and other minority communities fleeing Chinese persecution, while trying to form a coalition of ‘sanctuary states’ which could offer refuge.

At the same time, there should be urgent steps taken, says the Committee, to determine the level of harassment being faced by Uyghur exiles in this country from Chinese officials and to identify the support and protection they need.

I think we need to be cautious that what we are not doing is feeding a crocodile, hoping to be eaten last

Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee

A report by the Committee calls on Boris Johnson’s government to respect the view of the House of Commons that crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place in China, and to take a more robust stance to the one so far.

It asks the government to hold talks with the ICC (International Criminal Court) about an investigation into crimes committed against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and beyond, and push for an urgent review into accusations that Unesco has failed to condemn China’s destruction of Muslim religious and cultural sites.

The government, seeking post-Brexit trade, has declared that it would be seeking greater economic ties with China. Last week Rishi Sunak urged UK businesses to focus on China to make up for the loss of access to European Union markets. Boris Johnson recently proclaimed that he was “fervently Sinophile” and that he was determined to improve ties “whatever the occasional political difficulties” with Beijing.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Never Again: The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond, Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Committee, said that, while recognising China’s economic might, care should be taken while pursuing trade deals. “I think we need to be cautious that what we are not doing is feeding a crocodile, hoping to be eaten last,” he said.

David Cameron’s government, with George Osborne as chancellor, first laid out the path of expanding trade with China. Chinese multinational, Huawei, entered the UK’s 5G network, as a consequence.

The decision on Huawei was reversed last year after intense pressure from Washington. The US administration has stopped American companies from supplying parts to Hikvision because of its involvement in the state security apparatus in Xinjiang.

The US has stated that economic ties with China should face human rights scrutiny. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held a meeting on Tuesday with a group of former Uyghur camp inmates to seek their views on pressures which can be brought to bear on Beijing to try and stop persecution.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently met with former Uyghur camp inmates

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, a member of the Committee, said that while the import of cotton was specifically mentioned in the report, there was a case for a wider ban of goods from Xinjiang because there was no clarity that repressive practices were not involved in production.

British people, she added, would want to know if Chinese imports “were potentially the result of slave labour”. The Committee points out that WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules allow the banning of “goods from slave states or slave-made goods” on human rights grounds.

Mr Tugendhat, addressing the issue of Hikvision, said: “We have spoken in the past about Huawei. Here is another company with connections to the state apparatus of repression which is hugely problematic. Hikvision cameras currently operate throughout the UK, in leisure centres and even schools. 

“We think that British people, who value human rights and respect privacy, would be extremely concerned to know that these companies operate in the UK with technology developed in order to enable state repression.”

The Committee calls on the government “to explore a ban on the import of all cotton products known to be produced in whole or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region of China. This ban should be extended to other industries”.

The report states that the “government should ensure that the Chinese government faces consequences at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for its crimes in Xinjiang by not participating in the opening or closing ceremonies; strongly discouraging UK businesses from sponsoring or advertising at the Olympics; encouraging fans and tourists to stay away, and discouraging athletes from supporting or accepting the Chinese government’s propaganda efforts while in the country”.

Mr Tugendhat said: “The evidence of severe human rights abuses and crimes against the Uyghur people is already overwhelming and indisputable, and parliament has called it a genocide ... the government should recognise parliament’s decision, strengthen our response at home, and urge our international partners to protect our own supply chains being used to profit from abuses.”

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