Benedict Rogers is co-founder and deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, co-founder, chair of Hong Kong Watch and an advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide campaign.
Last week the government pulled off a remarkable feat by bringing Volodymyr Zelensky to Britain and keeping it secret until today. His speech in Parliament was inspiring, courageous and historic. The government deserves credit for leading Ukraine.
This makes this week’s London visitor all the more inappropriate. Erkin Tuniyaz, the governor of China’s Xinjiang region, was sanctioned by the United States in 2021 for complicity in the genocide of Uyghurs. However, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) plans to meet him.
FCDO also claims that the meeting will not take place in government buildings, and will be with officials, not ministers – as if to make it acceptable.
Not surprisingly, it caused an uproar. Sir Ian Duncan Smith, co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), asked an urgent question in the House of Commons last Thursday. Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns and several Conservative MPs attended, along with Catherine West, Labour’s shadow Asia minister Alastair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat co-chair of the Uyghur All Party Parliamentary Group and others.
In response, minister Leo Docherty tried to defend the government by arguing that a meeting provided an opportunity to “send a message of very strong and strong condemnation”. Kearns, quite rightly, said it was “not good enough”.
Tuniyaz is a high-ranking official in a regime credibly accused of genocide.
This accusation comes not only from activists, but from current US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his predecessor, Mike Pompeo; At least seven parliaments, including our House of Commons; and an independent tribunal headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice KC, who tried Slobodan Milosevic.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the atrocities in Xinjiang as crimes against humanity.
Tuniyaz’s regime is responsible for imprisoning at least one million Uighurs and conducting a campaign of systematic rape, torture, and religious persecution, including forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced labor, forced removal of human organs from prisoners, destruction of mosques, and religious persecution. and imprisoning Muslims for praying, fasting, reciting the Koran, wearing headscarves or long beards, or abstaining from pork or alcohol.
It forcibly separated Uyghur children from their parents to abandon their religion, culture, language and identity in state-run orphanages. Evidence of Uyghurs being transported by train around China to work as slaves in factories that are part of the supply chain of multinational corporations is well documented.
Xinjiang is the epitome of an Orwellian surveillance state. The regime places surveillance cameras on every street corner, with facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence, old-fashioned monitoring. It operates a system of so-called home stays, where Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials drop in uninvited to live with Uighur families, monitoring their every move.
This is the system where Tuniyaz plays a leading role. So what is the government doing with his visa, let’s meet him?
The episode is a worrying illustration of a more systemic problem, encapsulated by the government’s meaningless phrase “robust realism”. Don’t get me wrong – I want foreign policy to be both concrete and real in the sense of being practical and delivering results. But that is not the government’s approach.
Does the FCDO seriously think that, as Duncan Smith puts it, a British official telling the Xinjiang governor “Now, now, you’ve got to stop it” over a cup of tea in an undisclosed location in London will have any effect? ?
By contrast, China’s brutal, criminal regime would celebrate it as a propaganda coup that he was allowed to visit officials in London and use it to legitimize their crimes back home.
The fact is, the CCP is not a regime one can argue with. That doesn’t mean we won’t contact them. We should. Even at the height of the Cold War we talked to Moscow, and I was involved in efforts to engage Pyongyang, so I’m not against engagement.
The question is not whether to engage, but how, in what way, with what message, under what conditions and with what purpose. We can send a strong message by not welcoming the Governor to London.
The language CCP understands is stress. Xi Jinping’s regime is a bully, and the best way to handle the bullies is to stand up to them and hold them accountable.
The correct approach would be to ban Tuniyaz – as the US has done – and ban him from the UK. We sanctioned about 1200 individuals and 120 entities in response to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, and rightly so. So far we have sanctioned only four mid-ranking officials and one state entity for what Dominic Raab as secretary of state recognized as “industrialized torture” in Xinjiang.
There is no point in approving Tuniyaz’s subordinates but the governor himself or the architect of the atrocities, former Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo. Top criminals should be tried.
If we don’t sanction him, he should be arrested and brought to justice. Last week a barrister, Michael Pollack, representing a Kazakh survivor of the prison camp, now living in the UK, asked the Attorney-General for permission to sue Tuniyaz in London. Seven MPs have written to the Attorney-General in support, noting that “evidence has been submitted” to the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes team.
The only reasonable reason to allow Tuniyaz here would be to bring him to court. Today, from 10am to 5pm, Uyghur activists, including prominent singer and preacher Rahima Mahmut, will protest outside the FCDO to demand a meeting with James Cleverly.
I encourage him to urgently agree to meet with them and order his officials to cancel their appointment with the Xinjiang governor. Uighurs have been requesting a meeting with ministers for years. If FCDO meets Tuniyaz, it will be a shame for them. The foreign secretary will send a stronger message to Beijing if he meets Rahima and her colleagues and sends Tuniyaz packing.
FCDO must learn from past mistakes. Ministers and officials should reflect on this week’s question from The Cultural Tutor: Is it ever possible to support compliance with an immoral regime?
For a long time there was a naive belief that we could influence China through trade and dialogue. It failed. We must be firm not only in our words, but in our actions.