Slave trader comparison made for firms dealing with Xinjiang amid genocide fears

·3-min read

Businesses trading in Xinjiang are “no better” than “slave traders of the 18th century”, MPs heard, amid allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity levelled at China.

Conservative former trade minister Sir Edward Leigh pressed the UK Government to “name and shame” those firms and urge them to move their imports and exports for China given the treatment of the Uighur Muslim population in the autonomous region in north-west China.

In April, MPs approved a non-binding House of Commons motion which declared the Uighurs and other minorities are “suffering crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang.

Uyghur protest
Sir Iain Duncan Smith joins Uighurs at a demonstration in Parliament Square (Yui Mok/PA)

On Monday, Conservative former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith secured an urgent question in the Commons to raise concerns over attempts to “intimidate and harass” Uighur exiles in connection with an tribunal investigating China’s alleged genocide.

Labour said relatives and friends of those who have testified to the independent tribunal in London, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, have been “paraded” in front of Chinese TV cameras “under duress” and made to discredit the evidence presented.

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams told MPs: “We are disturbed by reports of attempts to intimidate those appearing at the recent hearings of the Uighur tribunal. We’ve previously made clear that any attempt by China to silence its critics is unwarranted and unacceptable.”

Conservative Sir Edward (Gainsborough) went on to say: “I suspect the Chinese government doesn’t care a damn about what we say in this chamber but they do care about what British businesses are doing and if British business withdraws business as a result of human rights violations, they’re plenty of other friendly countries like India that can do anything China can do.

“So what has the minister done to summon these businesses, to name and shame them and to say they should move their imports and exports for China? These people are no better than Bristol slave traders of the 18th century building their businesses on the backs of misery.”

Uyghur protest

Mr Adams replied: “We’re providing businesses with guidance they need to understand the moral, reputational, legal and economic risks of conducting business in Xinjiang.

“It is for businesses to reassure themselves and their customers that their activities in no way contribute to human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang.”

Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat asked if the minister was “standing up for Britain”.

Referring to the actions, he said: “Is actually seeking to undermine the freedom of the British people and indeed other people around the world by trying to shape our universities, silence our free speech and intimidate our citizens. Is he standing up for Britain?”

Mr Adams replied: “Yes, we are standing up for Britain.”

The minister, asked about UK Government involvement in the tribunal, said officials will be “following it closely” and study any resulting report “carefully”.

He told Sir Iain: “The policy of successive UK governments is that any determination of genocide or crimes against humanity is a matter for a competent court. We are, therefore, not in a position to provide evidence, testimony or other official support to the tribunal.”

Mr Adams said the Government has “pointed” Sir Geoffrey to some open source information, noting it is “some of the most compelling” evidence as to “what is going on” in the region.

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