United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has accused Beijing of “gross, egregious human rights abuses” over its “deeply troubling” treatment of Uighur population and said sanctions against those responsible cannot be ruled out.
Rights groups and experts estimate that more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps.
Raab said the reports of forced sterilizations and mass detentions in the predominantly Muslim region required international attention. “It is clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on… it is deeply, deeply troubling,” he said.
“The reports and the human aspects of it… are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a long, long time, and this is from a leading member of the international community that wants to be taken seriously,” he added.
“We want a positive relationship (with China), but we cannot see behaviour like that and not call it out,” Raab insisted.
His comments come as tensions between UK and China are rising over a number of issues.
According to a research by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, the rate of population growth in the two largest Uighur prefectures in Xinjiang fell by more than 80% between 2013 and 2018.
China does not accept the findings with China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming saying that the Uighur population in Xinjiang stood at four to five million 40 years ago and had now grown to 11 million.
”People say we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled,” he added.
Demographic research, which draws on Chinese official data and media reports, doesn’t go back as far as 40 years. But it suggests there was a rapid rise in the growth rate of the population in Xinjiang between 2005 and 2015, followed by a sharp fall over subsequent years.
There are growing calls for the UK to impose sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution of the Uighurs.
A petition backing the move has amassed more than 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for debate in Parliament.
Earlier in July, the United States slapped sanctions on senior Chinese officials, as it demanded an end to the “horrific” abuses against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Beijing responded with counter measures in one of the latest episodes in deteriorating US-China relations.
Raab said he will update British lawmakers on the UK government’s next steps regarding Beijing’s draconian new law in Hong Kong. That will include announcing the outcome of a review of extradition arrangements with the former colonial territory.
However, China’s ambassador to London has warned that it will make a “resolute response” if Britain follows the US in sanctioning Chinese officials for the alleged abuses.
“We never believe in unilateral sanctions, we believe the UN (United Nations) has the authority to impose sanctions,” Liu Xiaoming said.
“If the UK government goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make resolute response to it.”
Liu said he did not want to see “tit-for-tat” diplomatic skirmishes between Britain and Beijing, as was happening with the US.
“I think (the) UK should have its own independent foreign policy rather than dance to the tune of the Americans,” he added.