Rights groups slam UK minister over Xinjiang trip

BEIJING• Campaign groups yesterday condemned Britain's finance minister for touting business opportunities ahead of human rights during his visit to China's violence-wracked Xinjiang region.

Mr George Osborne pledged that Britain would "support the growth" of the area, the homeland of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.

China blames Islamist separatists for the violence and has imposed tough security measures, including restrictions on religious practice, mass trials and multiple executions.

Its policies have drawn condemnation from rights advocates and Uighurs, who complain of cultural repression and discrimination.

Mr Osborne's visit - highly unusual for a senior Western politician - came exactly one year after a Xinjiang court imprisoned for life Uighur intellectual and government critic Ilham Tohti on charges of "inciting separatism".

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Britain cannot acquiesce in China's repression of the Uighur people because of economic interests.

MR DILXAT RAXIT, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, a group that claims to collectively represent the Uighur people

Mr Osborne is seeking to promote closer business and economic ties between Britain and China.

In the regional capital, Urumqi, where Tohti was jailed and where ethnic riots in 2009 left about 200 dead, Mr Osborne said Xinjiang had "enormous potential".

He also described "Britain's absolute commitment to support the growth of Urumqi together with the whole of the Xinjiang region".

China's ruling Communist Party denies allegations of cultural and religious repression, and says economic growth will help bring stability to the region.

A lengthy report on Mr Osborne's public comments released by Britain's Treasury did not mention any human rights concerns.

Amnesty International's UK director Kate Allen said failing to raise Tohti's case will "send the signal that Britain is willing to compromise its human rights values".

Mr Osborne told the BBC that he had raised the issue of human rights in the context of "economic development, how we help kids from poor areas of China".

Uighur groups condemned his visit.

"It is very disappointing that there was no public condemnation of China's repression of Uighurs," said Mr Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, a group that claims to collectively represent the Uighur people. "Britain cannot acquiesce in China's repression of the Uighur people because of economic interests."

Britain's governing Conservative Party has sought to improve relations with China after Prime Minister David Cameron angered Beijing by meeting Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Mr Osborne said the Xinjiang visit was intended to highlight business opportunities created by China's plan to build transport and trade infrastructure in Asia known as "One Belt One Road".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'Rights groups slam UK minister over Xinjiang trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe