Labour is clear: We mustn’t give the Chinese government a PR coup when they still won’t let the UN into Xinjiang to investigate genocide against Uyghurs.
Parliament rightly backed a political boycott of Beijing 2022, yet the UK government continued its naivety and complacency towards China by abstaining.
In the Chamber I set why Labour supports that decision and what the UK government must do for the Uyghurs:
Stephen Kinnock: First, I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for putting forward his motion today and for securing this important debate. Today, I want to set out the Labour party’s position on the genocide that is taking place in Xinjiang—according to all the available evidence we have, it is happening—and to also set out why we wholeheartedly support the motion before the House today.
In a little over six months, the global spotlight will fall on Beijing as the city plays host to the 2022 winter Olympics. The games should be a celebration of sporting achievement and a powerful symbol of our shared humanity, but next year’s event will take place under a dark shadow. There is now an extensive and undeniable body of evidence pointing to the relentless state-sponsored persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, including the mass detention of more than a million people, first-hand accounts of forced labour camps, the enforced separation of children from parents and harrowing reports of forced sterilisation. We have heard first-hand testimonies from brave Uyghur women speaking out about their experiences, and we have seen the important in-depth research from academic Adrian Zenz that uses the Chinese Government’s own publicly available data on Xinjiang’s population change. Who can forget the film shown to the former Chinese ambassador on “The Andrew Marr Show” of shaven-headed, blindfolded Uyghur being hoarded on to trains by Chinese officials at gunpoint?
The evidence is both compelling and overwhelming, and until the Chinese Government allow UN investigators full and unfettered access to Xinjiang to carry out their investigations, this is the evidence that we in this House and this Government must use as the basis for our opinions and subsequent actions. In April, it was this evidence that led this House to determine that genocide was being committed against the Uyghur people, a matter on which Conservative Members were shamefully instructed to abstain by the Government.
Now we are approaching the point at which a decision must be made regarding the Beijing winter Olympics. There are some who would argue that politics and sport should not mix, but from National Football League star Colin Kaepernick taking the knee and Marcus Rashford shaming the Government into U-turning on free school meals to the England football team’s united stance against divisive dog-whistle politics this week, we have seen that many issues do transcend the divide between sport and politics.
This is not a new phenomenon. We only need to look back to the 1980s, when the sporting world played an integral role in piling pressure on the South African Government to end its racist apartheid agenda. I am not sure how Conservative Members feel about this given the position that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, took on the matter, but as a huge British and Irish Lions rugby fan and as an internationalist, I still feel tremendously proud of the stance the Lions took. Their refusal to tour South Africa throughout the 1980s is irrefutable evidence of the power of sport to deliver progress and positive change.
Now is the moment to harness that Lions spirit and send a clear message to the Chinese Communist party that oppression and discrimination can never be tolerated. Today, Labour is calling for a political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games, as set out in a letter from my hon. Friends the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Culture Secretary to their opposite numbers on 7 July.
The Olympic games have of course become a symbol of our global interconnectedness, bringing together athletes from across the world to compete under the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship. At their best, they are a testament to sport’s ability to bridge divisions of culture, language, geography and race. Yet while many sportspeople have chosen to use their platform to show solidarity or to amplify the message of causes and movements, it would be wrong to expect them to sacrifice years of hard work and dedication to make up for the inaction and failings of their Government, nor would calling for a sporting boycott or for the cancellation of the 2022 games be fair on the Chinese people, who are not responsible for the atrocities being committed by their Government. We need to be absolutely clear that Britain stands in solidarity with the Chinese people against oppression, and that this solidarity can be strengthened by enhanced cultural understanding between western and Chinese people and communities. This is why a political and diplomatic boycott is without doubt the position the Government must adopt.
Over the past year, along with international allies, the UK Government have rightly supported calls from the United Nations for unfettered access to Xinjiang in order to conduct a full investigation into the treatment of the Uyghur, yet China has remained unmoved. That is not to say that the UK Government’s demands have been particularly strong. As is so often the case with this Conservative Government, strong rhetoric is yet to be matched by meaningful action, and I will come back to that in my questions to the Minister shortly.
On the assumption that access to Xinjiang will not be granted by 14 September, the start of the next United Nations General Assembly, Labour has made it clear that no member of the royal family, UK politician or senior official should attend the games, as we cannot expect those individuals to be put in a position where they are serving to legitimise attempts by the Chinese Government to sportswash, to take the word of the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), the genocide that is being perpetrated against its own people. In short, sending royals or officials to Beijing in February would not be fair on those individuals, would not be right for our country and would be a betrayal of the Uyghur people.
Today’s debate is an opportunity for this House and the Government to take a clear and unambiguous stance against the atrocities being committed by the Chinese Government by supporting the motion. I urge all those on the Government Benches to support the motion and send a clear message about what kind of country we are—a nation that stands against genocide and for human rights.
It is clear that Conservative Members are divided on this issue. I commend any hon. Member on the Conservative Benches who takes a stand against the Government’s weak approach on China, which is rooted in the type of naivety and complacency that have epitomised the approach of successive Conservative Governments over the past decade, from the so-called golden era to the present day.
With that in mind, I have the following questions for the Minister. Does he think it is right that the Prime Minister is set to put members of the royal family and, by association, Her Majesty the Queen in the awkward and uncomfortable position of appearing to endorse a regime that is responsible for genocide? Why are the Government doing all they can to avoid votes in Parliament on China? Is it because they recognise that they are on the wrong side of public opinion and on the wrong side of opinion in this House?
What recent pressure have the Government put on the Chinese Government to allow UN investigators to enter Xinjiang province? Where are the Magnitsky sanctions on Chen Quanguo? It has been a full six months since the Foreign Secretary announced a supposedly urgent review of export controls on UK products sold into Xinjiang. When will we see that report? When will the Government make genuine, substantive legislative changes to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to toughen up supply chain due diligence?
Will the Minister send a clear message that, by the time of the next UN General Assembly meeting, China must have not only granted full and unfettered access for the UN to Xinjiang, but removed the entirely unjust sanctions that have been placed on Members of this House and of the other place by the Chinese Government? And will he take steps to ensure that China is not awarded the 2030 World cup, bidding for which begins in June 2022?
If global Britain is to mean anything, it should mean upholding our values and defending human rights, no matter where in the world they are under threat. For too long, the Government have been naïve, complacent and inconsistent in their approach to China. Today’s debate should be a turning point that leads to actions, not words. To do otherwise would be to hand the Chinese Government the propaganda coup that they crave, at the expense of our country’s reputation and obligations.
A genocide is taking place in Xinjiang. This Government now have a choice. Are they going to look the other way and send senior representatives to Beijing in February, or are they going to take a stand and understand that sending those representatives would be a betrayal of our values? Enough is enough. It is time to draw a line in the sand. We on the Opposition Benches recognise that, and that is why we shall be supporting this motion today.
The Minister for Asia: May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on securing this debate? We have heard some passionate and well thought-through speeches throughout the afternoon. I am grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions, and I will try to respond to as many of the points raised as possible before I hand back to my hon. Friend.
On the substantive issue of whether there should be a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 winter Olympic games, as I made clear at the Dispatch Box a couple of weeks ago at oral questions, and as the Prime Minister has previously made clear, no decisions have yet been made about UK Government attendance at the winter Olympics in Beijing.
One or two Members have mentioned that they would not like to see the games go ahead at all. Of course, the participation of Team GB at the Olympics and Paralympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. They operate independently of Government, as is absolutely right, and as is also required by International Olympic Committee regulations.
The Government have consistently been clear about our serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. In response, we have taken robust action, as has been pointed out by a number of hon. and right hon. Members. We have led international efforts to hold China to account for the gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. We have imposed sanctions on those responsible, and we have announced a package of robust domestic measures to help to ensure that no British organisations are complicit, including through their supply chains.
The Foreign Secretary has consistently raised our concerns directly with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, most recently at the end of May. He has also, on 22 March, announced asset freezes and travel bans under our global human rights sanctions regime against four Chinese Government officials and one entity, who we believe are responsible for the gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. Importantly, those measures were co-ordinated alongside sanctions from the United States, Canada and the European Union. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said that we should be working alongside the European Union. We have done, and that is why we have delivered those sanctions alongside the EU.
We believe that those actions send a clear message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights. It speaks for itself that, while 30 countries were united in sanctioning those responsible for the violations, China’s response was to retaliate against its critics, a number of whom are in the Chamber today.
As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made clear, China’s attempts to silence those highlighting human rights violations at home and abroad, including its targeting of right hon. and hon. Friends and peers in the UK, are completely unwarranted and unacceptable. The freedom to speak out in opposition to human rights violations is fundamental, and the Government stand firm with all those who have been sanctioned, including my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and other right hon. and hon. Members.
On that point, on 26 March, I summoned the Chinese representative in the UK to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, where I lodged a strong formal protest at the actions of China. The sanctions we imposed in relation to Xinjiang followed the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on 12 January of a series of measures on UK supply chains. Those measures, which included a review of export controls, the introduction of financial penalties for organisations that fail to comply with their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act and robust guidance to UK businesses on the risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang, will help to ensure that no British organisation—Government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently—profits from or contributes to human rights violations against the Uyghurs or other minorities.
We have also consistently taken a leading international role in holding China to account, and we have used our diplomatic influence to raise the issue up the international agenda. On 22 June, a global UK diplomatic effort helped to deliver the support of 44 countries for a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council. That underlined our shared concerns and called on China to grant unfettered access to the region for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The growing caucus of countries expressing concern about the situation in Xinjiang sends a powerful message about the breadth of international opinion. That caucus of international countries, which has called out China’s actions, has grown from 23 countries to 44 in just over a year, which is a tribute to it. I pay tribute to the UK’s diplomatic leadership, including our network across the globe, and the Foreign Secretary’s influence with his counterparts. Under our G7 presidency, both G7 leaders and Foreign and Development Ministers registered strong concern about the situation in Xinjiang. We will continue to work with partners across the world to build an international caucus of those willing to speak out against China’s human rights violations and to increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour.
I turn to some of the points raised by hon. and right hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, in his powerful and eloquent speech, made a very strong case. I thought he was a little unfair on one of my heroes, Sir Paul McCartney, when he sang at the opening of the London games, but he also raised the issue of sanctions, as did the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford). It speaks volumes that, while we join the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese Government sanction their critics. If Beijing wants to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to verify the truth, a point the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) agreed with.