Claims China’s Uyghur people face genocide cannot be ignored – Christine Jardine MP

Genocide is the increasingly compelling conclusion to be drawn from what evidence we have – including drone footage of the mass movement of prisoners and the seizure of 13 tonnes of human hair by US authorities – about the plight of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority, writes Christine Jardine MP

Watchtowers on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China's northwestern Xinjiang region in May 2019 (Picture: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)
Watchtowers on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China's northwestern Xinjiang region in May 2019 (Picture: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

I have always hated being labelled. I would love to say that it is some esoteric theory about being limited and confined rather than enabled. But it is much simpler than that. It is fear.

An early, and lasting, fascination with history taught me that the motivation for labels is often to subjugate. Or worse.

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History is littered with people persecuted for no other reason than the religious, sexual or ethnic label they’ve been allocated.

I shudder whenever I hear that phrase which somehow seems to seek justification for the unjustifiable: ethnic cleansing.

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It brought a shiver again week as we witnessed what bears all the hallmarks of modern atrocity unfold on our TV screens.

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Video of hordes of people – believed to be Uyghur Muslims - in identical blue vests, with shaven heads, forced to kneel and then led blindfolded to trains.

Yet when asked about the drone footage, the Chinese Ambassador summarily dismissed it saying “sometimes you have transfers of prisoners in any country”.

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As if we could not see what was clear to all.

Entire families have disappeared

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The video which the BBC says has been verified by international intelligence agencies is far from the first evidence of brutal human rights violations being suffered by the Uyghur Muslims.

In August 2018, a UN committee heard fears that up to a million of the ethnic minority have been taken to concentration camps whose existence is either denied by Chinese authorities or described as re-education.

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Former prisoners have spoken of physical and psychological torture. Entire families have disappeared.

Human rights organisations report forced sterilisation of Uyghur women. The same BBC programme with the footage of the hordes of prisoners carried the harrowing account of a woman who had been sterilised.

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And US customs authorities recently seized 13 tonnes of human hair, believed to be from the Uyghur minority. The evidence of persecution, brutal suppression, is mounting. Genocide is the increasingly compelling conclusion. But what is the international community doing to scrutinise and hold the Chinese Communist Party to account for this emerging atrocity?

At a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council this month, the UK and more than two dozen other nations criticised the Chinese policy toward Uyghurs.

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And following the video footage last week, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab criticised Beijing’s “egregious human rights abuses” against the Uyghur community which he described as “deeply troubling”. But there is little to encourage the belief that this will have any impact on the behaviour of the regime in Beijing.

Tensions growing between China and West

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Xinjiang is a borderland province to the far west of the People’s Republic of China with huge strategic importance to it.

That in itself is neither enough to excuse, nor to explain, the behaviour of that government to a section of its people.

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Nor is it the only issue which is currently stoking the tension between China and the West.

The crackdown on Hong Kong with the introduction of the new Securities Act and the escalating trade war with the US have created an atmosphere far from the one that Sinophiles had anticipated as little as ten years ago.

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Indeed the new open China which the Olympic Games appeared to herald in 2008 seems a world away now as human rights are ignored and economic supremacy appears ever more important.

And then there is Huawei. Two years ago, I visited China with a delegation organised by the British Council as part of its annual leadership programme with that country’s government.

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Even then the hope of the positive relationship to which our current UK Government continues to aspire seemed to be undermined by any reference to human rights or international rule of law.

Any mention of the former was dismissed with the simple assertion that millions are being taken out of poverty, while the latter seemed open to interpretation.

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The House of Commons was united in its condemnation, not just of what we have seen from China on our TV screens, but the attitude of its rulers towards their own people.

But will those words be enough? We have already heard the warnings of consequences for Britain of interfering in China’s politics, and the threatened withdrawal of recognition of the passports offered to around three million Hongkongers by the UK Government.

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‘Engineering a genocide’

In response the Liberal Democrats have called on the Foreign Secretary to acknowledge that the Chinese government is “engineering a genocide of the Uyghur people”.

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Their response must be both unilateral and, where appropriate, in concert with international partners. Above all it is urgent.

But they are not the only ones who must examine their actions and reflect on whether they could have done more to encourage a different approach from Beijing.

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While I was there two years ago, the Scottish Government was also visiting China with a trade delegation led by the First Minister.

The Holyrood administration’s charm offensive was designed to achieved favoured nation status and was part of a strategy which involved a £10 billion deal.

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Their silence has been deafening. And for my constituents who write to me regularly about their concerns over China’s alleged human rights violations the splendour of the Queensferry Crossing must be a bitter sweet reminder.

That most iconic of structures and proud boast of the SNP era, which was built with Chinese steel. There will be those who say that our censorious language will achieve little, and attempts at economic sanction little more.

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But to do nothing would be to turn a blind eye to the actions of a government which it must now be feared is engineering a genocide of the Uyghur people.

We have a duty to take a lead and do whatever we can to save those people. If not, does that mean we are prepared to stomach further harrowing inhuman scenes like those played out on our TV screens over the past weeks?

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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