Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers have offered aid to residents of Hong Kong, but the Uyghurs are being ignored.
It is now undeniable that the Chinese government is conducting a genocide in its northwestern Xinjiang province. At least 2 million are or have been incarcerated in a vast network of concentration camps. The harrowing testimonies of former detainees and guards detail starvation, systematic rape, torture, forced sterilization, and mass execution.
But even after both the Trump and Biden administrations stepped forward and declared that a genocide is taking place, the British government has refrained from showing the same moral leadership. This acquiescence of human rights has occurred despite a sustained campaign from prominent activists and opposition politicians. Johnson and his ministers also remain resolutely opposed to the legislative route to better holding Beijing to account. For some time now, the government has maintained a circular logic when it comes to legal declarations of genocide: It knows that China will never agree to be heard by an international court, but it insists that only an international court can judge it guilty of genocide.
Activists both within and outside of Parliament have responded by tabling the so-called “genocide amendment” to the government’s Trade Bill. This would solve the problem by empowering the English High Court to make the determination of genocide instead. But the government has repeatedly sought to quash the amendment. At one point, when members of Parliament looked ready to endorse the amendment, the government resorted to an arcane parliamentary procedure (and a touch of bullying) to block the vote. This triggered fury on both sides of the House of Commons.
For whatever reason, likely the fear of Chinese economic retaliation, the government is willing to abandon what should be sacred British principles of justice. But surely, Johnson cannot oppose the basic humanitarian step of recognizing the plight of Beijing’s victims and offering them a path to safety?
Allowing victims of appalling violence and persecution to seek refuge would be the least that a democratic nation like Britain could do. The government belatedly did something similar for residents of Hong Kong, who have also experienced the sharp end of the Chinese Communist Party’s instincts in recent months. A new visa route was opened, offering Hong Kong-based holders of a British National Overseas passport an expedited route to becoming citizens. The scheme has already seen considerable success, with the government at one point granting five passports a minute to Hongkongers.
The move to offer 3 million residents of Hong Kong an escape route was welcome. Still, we implore the government to extend its hand to the Uyghurs, who are also in need of urgent aid. As the Chinese government takes new steps with each passing week to tighten its comprehensive assault on the Uyghur people, such as receiving deported Uyghur dissidents from other countries, the situation is becoming exponentially more pressing.
A sense of urgency should also sustain in our deliberations. Given Xi Jinping’s staunch refusal to allow foreign experts and investigators into Xinjiang to corroborate its blanket denials of any wrongdoing, we will probably not know the true extent of its ethnic cleansing until it is much too late to do anything about it. In turn, it is infinitely better to risk offering refuge to a few more people than need it than to abandon an entire population to be tortured and killed at the hands of a brutal dictatorial regime.
Having traded with China for decades and contributed to its enormous wealth and political power (and turned a blind eye to its various human rights violations over the years), Britain owes a great debt to the victims of its atrocities. It’s time to start paying back.