Canada clamps down on imports it says were made by Chinese forced labour

The UK has accused China of abuses amounting to "barbarism" against the Uighurs.
The UK has accused China of abuses amounting to "barbarism" against the Uighurs.PHOTO: AFP

OTTAWA (REUTERS, AFP) - Canada joined Britain on Tuesday (Jan 12) 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 tension with Beijing.

In a statement, Ottawa said it was deeply concerned by reports of repression of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities and urged businesses with links to Xinjiang region to examine their supply chains.

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

Earlier in the day, 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.

Responding to Canada and Britain's moves, China said on Wednesday 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.

On Tuesday, 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 from British government minister James Cleverly, which targeted alleged human rights violations against Uighurs and other minorities in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

China's pushback also came after London earlier on Tuesday accused Beijing of abuses amounting to "barbarism" against the Uighurs, as it announced 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," he continued.

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

Mr Zhang accused Mr Cleverly of baseless attacks which "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 charges, 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 the United Kingdom has protested against.

Earlier on Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also accused Beijing of abuses "on an industrial scale" against the Uighurs, as he announced the new imports ban.

"It is truly horrific barbarism we had hoped lost to another era, in practice today as we speak, in one of the leading members of the international community," he told parliament.

Mr Raab outlined plans to bar British companies which inadvertently or deliberately profit from, or contribute to, rights violations against the Uighurs.