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Human rights should guide trade with China, say bishops

31 July 2020

Bishop of Southwark speaks of harrowing treatment of Uighurs


Uighurs in Brussels protest against the Chinese government, on Sunday

Uighurs in Brussels protest against the Chinese government, on Sunday

THE Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, urged the Government last week, in the House of Lords, to take “firmer steps to counter Beijing’s harrowing human-rights abuses against the Uighurs”.

He also said that the Government should accept that “such abuses should influence negotiations on any future trade deal with China.” His concerns were echoed by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, who wrote on Twitter that he was also planning to urge the Foreign Secretary to take such steps.

Their words came as part of a growing international outcry about the persecution of the Uighur: China’s 12 million Muslims living in the area that the government calls Xinjiang but which the Uighur refer to as East Turkestan.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been accused of restricting expressions of Uighur culture, including books, music, and worship, and of raiding Uighur homes, placing them under oppressive levels of surveillance, and putting others in camps where they are subject to forced labour, beatings, and forced sterilisation.

The CCP initially denied the existence of the camps, but has since said that they are designed to “re-educate” those who have “extremist” views, in response to uprisings in the region since 2009 against anti-Uighur discrimination in employment and education.

Humar Isaac, a Uighur who is now based in Uppsala, in Sweden, spoke to the Church Times about her anger over the CCP’s policies. “Before the pandemic shut everything down, it looked like they were going to destroy us. Muslims have become an easy target, and the CCP have shown they have no problem with killing people.”

Although her mother was a devoted member of the CCP, Ms Isaac’s parents were taken into a camp in 2018: an experience that they find it hard to speak about. They were released after their daughter questioned her father’s colleague, a member of the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group, about their whereabouts.

She interacts with her parents on social media, but has said that it is hard to tell what the effect of speaking out will be. “A lot of people are seeing their families disappear. Sometimes, they appear again. I am lucky: I got my parents back. Not everyone who speaks out does. Sometimes a whole village can get released if people speak out, but the decision-making process by the authorities is unpredictable.”

She said that after the incident it had been difficult to move on. “I have brief chats with my family, to make sure they are still alive, but I don’t know what could happen to them. Things could fall apart at any moment. I want to go home and visit them, but it is impossible. If I do, then I’ll be taken into a camp.”

She also said that the complicity of Westerners could not be ignored, particularly in the demand for smartphones, cheap fashion, and, more recently, PPE for protection against the coronavirus. “The CCP know they can walk away after doing horrible things, because they are a hugely important player in the process of globalisation. The situation with the Uighur gets ignored because people want what China provides.”

The Prime Minister of the government-in-exile of East Turkestan, Salih Hudayar, who spoke from Washington, DC, also said that the West’s economic dependence on China had led to a muting of the criticism of the CCP.

“Foreign governments know that criticising China might disrupt ties with them, but it might also oblige them to actually do something about what’s happening to the Uighur,” he said. “Oppression requires money: if sanctions were imposed on China, then that might restrict their ability to fund the camps.”

He highlighted the helplessness felt by many Uighur, in China as well as in the diaspora: “I fled China when I was seven. Most of my relatives back in East Turkestan have been taken away and not heard from again, including my cousin, who is only 14. The Chinese government recently implied everyone has been released, but my family members have not.

“People are afraid to speak out, even those who have managed to flee to Kazakhstan, as the government there is close to China. Talking to journalists or foreigners is enough to get you locked up. There is nothing we can do to protect ourselves; so we need people abroad to spread awareness and pressure their governments to bring about sanctions and raise the issue in the UN Security Council. We also want Uighurs to be able to seek asylum in Europe and the USA.”

He continued: “Many people in China are fed the narrative that the CCP are fighting terrorism and separatism, but the reality is that China fears losing control of the region. It is the cornerstone of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and provides most of the country’s cotton, coal, gas, and oil. It’s also a gateway for China into Central Asia.”

The China Director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, has echoed the call for international action. She said last month: “Many human-rights defenders from China have paid the ultimate price. States should honour their memory — and their own commitments to human rights — and hold this powerful, abusive government to account.”

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales published a report last week, Responsibility of States under International Law to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, China. It says: “All States, including China, have unequivocally accepted that slavery and racial discrimination, torture and genocide are prohibited. . . As such, all States have a right to invoke the responsibility of China for any failure to uphold its obligations under international law.”

Ms Isaac said that, to have any impact on persecution, Western countries should change their relationship with China. “It’s been accepted for too long that the CCP can do things like ban Facebook and Google among their citizens because that’s just ‘how China works’. We need to fight back. . .

“If you allow this oppression to happen to your fellow human beings, everyone will pay the price. Things are becoming too ugly to ignore.”


Leader comment, page 10; letter, page 12

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