UK lawmakers demand action over China's alleged Xinjiang abuses

Rights groups claim at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - A group of British lawmakers urged the government to take tougher action against China on Thursday (July 8) over its treatment of minority groups, including a partial Winter Olympics boycott and cotton trade ban.

In a report following a months-long inquiry, Parliament's foreign affairs committee recommended exploring the feasibility of an International Criminal Court probe into the alleged crimes against Uighur Muslims and others in the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

It also called on the government to accept MPs' view - expressed in a symbolic April vote - that minority groups there are suffering genocide and crimes against humanity, and take stronger action "to bring these crimes to an end".

The cross-party group wants Britain to use every diplomatic lever to pressure Beijing to allow international observers - in particular the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - access to Xinjiang.

It also backs a fast-track asylum process for those fleeing persecution in the region, forming a coalition of "sanctuary states" with Western allies.

"It's time for big boy politics," committee member Alicia Kearns said ahead of the report's release. "We are the mother of all Parliaments. If we are not willing to speak up for those who others seek to silence, then what Parliament's going to do it?"

Rights groups claim at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Beijing has denied all allegations of abuses and has insisted its policies in Xinjiang are necessary to counter violent extremism.

But in their 37-page report - "Never Again: The UK's Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond" - the British MPs argue the "truly horrifying" crimes taking place are "an international call to action".

Among the raft of recommended responses, it urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government to ensure that Beijing "faces consequences" when it hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The committee wants ministers and dignitaries to skip the opening and closing ceremonies, discourage British businesses from sponsoring or advertising at the event, and encourage fans and tourists to stay away.

Asked about such possible moves, Mr Johnson said Wednesday he would consider the calls but was "instinctively" against sporting boycotts.

Meanwhile the report urges the government to explore a ban on the import of all cotton products linked to Xinjiang, which supplies the vast majority of China's cotton.

It also wants surveillance companies like Hikvision - which provide surveillance equipment to the detention camps there - to be forbidden from operating in Britain.

The United States, which has accused Beijing of genocide in Xinjiang, has already imposed various trade sanctions targeting producers and users of cotton as well as tomato products and hair products such as weaves originating from the region.

Last month it also banned imports of solar panel materials from a Chinese company and placing restrictions on four others for alleged use of forced labour in Xinjiang.

"We still have time to make these choices, and if we choose not to, what we're doing is nesting the dragon deeper and deeper into our national life," committee chair Tom Tugendhat said.

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