Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have shared their concern about retaliatory action from China after MPs and peers who have challenged Beijing’s human rights abuses were hit with sanctions.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister and the US president used a call on Friday afternoon to discuss the “significant action” they took along with allies against Chinese officials over human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
But they also discussed the sanctions Beijing struck back with against nine critics of the Chinese state in the UK, including Conservative MPs Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Neil O’Brien, Tim Loughton and Nusrat Ghani.
Peers Lord Alton and Baroness Kennedy, barrister Geoffrey Nice and academic Joanne Nicola Smith Finley were also singled out by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
No 10 issued a read-out of the call between the two leaders showing they discussed the rollout of coronavirus vaccines, combating climate change and protecting the Good Friday Agreement amid political tensions in Northern Ireland over Brexit.
“On China, the Prime Minister and President reflected on the significant action taken by the UK, US and other international partners earlier this week to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Xinjiang and expressed their concern about retaliatory taken action by China,” a statement added.
Another “shared international challenge” they discussed was Iran, with the statement saying they “agreed on the need for Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal”.
The comment on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a marked difference from the stance of Donald Trump, who used his time in the White House to withdraw from the treaty.
Earlier on Friday, five of the sanctioned parliamentarians said they would “continue to advocate” on behalf of groups oppressed by the Chinese regime.
“Intimidation will only serve to encourage us to redouble our efforts,” said former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain, ex-ministers Ms Ghani and Mr Loughton, and the two peers.
“We will continue to advocate on behalf of the Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and all other persecuted groups in China.
“These are the true victims of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule, not us.”
Dr Smith Finley said she had been sanctioned “for ongoing research speaking the truth about human rights violations” against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.
“I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced. I would like to give my deep thanks to my institution, Newcastle University, for its staunch support for my work and its ongoing commitment to academic freedom, social justice and inter-ethnic equality,” she said.
Mr Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, called the action by the Far East powerhouse an attempt to “subvert the democracy and sovereignty of the British people”.
Mr Johnson said those sanctioned were “performing a vital role” in highlighting abuses and that he stood “firmly with them”.
“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them,” he tweeted.
China’s top diplomat in London, charge d’affaires Yang Xiaoguang, was given a dressing down after being summoned to the Foreign Office.
Minister for Asia Nigel Adams told him Beijing’s move was “unwarranted and unacceptable” and would “not distract attention away from those very violations taking place in Xinjiang”, the department said.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told broadcasters Britain would “not be deterred from speaking up” against what he called “industrial-scale human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang”, branding Beijing’s move a “sign of weakness”.
In an earlier statement, he called for China to allow UN human rights inspectors into the province to “verify the truth”, a move backed by Sir Iain and his colleagues.
The Government says survivor testimonies indicate more than a million people have been detained without trial in Xinjiang, with widespread claims of torture, rape and sterilisations in the internment camps.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Friday that the nine sanctioned Britons and their family members will be prohibited from entering China and Hong Kong and that Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them.
The groups affected are the China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Uyghur Tribunal and Essex Court Chambers.
It comes in response to Mr Raab this week announcing a package of travel bans and asset freezes against four senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau (XPCC PSB), in an internationally co-ordinated move with the US, Canada and European Union.
The Chinese embassy in the UK rejected claims of human rights violations against the Uighurs, arguing they were the “lies of the century” and based on “fabricated” evidence designed to “demonise” China.