Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 22 April 2021


UK MPs declare China is committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Vote does not compel government to act but marks further decline in relations with China

A protest outside the UK parliament in support of Uyghur Muslims
A protest outside the UK parliament in support of Uyghur Muslims on Thursday. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

Last modified on Thu 22 Apr 2021 21.41 BST

British MPs voted to declare that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province.

The motion passed on Thursday does not compel the government to act but is likely to mark a further decline in relations with China.

Nigel Adams, the Asia minister, admitted there was credible evidence of widespread use of forced labour, internment camps, and the targeting of ethnic groups. The actions amounted to clear and systematic abuse of human rights, but he said the UK’s longstanding position was that determining genocide is for “competent national and international courts”.

The vote, part of a growing movement in western democracies, was hailed by the chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Menendez, who said the UK parliament had “shone a light on the egregious abuses the Chinese state commits against the Uyghur people. The free world must be united in holding the Chinese government to account for these abuses.”

Senator Mario Rubio, the vice-chair of the US Senate select committee on intelligence, said: “One by one, democratic nations are calling out the Chinese government persecution of the Uyghur people We cannot stand idly by while these horrific abuses continue.”

Nusrat Ghani, the author of the motion and a former Conservative minister, said: “The work does not stop here. We cannot continue business as usual with China while these atrocities continue. The government must now act urgently to ensure our supply chains are not tainted by goods made with Uyghur forced labour.”

Adams turned down an invitation from his backbenchers to give formal government evidence to the Uyghur tribunal being led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, but said he had met the lawyer this week.

He said the government had sent a powerful message in March by sanctioning four senior Chinese officials involved in the abuses in Xinjiang province.

The shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Kinnock said ministers needed to go further by widening the pool of Chinese officials sanctioned, ending further formal economic consultations with China, and advocating for the UN general assembly to request an advisory opinion from the international court of justice on the question of genocide.

China recently sanctioned 10 UK individuals and entities, including five MPs, as a response to the UK sanctions. Tim Loughton, one of the five MPs, told the Chinese embassy he would not be cowed and had only been re-energised by the sanctions.

The Foreign Office is caught in a growing dilemma as it seeks to compartmentalise its disagreements over the political and authoritarian direction of China from its efforts to persuade the country on its need to reduce its carbon emissions.

The Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, has called on the government to commit to a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

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