Canada bans items it says are made by Chinese forced labour

A 2018 photo of workers walking past what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang. Beijing says such centres operate to counter Islamist radicalism following a series of attacks it attributed to the Uighurs. PHOTO: REU
A 2018 photo of workers walking past what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang. Beijing says such centres operate to counter Islamist radicalism following a series of attacks it attributed to the Uighurs. PHOTO: REUTERS
A 2018 photo of workers walking past what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang. Beijing says such centres operate to counter Islamist radicalism following a series of attacks it attributed to the Uighurs. PHOTO: REU
China's Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun (left) slammed what he termed a baseless political attack after the speech at the Security Council by British government minister James Cleverly (right), which targeted alleged human rights violations against Uighurs and other minorities in China's Xinjiang region.

OTTAWA • Canada has joined Britain in announcing steps to ban the import of goods it said were made by Chinese forced labour in the Xinjiang region, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Beijing.

Ottawa said on Tuesday that it was deeply concerned by reports alleging repression of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities by the Chinese authorities. It urged businesses with links to the Xinjiang region to examine their supply chains.

Canada will prohibit goods produced wholly or in part by alleged forced labour and require firms operating in Xinjiang to acknowledge the human rights situation in the north-western region.

Earlier on Tuesday, Britain announced similar measures.

Last month, the United States expanded economic pressure on Xinjiang, banning cotton imports from an organisation it says uses the forced labour of detained Uighur Muslims.

China yesterday said it will take all necessary measures to safeguard sovereignty and development interests.

Britain and Canada should immediately withdraw their wrong decisions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

A day earlier, China's Ambassador to the United Nations warned Britain not to interfere in its affairs, after a British minister criticised Beijing's treatment of its Uighur minority during a Security Council meeting.

Mr Zhang Jun slammed what he termed a baseless political attack after the speech at the Security Council by British government minister James Cleverly, which targeted alleged human rights violations against Uighurs and other minorities in China's Xinjiang region.

China's pushback also came after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday accused Beijing of abuses amounting to "barbarism" against the Uighurs, as he announced in Parliament new rules to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labour.

During the Security Council ministerial meeting, held by videoconference, Mr Cleverly said that "threats posed by terrorism do sometimes require states to take extraordinary measures".

"However, too often, counter-terrorism is used to justify egregious human rights violations and oppression."

The case of the Uighurs in Xinjiang is a "case in point", he added.

They "face severe and disproportionate measures, with up to 1.8 million people having been detained without trial", Mr Cleverly said.

"These well-documented measures are inconsistent with China's obligations under international human rights law."

Mr Zhang accused Mr Cleverly of baseless attacks that "we firmly reject and refute".

China has taken "a firm stand against terrorism and extremism", Mr Zhang said, calling Beijing's actions "reasonable, based on our laws, and in line with the established practice of countries around the world".

He accused Britain of applying double standards in the fight against terrorism and called on London to "stop interfering in China's internal affairs".

Beijing has dismissed the accusations, saying it is operating vocational training centres to counter Islamist radicalism following a series of attacks it attributed to the Muslim group.

Ties between China and Britain were already strained by Beijing's crackdown in Hong Kong, which Britain has protested against.

The new rules announced by Mr Raab include plans to bar British firms that inadvertently or deliberately profit from or contribute to rights violations against Uighurs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'Canada bans items it says are made by Chinese forced labour'. Print Edition | Subscribe