Uighurs: China sanctions UK MPs over abuses responseon March 26, 2021 at 3:03 am

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It comes after the UK government took action over human rights abuses against the Uighur minority.

Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani and Tom Tugendhat

image copyrightGetty Images/UK Parliament/PA Media

China has imposed sanctions on nine UK citizens – including five MPs – for spreading what it called “lies and disinformation” about the country.

It comes in retaliation for measures taken by the UK government on Monday over human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority group.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith is among the MPs targeted by China, along with two peers, a lawyer and an academic.

He said he would wear the sanctions “as a badge of honour”.

The response by China follows similar sanctions imposed on the European Union, which was part of the co-ordinated action on Monday, along with the UK, the US and Canada.

China has detained Uighurs at camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang, where allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse have emerged.

It has denied the allegations of abuse, claiming the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.

The nine people facing sanctions are Tory MPs Sir Iain, Tom Tugendhat, Neil O’Brien, Tim Loughton, and Nusrat Ghani; the peers Lord Alton and Baroness Kennedy; a lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, and an academic, Jo Smith Finley.

They will all be banned from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, their property in China will be frozen and Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain said: “It is our duty to call out the Chinese governments human rights abuses in Hong Kong and their genocide of the Uighur people.

“Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice. If that brings the anger of China down upon me then I shall wear that as a badge of honour.”

Academic Ms Smith Finley tweeted: “I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the UK’s decision to impose sanctions “flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations”.

He added that the Chinese Foreign Ministry had summoned the British Ambassador to China to “lodge solemn representations, expressing firm opposition and strong condemnation”.

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Analysis box by James Landale, Diplomaitc correspondent

This retaliation by the Chinese government was not unexpected.

From the moment the UK imposed its first ever sanctions on Chinese officials earlier in the week, a response from Beijing was inevitable.

But that does not mean the tit-for-tat exchange of sanctions is not unimportant. It will ensure that the UK’s already poor relationship with China will deteriorate further.

And that matters because the government is trying to strike a balance in its relations with Beijing.

In its recent foreign policy review, the UK described China as a “systemic competitor” and “the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security”.

But it also spoke of pursuing “a positive trade and investment relationship” and co-operating with China on climate change and biodiversity. All that just became a little harder still.

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Four groups have also been sanctioned – the China Research Group – which is led by Mr Tugendhat and Mr O’Brien, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the Uighur Tribunal, and Essex Court Chambers.

Sir Iain, Baroness Kennedy, Lord Alton, Ms Ghani, and Mr Loughton are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) – an international cross-party group of politicians.

An IPAC spokesman said: “The decision to sanction five of our British members is a flagrant assault on those Parliamentarians’ rights to conduct their duties.

“We will be making urgent representations to ministers and the House authorities to see that they’re protected from danger or harm as a result of the communist party’s bullying.”

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Analysis box by Robin Brant, Shanghai correspondent

China has gone for the people exerting the most pressure on Boris Johnson to be tough on China.

It’s gone for the people who say “genocide” has happened in Xinjiang.

The measures are essentially tokenistic – it’s unlikely these people or entities did any business with Chinese firms or people anyway.

Targeting Neil O’Brien is personal for the UK prime minister. The MP is in charge of leading policy in Downing Street.

Going after Essex Court Chambers – a firm set up by self-employed barristers – for a legal opinion it reached also shows you how China views an independent judicial system. It doesn’t believe in them.

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After UK sanctions were announced on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the abuse of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”.

More than a million Uighurs and other minorities are estimated to have been detained in camps in Xinjiang.

A map showing the Xinjiang region

Xinjiang lies in the north-west of China and is the country’s biggest region. Like Tibet, it is autonomous, meaning – in theory – it has some powers of self-governance. But in practice, both face major restrictions by the central government.

Uighurs living in the region speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.

The Chinese government has been accused of carrying out forced sterilisations on Uighur women and separating children from their families.

The country initially denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism. It has denied allegations of human rights abuses.

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