The British government continues to maintain its line that it will only support genocide designations decided by judicial process. If this is truly the reason for their delay in condemning China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, why have no government figures voiced support for the several ongoing cases intended to investigate this very matter?
In his Eighteenth Brumaire, Karl Marx wrote how, when attempting to study a new language, one always begins by translating it back into the tongue they already know. Likewise, many of us approach current events armed with the vocabulary of history we have studied or experienced. It was, therefore, unsurprising, given recent European history, that a Jewish News frontpage mid-July gave China’s long-standing abuse of its Uyghur population centre-stage. The raw memory of the Holocaust was revived, not for the first time, as chilling images of 13 tonnes of hair allegedly removed from Uyghur detainees being imported into the US were revealed.
Since 2017, over a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities have disappeared into a vast network of “re-education” camps in the far west region of Xinjiang. Detainees are subjected to political indoctrination, forced to renounce their religion and culture and, in many instances subjected to torture, rape, and forced sterilisation and abortion. Thousands of mosques and shrines, including protected sites, have been damaged or demolished 2016. In Hotan in 2018 a historic graveyard was desecrated and converted into a car park. Around 50% of Uyghur households are “paired” with a Party member who can enter the house at any time of the day to monitor & inform on families. As Newcastle University expert Joanne Smith Finley told AP earlier this year, “It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but slow, painful, creeping genocide…These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uyghur population.” To quote American author Zig Ziglar, “The first step in solving a problem is to recognise that it does exist,” and as of yet the British government have done little to this end.
In a Westminster Hall petition debate on Monday, October 12th, former Conservative Party Leader Iain Duncan Smith implored his fellow MPs to vote for clause 68 of the Trade Bill, recently added by the House of Lords. Given the long-running ineptitude of a UN Human Rights council chocked full of some of the most deplorable governments in human history- the latest of which is the People’s Republic itself- this clause would ensure a concrete legal avenue for Britain to halt trade with states partaking in genocide. However, we appear to be a long way off from a moment in which the British government will acknowledge the situation in Xinjiang as genocide.
It is curious then, that the one question that arose consistently throughout the parliamentary debate was not whether there was a case for condemning China’s increasingly genocidal behaviour, but why the government continues to drag its feet over designating it as such and acting accordingly. Minister for Asia Nigel Adams merely reinforced the government’s line that “whether genocide has occurred is a matter for judicial decision”.
An independent tribunal in London scheduled for 2021 will investigate whether the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur population legally constitute genocide. Convened by top human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the tribunal is expected to reveal new evidence and testimony. However, the tribunal does not have government backing, and it is not clear whether it will its conclusion will have any impact on policy. Moreover, 2021 is a long time away in political terms. Much ground may have been lost before then. Moreover, in Monday’s debate, Rushanara Ali MP lamented how the UK government continues refusing to back an ongoing international Court of Justice case on the question of China’s abuses in Xinjiang.
The drawing-up of Magnitsky-style sanctions against individuals connected to the regime in Belarus were announced on 24 September and imposed 5 days later. Of course, the elephant in the room is money. China is the UK’s third-largest import source. In the last week of April, the UK imported over 22 million pieces of PPE and more than 1000 ventilators to the NHS from China. As with the disturbing images of hair seized at the American border, the facts of China’s economic prowess is uncomfortable- it reminds us that to a certain extent we are complicit. Yet, as individuals, we can only go so far in influencing supply chains. China had already pumped 1 trillion dollars into its Belt & Road initiative, fuelling a “hear no evil, speak no evil” attitude even from devout Muslim nations such as Pakistan who would be expected to pressure of the safety of their Uyghur cousins.
If any swift and impactful change is to be made, the British government must follow the US’ footsteps in pursuing Magnitsky-style sanctions immediately. The Commons must vote in favour of clause 68. The government must back domestic and international attempts to denounce the situation in Xinjiang for what it is: genocide in the making.
Georgia is an associate writer for Foundation for Uyghur Freedom. Follow them on Instagram @foundation4uyghurfreedom.