Xinjiang blood money has no place in the UK
It is time to make the perpetrators of the atrocities in Xinjiang see real consequences for what they do. A blanket ban on all cotton from the Xinjiang region is the obvious first step.
Uyghur Muslims have been subjected to forced labour, arbitrary detention, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from families and a high-technology surveillance system. Parliament has declared these atrocities in Xinjiang to be a genocide.
The UK, alongside the rest of the world, relies heavily on exports and technology from China. But this dependency is reciprocal. As one of China’s key trading partners, we can make our voices heard, if we work together.
Throughout the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the detention camps in Xinjiang we heard moving testimony from Uyghurs, including those who directly witnessed the crimes and those with family members in the camps. We also heard extensive evidence on the state of forced labour in Xinjiang and throughout China.
Goods produced under these horrifying conditions appal British consumers and should not enter our supply chains. We need our Government to take action to stop products made through abuse, and ban those companies that enable these crimes against humanity.
A blanket ban on all cotton from the Xinjiang region is the obvious first step. Eighty percent of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, making a bit less than a quarter of the world’s cotton. In December 2020, leaked documents reported by the BBC and the Center for Global Policy (CGP) revealed the alarming scale of the forced labour programmes.
The UK must continue to monitor which industries are engaged in the exploitation of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities
The documents show that, as early as 2018, 210,000 workers were sent to pick cotton for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), the Chinese paramilitary organisation largely responsible for the administration of the police state in Xinjiang. The US has already banned cotton from the region. The UK government should do the same. There is strength in numbers, and the UK’s decision to join the US would add much-needed extra pressure and inspire other countries to impose their own bans.
Over the course of our inquiry, the prevalence of Chinese technology companies involved in oppressive and intrusive surveillance, and the problem that this presents, became impossible to ignore. Of particular concern is Hikvision, a major Chinese tech company known as the world’s largest provider of video surveillance systems. The Chinese government and Hikvision are inextricably intertwined, with the Chinese government holding controlling shares and owning 40 percent of Hikvision, and the company’s chair being appointed to the National People’s Congress. Hikvision, alongside other technology companies, is alleged to be closely and actively involved in the persecution of minority groups in Xinjiang, supplying the Chinese government with surveillance technology, including facial recognition software.
Worryingly, Hikvision cameras are also used up and down the UK. Around 1.2 million cameras are used, including by councils, in leisure centres and even in schools. From the evidence we received, we heard concerns that data collected from UK citizens on the streets may be training and improving facial recognition algorithms, enhancing their effectiveness for oppression in China. This cannot be allowed to continue.
If the government accepts our recommendations, then it must be with an understanding that this is only the beginning. There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of cotton production and technology companies, but the UK must continue to monitor which industries are engaged in the exploitation of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. As awareness of the involvement of cotton industries increases, so will the Chinese government’s efforts to re-direct Uyghur forced labour. Unfortunately, we expect to discover that different sectors and industries are complicit in the exploitation in Xinjiang. The UK government must have measures in place to rapidly identify these sectors and cut them out of UK supply chains.
It is time to move beyond statements of condemnation and symbolic acts. It is time to make the perpetrators of the atrocities in Xinjiang see real consequences for what they do. The government must show that the UK will not take blood money from Chinese firms which are complicit in the abuses of the Uyghurs. There is so much more we can do – it is high time that we did so.
Tom Tugendhat is the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling.
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