British Government Rejects Claims Of Genocide In Xinjiang And Imposing Sanctions On China

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The British Government issued a formal response yesterday (November 14) to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report into Xinjiang. When such reports are published the Government has 60 days to provide a reply, either accepting or rejecting the recommendations put before them. This mechanism acts as a bellwether concerning current thinking towards policy on stated subjects.

The Xinjiang situation in China has become highly politically charged and emotive. Critics have labelled China’s treatment of the Uyghur population as ‘genocide’. Calls for sanctions have been made amongst some vitriolic abuse directed at Beijing.

The geopolitical issues surrounding Xinjiang have often not been taken fully into account by China critics. The Province borders Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan and has been prone to terrorist attacks (as have other cities in China, including Shanghai and Beijing) by Uyghur factions intent on establishing an Islamic state in the Province. China insists it has been taking defensive and security measures. Some 1 million ‘at risk’ Uyghurs are currently in detention camps (from a total Uyghur population of 13 million). That may seem excessive – however with the situation with neighboring Afghanistan still highly volatile, with the strong possibility of violence being exported, it is apparent China’s strategy appears to be working – Xinjiang thus far remains peaceful, if tense.

The Committee requested a reply based on the following statement:

“The mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang has horrifying echoes of the 1930s. There have been similar atrocities since, and each time the world has promised to never allow such violations to happen again. And yet, we now have clear, undeniable evidence of the persecution of more than one million people in these so-called re-education camps. This inquiry will focus on key questions about what the UK can do to exert its influence and the steps the new FCDO will take to fulfil its goal of making our country an ‘active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’. We will also examine what mechanisms the Government can use to discourage private sector companies from contributing to human rights abuses and hope to hear from those directly affected by the atrocities, using this inquiry to support members of the Uyghur diaspora community. Ultimately, it is they who matter most, and I hope the work of my committee over the coming months will highlight and find ways in which the UK Government, and particularly the FCDO, can prevent similar atrocities from happening again.”

Vector map of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China

There are several key points that were raised by the Committee with the Governments response to them as follows:

1) The Government has refused to declare the situation in Xinjiang as genocide.

“The Government agrees that there is compelling evidence of widespread and systematic human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang…We are clear that these actions represent gross violations of human rights, for which China must be held to account. However, it is the long-standing policy of the British Government not to make determinations in relation to genocide. 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…We will continue to act with our international partners to increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour.” This means the Government will act on a multilateral basis if judged appropriate through bodies such as the United Nations and UNESCO.

2) The Government rejected a call for a ban on cotton imports from Xinjiang or sanctions on all goods and companies associated with the region.

“The Committee’s Report rightly draws attention to the issue of forced labour in Xinjiang. Xinjiang’s position in global supply chains means there is a real risk that international businesses may inadvertently source goods from suppliers that are complicit in forced labour. This is a complex and difficult area that the UK is committed to tackling…In addition to our commitment to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, the Government’s upcoming review of the Modern Slavery Strategy will allow us to explore opportunities to further enhance our approach to transparency in supply chains…We will continue to keep our policy on due diligence under review. In doing so, the Government will remain sensitive to the overall burden of regulation on UK businesses and we would need to be persuaded that any proposals to mandate supply chain due diligence in UK law are practical, proportionate and would deliver tangible improvements to the protection of people’s rights in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Whilst we do not currently have plans to place import controls on goods from China, we are working with our international partners through the G7 trade track to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour. We will continue to keep our policy response to goods produced using forced labour under close review.”

A further issue was raised concerning the implementation of an asylum fast track for Uyghurs and members of other minority ethnic groups who are fleeing persecution in China, to which the Government replied: “We do not currently have plans to implement a fast track specifically for Uyghurs or members of other minority ethnic groups in China.”


The UK Governments statements should draw a line under moves to punish China for perceived abuses. While there is no doubt the Chinese crack down on subversive elements in Xinjiang has been tough, the results speak for themselves.

Having visited Xinjiang on numerous occasions, travelled throughout the Province and both had Uyghur friends and employed them, I can state first hand that the vast majority of Uyghurs are peaceful. The problems lie within cross-border terrorism – partially driven it has to be said by US and NATO (including British) security failings in Afghanistan.

China now has an opportunity to manage, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, alongside military support from the Central Asian states, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, the regional security issue on its own behalf rather than have that of the US imposed upon it right against its borders. One has to conclude in part that although elements of the initial request for an inquiry were well-founded, and there is a need for watchdogs, the attitude of some members of that Committee was extremely partial and did not take into account any of the mitigating circumstances that China faces in Xinjiang whatsoever.

For British businesses then, the coast is now relatively clear, although these same issues will continue to be pursued by the EU. The curious fact remains that British businesses should be involved in Xinjiang. A move to help with regional reconstruction and redevelopment, and especially in Afghanistan, would start to put right a lot of the wrongs as to why the UK was ever involved in a 20-year-old regional war at all.

It is time to move on.

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