Australian Parliament debates motion on rights abuses in China's Xinjiang

A photo taken in 2018 showing what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
A photo taken in 2018 showing what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's Parliament debated on Monday (March 22) a motion to condemn "systematic breaches" of human rights by China, saying other legislatures had described as genocide its actions towards Uighurs in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Parliaments in Canada and the Netherlands drew rebukes from Beijing after they passed non-binding motions in February that said the treatment of China's Uighur Muslim minority constituted genocide.

"The most egregious, systematic abuse of human rights in the world is occurring in Xinjiang," said Mr Kevin Andrews, a lawmaker of Australia's ruling Liberal party, moving a private member's motion that drew support from members of all major parties.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy said: "We flatly reject the ridiculous and absurd rhetoric on Xinjiang by a handful of MPs in today’s House session."

It added: "Their allegations, based on disinformation and lies and out of political motive, were deliberately made to smear China."

Mr Andrews cited large-scale internment camps and accusations of forced labour among the reasons for the condemnation from the Dutch and Canadian Parliaments, as well as Britain's Upper House and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his predecessor Mike Pompeo.

Many have said, or questioned if, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's programme contravened the United Nations' genocide convention of 1948, he added.

Mr Andrews' motion urges Australia to enforce laws against modern slavery and identify supply chains that use forced labour. It was not immediately clear when it would be put to a vote.

A Labor MP said many of the 3,000 Uighurs in Australia lived in her electorate, and were desperate and anxious.

"Most Australian Uighurs know someone who has disappeared or not been heard of for many years," Ms Anne Stanley, who represents Werriwa in western Sydney, told Parliament.

"Those here don't know whether they are alive or dead."

China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. Late in 2019, it said all people in the camps had "graduated".