Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister whether his Government will make a statement on the mistreatment by the Chinese Government of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

The Minister for Asia (Nigel Adams)

We are aware of reports issued today by the Associated Press and the Jamestown Foundation alleging that the Chinese Government are using pregnancy checks and forced intra-uterine devices, sterilisation and abortion to minimise Uyghur birth rates. These reports add to our concern about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and of course we will be considering the report carefully.

The broader human rights situation in Xinjiang is of ongoing and serious concern to the Government. This includes the extrajudicial detention of over a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in political re-education camps, systematic restrictions on Uyghur culture and the practice of Islam, and extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities. Further reports indicating that forced labour is being used and that children are being forcibly separated from their parents add to the growing body of evidence about the disturbing situation that Uyghurs and other minorities are facing in Xinjiang.

We have expressed our serious concerns about these issues on many occasions. The Foreign Secretary raised them directly with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi in March. I also raised the situation in Xinjiang with the Chinese ambassador to London in March. Since 2018, we have played a leading role in raising these concerns at the UN. For example, at the UN Third Committee in October, the UK read out a statement on behalf of 22 other countries drawing attention to the human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang and calling on China to uphold its obligations to respect human rights. We have consistently raised the issue at the UN Human Rights Council, including at the most recent session in March, when Lord Ahmad, the Minister for human rights, raised the issue in the UK’s opening address. In addition, we advise all businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang or with parts of their supply chains in Xinjiang to consider conducting appropriate due diligence to satisfy themselves that their activities do not support, or risk being seen to support, any human rights violations or abuses. The UK will continue to exercise leadership on this important issue, raising it directly with the Chinese Government and working with partners to do so at the UN.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

The Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China—IPAC—which is made up of 30 other lawmakers from 16 global legislatures, has today published research by Professor Adrian Zenz, the world’s leading expert on the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang province. The report shows that birth rates in the two mostly Uyghur regions plummeted by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018. Across the Xinjiang region, birth rates fell nearly 24% in a single year, compared with just 4.2% nationwide.

Worse, it is now clear that this is a direct result of Government actions. Unearthed Government documents mandate that birth control violations that come about

“due to the influence of extreme religious thinking”

should be “dealt with severely”, and that those unable to pay fines should be

“dealt with through coercive measures”,

including internment. Mr Zenz’s paper concludes that these measures are part of a state-wide crackdown that includes the mass sterilisation of women. This report corroborates the many horrific personal testimonies that many of us have heard. The genocide convention maintains that birth prevention targeted at minority groups is indicative of genocide, and the convention binds individual states to act, not just to rely on the international judicial system. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the Uyghur people have been, and are, the victims of mass atrocity crimes?

I ask the Foreign Secretary to go to the UN and call for an independent inquiry, but, sadly, I also recognise that the ways to deal with this through the UN will almost certainly be blocked by China. Given that likelihood, will my hon. Friend at least get the UK to make its own legal determination after weighing up this new evidence? Of course the world wants to deal with China, but we cannot continue with business as usual while this sort of blatant activity continues. Furthermore, given the Chinese Government’s appalling record on human rights, their attack on freedoms in Hong Kong, their bullying behaviour in border disputes from the South China seas to India, their blatant breaching of the rules-based order governing the free market and their delayed declaration on covid-19, will the Government now initiate an internal review of the UK’s dependence on China, with a view to significantly reducing that dependence, and call on the free world to come together to ensure that this growing threat from China is dealt with together before, as history teaches us, it is too late?

Nigel Adams

My right hon. Friend speaks with great passion and knowledge on these subjects. He refers to legal determination. As I said in my opening statement, these reports add to our concern about the situation in Xinjiang, and we will of course consider them extremely carefully. Any legal determination would be a matter for a competent court. I reiterate that we have raised concerns about the situation in Xinjiang at the UN General Assembly Third Committee and UN Human Rights Council, alongside our international partners. We will continue to make our concerns known directly to China and bilaterally, as well as through the relevant bodies.

On a full Government review, our approach to China remains clear-eyed and is rooted in our values and interests. It has always been the case that when we have concerns we raise them, and that where we need to intervene we will. We have consistently led international efforts to highlight concern about the worsening human rights situation in Xinjiang, and I assure my right hon. Friend that the United Kingdom will continue to do so.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

The Chinese Communist party’s brutal campaign of oppression against the Uyghur people is a scar on the conscience of the world. The Labour party stands with the people of China, including the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, and we condemn any actions by the CCP that infringe their human rights. We know that 1.5 million Uyghurs are incarcerated in re-education camps and subjected to ideological indoctrination courses, where they must learn Mandarin Chinese, recite laws banning unapproved religious practices and sing songs praising the Chinese Communist party, and we know that beatings and solitary confinement are routinely used to punish those who fail to comply.

The accounts that have emerged today about the CCP’s draconian measures to suppress birth rates are utterly horrific—women subjected to forced IUD insertions, pregnancy prevention injections, sterilisation. The CCP appears to be engaged in what some experts are calling a campaign of demographic genocide. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will call for an impartial international investigation into what is happening in Xinjiang? Will he confirm that the imposition of measures intended to prevent births within an ethnic or religious group is expressly forbidden under article II(d) of the UN convention on genocide? Will he confirm that any country that is a contracting party to the UN convention on genocide may call upon the UN to take appropriate action under articles IV, V and VI of the convention, and that the UK Government will therefore now make the necessary representations?

Does the Minister recognise that the CCP’s actions in Xinjiang reflect a wider pattern of behaviour of increasingly authoritarian policies at home and aggressive expansionism abroad, including in Hong Kong, Ladakh and the South China sea? Will he set out how the Government intend to defend human rights and the rule of law? Will the Government now engage proactively with the European Union, the US and Governments in the Asia-Pacific region who share our democratic values to lead the international response in building consensus against the CCP’s increasingly belligerent behaviour towards its own people?

Nigel Adams

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting so concisely his concern on this matter. I can tell him that we have been very active on this issue. We have played a leading role in raising these concerns bilaterally and at the United Nations.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have concerns about the detention and human rights abuses, with more than a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities detained in political re-education camps—some people may refer to them as other things—and we deplore the systematic restrictions on their culture and practice of Islam, alongside the targeted surveillance of minorities.

On 10 March, at the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we raised our concerns specifically about the violations and with regard to forced labour in Xinjiang, under our item 4 statement. On 9 March, the Foreign Secretary raised the same concerns about Xinjiang with his Chinese counterpart. As I said in my statement, I have spoken directly to the Chinese ambassador to raise our concerns about human rights in Xinjiang. On 25 February, at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Minister responsible for human rights, Lord Ahmad, directly raised his concerns about Xinjiang during his opening address at the conference. We call on China to allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights unfettered access to the region.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and associate myself, somewhat surprisingly, with the words of the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—that is a welcome change.

I have heard the various comments made by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman, and I have heard the Minister’s answers, which I support. Will the Minister perhaps look at the companies operating here in the United Kingdom that may have benefited from some of the labour in Xinjiang that he described and explain why they are able to operate here in the UK? Why are they able to use labour from these camps for re-education, at best, and very often for worse? Why are these companies seemingly able to operate around the world as though they were ordinary companies?

Nigel Adams

The Chairman of the Select Committee is right to raise that point. He will be aware that bidders for any central Government contracts above certain thresholds are required to confirm that they are compliant with the transparency requirements in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. However, the decision on high-risk vendors did not involve the award of a contract to the telecommunications firm to which I assume the Chairmen of Select Committee may have been referring. We take this issue very seriously, and, as I said in my statement, all British companies involved in the region must consider carrying out proper due diligence to ensure that human rights violations have not been taking place in their supply chains.

Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP) [V]

I am glad to see such an element of consensus across the House today; I find it difficult to disagree with any of the previous contributions to this discussion. The challenge for us is to decide what we are actually going to do about it. Warm words and sympathy come easily to politicians, but Beijing would be entitled to feel that it is getting somewhat mixed messages. I concur that the UN mechanisms are pretty stymied. This is not a new problem—it has been going on for a number of years—and the UK is becoming increasingly involved in strategic developments with, in effect, emanations of the Chinese state. Huawei is one example, but there are others. Will the Minister undertake at least to promise to promote investigations by UN observers of the camps and, indeed, the reports of forced sterilisation, which is a degree of ethnic cleansing under the Rome statute? This is serious stuff on which we must take action. Will the Minister also come back to the House with an audit of all Government procurement contracts with Chinese companies and an assessment of these concerns?

Nigel Adams

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise those issues. He will be aware that access to Xinjiang is not particularly easy to procure. We would very much welcome United Nations personnel being allowed into the region and have pressed China on that. It has not been the most easy thing to deal with—I have raised the matter personally with the Chinese ambassador. I reiterate what I said earlier: we need to ensure that British firms really do consider due diligence in their supply chains.

Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con) [V]

Forced sterilisation of women; children ripped from their families; detention centres to treat the so-called pathology of religious and cultural beliefs; forced labour; rape, and DNA databases. In our history, we have learned that we must all take a stand against systematic and industrialised efforts to eradicate religious and ethnic minorities, so will my hon. Friend commit to using Magnitsky-style sanctions to bring to justice Chinese Communist party officials who perpetrate and profit from this cultural genocide of the Uyghur people?

Nigel Adams

My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of experience in this area. Of course, she will be aware that the Foreign Secretary has committed to making a statement about our sanctions regime. That will be done before the summer recess. We have made clear our deep concern about this report and the human rights situation in Xinjiang. My hon. Friend will forgive me; of course, we will not speculate on who will be sanctioned under the new regime, particularly as the legislation is not yet in force, but she should not have too long to wait.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

I have constituents who have repeatedly raised concerns with me about China’s human rights record, whether towards Buddhists in Tibet or towards Falun Gong practitioners, and now we are faced with allegations of human rights violations of the highest order. The Minister keeps saying that companies should conduct due diligence about their supply chains. What is he doing to ensure that they actually conduct that due diligence, and what is his advice to companies that find that there are human rights abuses in their supply chains?

Nigel Adams

Certainly, if I were a company and had found that there were human rights abuses in my supply chain, I would be looking at a different supply chain, quite frankly. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issues with Tibet and Falun Gong. Clearly, these are very concerning issues. We will continue to work with private sector companies; we provide advice through our posts for those that wish to conduct business in China, and we will continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point.

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)

Reports of forced sterilisation and forced abortion are just further appalling reminders of the human rights record in China and the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. As well as confirming that he will continue to raise this issue in the international forum, will the Minister redouble his efforts to raise it—not just this specific issue, but China’s broader human rights record—directly with his Chinese counterparts?

Nigel Adams

My hon. Friend is right; we consistently do that. As I said, we have been leading the way in this regard in the international community since 2018. As well as the human rights issues, we have serious concerns about the use of extensive and invasive surveillance methods to target minorities in Xinjiang. We raise this on a bilateral basis with our Chinese counterparts and, as I have said on several occasions, at the United Nations.

Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab) [V]

It is clear that the situation in Xinjiang has deteriorated over the past years. The systematic oppression of a whole ethnic minority group, who are physically abused and psychologically indoctrinated, must be condemned. I am certain that this pandemic has only worsened the conditions in the internment camps and has created a double emergency for the Uyghur community. Will the Minister condemn the persecution of Uyghur Muslims to the fullest? Has he considered using Magnitsky powers for personal sanctions?

Nigel Adams

Again, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise that. I refer him to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on Magnitsky-style sanctions. The legislation will be cleared before the summer, so I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will have to wait a little longer in that regard. However, I can assure him how seriously the United Kingdom takes these human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang—demonstrated not least by the statement at the UN Third Committee in October drawing attention to these violations, which was signed by 22 international partners. We will continue to call on China—we do so from here today—to uphold its obligations to respect human rights.

Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)

Reports of forced sterilisation by the Chinese authorities are leading many to fear something approaching genocide of the Uyghur Muslims. This is reminiscent of the worst totalitarian regimes. Does my hon. Friend agree that it cannot be business as usual with China while it treats its Muslim citizens and other minorities in this appalling way?

Nigel Adams

Clearly, as I have said previously, the reports we have seen in the last 24 hours or so add considerably to our serious concern about the situation in Xinjiang. We have had a short period of time to digest those reports. We will continue to stress our concern about the situation in Xinjiang and the way the Uyghur Muslim community in particular is having its human rights violated.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this welcome opportunity, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it.

These reports would be horrific even if they were of stand-alone incidents, but of course we know they are not; they are part of a course of conduct that we have seen in recent years—the re-education camps, the forced repatriation of workers within China, and the reports of organ harvesting. As we have heard from others, this is a systematic operation, reminiscent of genocide, which is being visited upon the Uyghur population.

In January of last year I led a Westminster Hall debate calling for the Government to take this to the Security Council, with a motion demanding access for a working party to Xinjiang province. We all know the obvious difficulties with that, but with everything else having failed, why have the Government not done that yet?

Nigel Adams

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I said earlier in my statement that we are constantly raising this issue with the UN. He is right to mention organ harvesting, and I know how concerned hon. and right hon. Members are about this alleged practice. We take these allegations very seriously. We have consulted our international partners and the WHO, and the evidence provides disturbing details about the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in particular, and raises worrying questions about China’s transplant system.

Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)

As well as oppressing the Uyghurs, the Communist Government of the People’s Republic of China discriminate against almost 100 million Christians. Last year alone, over 5,500 churches were destroyed, closed down or confiscated. Does my hon. Friend agree that freedom of religion and belief should remain a major global campaign for the Government, and what is he doing to ensure this is maintained?

Nigel Adams

It is absolutely the case that the Government remain committed to defending freedom of religion and belief for all people—for people of all faiths or none. The Prime Minister has his own special envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), working on this issue, and through our extensive diplomatic network we continue to lobby Governments for changes in laws and practices, and raise individual cases of persecution. We also continue to use our influence to speak up for persecuted Christians and individuals of other faiths in multilateral institutions, including the UN and the OSCE.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

For more than 60 years, the Chinese regime has sought to snuff out the culture, religion, heritage and liberty of the Tibetan people, and more than a million Tibetans have lost their lives. Now we hear of even more sinister tactics to suppress the Uyghurs, beyond even the outrageous concentration camps we already know about: sterilisation and eugenics. What is the Minister doing to enable UK officials to gain access to Uyghur areas, where they might find evidence of surveillance technology from Huawei aiding and abetting that suppression? Will he specifically take on the point made from the Opposition Front Bench about whether he, on behalf of the British Government, thinks that the measures meet the genocide criteria under article II(d) of the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide?

Nigel Adams

British diplomats visit the region periodically. Although access is not particularly easy, we do require to observe the situation first hand. British diplomats visited most recently in November 2019. Their observations supported much of the most recent open source reporting about the restrictions that have been targeted at specific ethnic groups. My hon. Friend mentioned Tibet, which our diplomats visited from 15 to 19 July 2019. We continue to press for further access for our diplomats as well as urging the Chinese authorities to lift the visit restrictions that are imposed on all foreigners.

Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab) [V]

The Uyghurs have been systematically persecuted for decades. Concentration camps have been built for millions and we now have clear evidence that the Uyghur population is being reduced through the forced sterilisation of women: so many early warning signs of genocide. I do not want to use any company that enables that and I would support any public body that felt exactly the same, but the Government intend to ban public bodies from expressing their condemnation through boycotts. Will they now reconsider?

Nigel Adams

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to be angry about those violations in the region. We referenced trade earlier, and of course we want to secure growth and investment for the UK, but upholding human rights and British values is not a zero-sum choice. Our experience is that political freedom and the rule of law are vital underpinnings for long-running prosperity and stability, and that by having a strong relationship with China, we can have open and sometimes difficult discussions on a range of issues, including human rights. We have had very open and difficult discussions directly with our counterparts in China.

Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

Like many in the House, I am appalled by the treatment that the Uyghur people face at the hands of the Chinese Communist party, and I welcome the Minister’s strong statement and the Government’s opposition to that. Will the Government stand in solidarity with those people facing that dreadful treatment by considering giving additional asylum support to any who seek asylum in the UK?

Nigel Adams

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Of course, any asylum issue is a matter for the Home Office. I understand that advice has been put out to take into consideration across our network the situation that Uyghur Muslims find themselves in.

Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that if China is to play a leading role in the international community, it must quite simply abide by international laws and human rights?

Nigel Adams

My hon. Friend puts it absolutely correctly. As I said earlier, our approach to China should be clear eyed and rooted in our values and our interests. China is a leading member of the international community and we have a strong and constructive relationship in many areas. It has to be part of the solution to many major global problems, whether that is global health, as we have seen in the past few months, or climate change. It has always been the case that where we have concerns, we raise them, and where the United Kingdom needs to intervene, we will.

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