NEW GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: “Never Again: The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond”.
A Beijing to Britain bonus brief
Yesterday, the Government released its response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report into Xinjiang and the ‘UK’s responsibility to act’. When a Committee publishes a report, Government has 60 days to formulate a reply, either accepting or rejecting the recommendations put before them. This tends to act as a useful temperature check on current thinking towards policy on the given issue, as it goes into much more detail than MPs and Peers can usually get through Written Questions etc.
In today’s Brief, we will look at 20 of the 36 recommendations the Government has agreed to or rejected.
Here are three major takeaways from this Report:
The Government refused to declare situation in Xinjiang as genocide, in line with its view on this issue
A call for a ban on cotton imports from Xinjiang or sanctions on all goods and companies associated with the region was rejected
It has however committed to making sure all future Build Back Better World projects meet all internationally recognised standards, including on labour rights, environmental measures, and transparency
Read on to find out more…
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Who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee?
The Committee currently has 11 members - we have listed relevant China information in italics after their names:
Tom Tugendhat, Conservative (Chair): also co-founder of the China Research Group (CRG), sanctioned by PRC
Chris Bryant, Labour: IPAC member, vocal on China
Neil Coyle, Labour: Lived in China for two years in the early 2000s
Alicia Kearns, Conservative: CRG member, led on this inquiry
Stewart Malcolm McDonald, SNP: Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Defence, vocal on China
Andrew Rosindell, Conservative: Launched Conservative Friends of Hong Kong earlier this year
Bob Seely, Conservative: IPAC
Henry Smith, Conservative: IPAC
Royston Smith, Conservative: One of the original MPs raising concerns about Huawei’s presence in the UK
Graham Stringer, Labour: Has called for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to be dubbed the Genocide Games
Claudia Webbe, Independent: Appeared on a panel with Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Lindsey German (Stop the War Coalition) and Salma Yaqoob (Stop the War)
It’s worth remembering that the Committee was barred from entering Hong Kong in 2014. At the time, then-Chair Sir Richard Ottoway told the media"We are not China's enemies. We are friends and partners. We have every intention of going there in a sensible way. The real worry about this is that it sends a signal about the direction of travel that China is going on Hong Kong. Immigration is a devolved matter to the Hong Kong authorities, and it's not for China to ban them."
What was the scope of the inquiry?
Launched on 15 September 2020, the “Xinjiang detention camps” inquiry aimed to:
“examine the ways in which the UK Government can prevent UK companies from benefitting from forced labour in Xinjiang, support members of the Uyghur diaspora community, and strengthen the UK Government’s, and particularly the FCDO’s, atrocity prevention mechanisms.”
In this sense it overlapped with a similar inquiry being led by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
Speaking at its launch, Chair of the Committee Tom Tugendhat said:
“The mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang has horrifying echoes of the 1930s. There have been similar atrocities since, and each time the world has promised to never allow such violations to happen again. And yet, we now have clear, undeniable evidence of the persecution of more than one million people in these so-called re-education camps.”
“This inquiry will focus on key questions about what the UK can do to exert its influence and the steps the new FCDO will take to fulfil its goal of making our country an ‘active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’.
“We will also examine what mechanisms the Government can use to discourage private sector companies from contributing to human rights abuses and hope to hear from those directly affected by the atrocities, using this inquiry to support members of the Uyghur diaspora community.
“Ultimately, it is they who matter most, and I hope the work of my committee over the coming months will highlight and find ways in which the UK Government, and particularly the FCDO, can prevent similar atrocities from happening again.”
Worth knowing: the Committee penned a letter to then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in November 2020 urging the Government to consider if genocide was taking place in Xinjiang.
Key points from the Government’s response
First thing worth mentioning is how the Committee has framed the Government’s reply to their report, under the headline “Government refuses to declare atrocities in Xinjiang a genocide.”
What follows is a list of the key recommendations (in bold) and the Government’s reason for rejecting or accepting them (in italics). The full list includes 36 recommendations and responses - below are 20 of the most critical.
Accept Parliament’s view that Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang are suffering genocide and crimes against humanity, and take action to bring these crimes to an end
The Government agrees that there is compelling evidence of widespread and systematic human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang…We are clear that these actions represent gross violations of human rights, for which China must be held to account. However it is the long-standing policy of the British Government not to make determinations in relation to genocide. Genocide is a crime and, like other crimes, whether it has occurred should be decided after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible judicial process…We will continue to act with our international partners to increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour.
Move for special sessions of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council to find solutions to the crisis in Xinjiang.
While in principle the Government sees value in holding special sessions to find solutions to the human rights situation in Xinjiang, we must also take account of the level of support required to achieve such an outcome. At present we do not consider there to be sufficient support to successfully move for special sessions, or for the creation of international mechanisms on Xinjiang.
Allocate funding for the creation of an international mechanism for collecting evidence on the crimes in Xinjiang, and provide further resources to help locate and record the details of those who have gone missing under the Chinese Communist Party’s internment system so that they do not remain nameless victims.
The Government recognises the importance of collecting rigorous and credible evidence of the human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang. Evidence is used to inform Government policy, raise international awareness, and shine a spotlight on China’s actions…British diplomats also regularly visit Xinjiang, most recently in April 2021, to gain the latest insights of the situation on the ground…Creating an international mechanism through the UN to collect evidence, however, would require a resolution at the Security Council, General Assembly or the Human Rights Council. If such a mechanism were to be established, we would consider at that time whether to provide funding to support it.
Lead efforts to create a more consistent coalition of democratic countries to coordinate action on Xinjiang through the UN and other institutions.
The UK has also used its G7 Presidency to draw attention to the situation in Xinjiang, and to promote models and values that are different to those promoted by China. True to these principles, the G7 will continue to stand up for shared values and the international system, and expects China to abide by its international commitments. We will continue to work with partners to increase the number of countries willing to call China out for its human rights violations and to increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour. We therefore accept this recommendation.
Commit financial and bureaucratic resources to ensuring future Build Back Better World projects meet all internationally recognised standards, including on labour rights, environmental measures, and transparency.
Strong standards across environmental, social, financial, labour, governance and transparency issues will be at the heart of our approach to the new G7 partnership on development finance. This is vital in order to ensure that our values are upheld, and to drive a race to the top. To help achieve this, we will ensure that the new partnership builds on agreed multilateral standards on quality infrastructure such as the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. We will also emphasise the importance of transparent, open, economically efficient, fair and competitive standards for lending and procurement, in line with debt sustainability, as well as adherence to international rules and standards for major creditor countries. This approach will help to provide citizens of recipient communities with the long-run benefits that they expect and deserve. We therefore accept this recommendation.
If the British Olympic Association and competing teams decide not to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the Government should not attend and should urge others not to do so. The Government should suggest the British Olympic Association does not participate in the opening or closing ceremonies, beyond one representative carrying the Union Flag. It should abstain from sending government officials to any ceremonies or functions, strongly discourage UK businesses from sponsoring or advertising at the Olympics, encourage fans and tourists to stay away, and discourage athletes from supporting or accepting the Chinese government’s propaganda efforts while in-country
The Government has not made any decisions about potential representation at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Team GB’s participation and approach is a matter for the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association. Both of these organisations operate independently of the Government, as stipulated by the International Olympics Committee’s own regulations in order to protect the Olympic movement from political interference.
Push for an urgent, independent review of UNESCO’s investigatory powers and processes, and formally request that the organisation pursue its mandate with determination and commitment. Coordinate with allies to block and reduce the influence of the worst human rights-abusing countries on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
The Government is committed to helping to protect culture and heritage around the world, including in Xinjiang, and we agree that it is important for UNESCO to pursue its mandate with determination and commitment. However, we also recognise that UNESCO’s mandate is limited in scope, and that while it has international obligations over World Heritage Sites, it is not responsible for policing the protection of all cultural and religious heritage sites around the world. Nevertheless we agree with the Committee that UNESCO should be fully aware of what is happening in Xinjiang, and consider carefully how it can pursue its mandate in this context. We therefore agree to raise our concerns with our UNESCO partners.
Conduct an urgent consultation with members of these communities in the UK to determine the extent of harassment they are facing and the type of support they require, offering support and protection as appropriate.
The Government is committed to supporting the Uyghur community in the UK, and wants to send a clear message that we respect their culture, history and religion and oppose all efforts to restrict it…We agree to conduct further consultation with the Uyghur community to better understand the challenges that they face, and to use the findings to inform Government policy. We therefore accept this recommendation.
Implement an asylum fast track for Uyghurs and members of other minority ethnic groups who are fleeing persecution in China.
We do not currently have plans to implement a fast track specifically for Uyghurs or members of other minority ethnic groups in China.
Where there is credible evidence of a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture deporting Uyghurs and members of other persecuted minority groups to China, the UK should raise a complaint against that state to the Committee against Torture.
We are aware of examples where China has previously pressured third countries to return Uyghurs seeking refuge. UK Ministers and diplomats—working closely with likeminded partners—have previously intervened privately at senior levels with host governments in such cases. We have also attended extradition court hearings to demonstrate the seriousness with which we take this matter. These interventions have had some positive results. While we do not have plans to form a ‘coalition of sanctuary states’, we will continue to intervene through diplomatic channels where Uyghurs may be at risk of deportation.
Inform the FAC of when the Department for International Trade will share the export review’s findings and actions with Parliament
The Government is committed to preventing the export of any goods that could contribute either directly or indirectly to the human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang. To that end, the Government announced on 12 January an urgent review of export controls as they apply specifically to the situation in Xinjiang…DIT will report back to Parliament at the conclusion of its current review.
As well as imposing punitive fines for non-compliance with the reporting elements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, we recommend that the Government introduce new legislation that will create a legal requirement for businesses and public sector bodies to take concrete measures to prevent and remove the use of forced labour in their value chains. This new duty should be backed up by meaningful sanctions and penalties for non-compliance.
The Committee’s Report rightly draws attention to the issue of forced labour in Xinjiang. Xinjiang’s position in global supply chains means there is a real risk that international businesses may inadvertently source goods from suppliers that are complicit in forced labour. This is a complex and difficult area that the UK is committed to tackling…In addition to our commitment to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, the Government’s upcoming review of the Modern Slavery Strategy will allow us to explore opportunities to further enhance our approach to transparency in supply chains…We will continue to keep our policy on due diligence under review. In doing so, the Government will remain sensitive to the overall burden of regulation on UK businesses and we would need to be persuaded that any proposals to mandate supply chain due diligence in UK law are practical, proportionate and would deliver tangible improvements to the protection of people’s rights in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
Explore the possibility of banning the import of all cotton products known to be produced in whole or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, in line with WTO rules. While we primarily heard evidence on the cotton industry, we believe this ban should be extended to other industries.
Whilst we do not currently have plans to place import controls on goods from China, we are working with our international partners through the G7 trade track to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour. We will continue to keep our policy response to goods produced using forced labour under close review.
Issue guidance to business to implement modern means of traceability and product origin verification as part of their due diligence measures.
In March, the Foreign Secretary, in her former capacity as Secretary of State for International Trade, hosted two roundtables on the issue of forced labour in Xinjiang, which discussed the role that technology can play in tackling human rights abuses. Our OBR guidance on Xinjiang also encourages businesses to collaborate with industry groups to share expertise and best practice in identifying and addressing risks of human rights violations. However, improved traceability must be coupled with effective traditional due diligence methods such as on-site audits and supply chain mapping. We will continue to engage businesses on this area, but do not currently have plans to issue further specific guidance on the topic.
Where a Chinese institution possesses known or suspected links to repression in Xinjiang, or substantial connections to Chinese military research, UK universities should avoid any form of technological or research collaboration with them. They should also conduct urgent reviews of their current research partnerships, terminating them where involved parties are found or suspected to be complicit in the atrocities in Xinjiang.
…We will not accept collaborations which compromise our national security or values. However international research collaboration is central to our position as a science superpower, and our research sector therefore needs to be both open as well as secure…The Government will continue to keep the support we provide to UK universities under review.
Fund and manage the creation of a regularly-updated due diligence and intelligence database to provide universities with a directory of Chinese institutions and companies that possess strong or suspected connections to technology-aided human rights abuses. The FCDO should convene a panel to oversee and discuss due diligence, to include government officials and members of the academic community. This panel should use all means available to exert public pressure on institutions, ensuring compliance.
…In October 2020, Universities UK published new security guidelines commissioned by the Government. The guidelines advise universities to utilise publicly available information to enhance understanding of prospective partners and identify any potential links to hostile activity. The guidelines also recommend that universities engage with in-house academics with relevant expertise to inform university decision-making and to provide information to staff. We judge that these are currently appropriate to manage the risks, however we will continue to keep our approach under review and work closely with universities and funding bodies on these measures.
Equipment manufactured by companies such as Hikvision and Dahua should not be permitted to operate within the UK. We recommend that the Government prohibits organisations and individuals in the UK from doing business with any companies known to be associated with the Xinjiang atrocities through the sanctions regime. The Government should prohibit UK firms and public sector bodies from conducting business with, investing in, or entering into partnerships with such Chinese firms, to ensure that UK companies do not provide either blueprints or financing for further technology-enabled human rights abuses.
The UK is aware of reports that have suggested links between a number of Chinese technology companies, including Hikvision and Dahua, and human rights violations in Xinjiang…. The FCDO is working with the Cabinet Office to introduce the new guidance, which will enable commercial teams to more effectively exercise their discretion to exclude suppliers linked with modern slavery and human rights violations. This new initiative builds on a wide range of work already underway to increase the capability of commercial teams across government to prevent modern slavery in public sector supply chains. The forthcoming Public Procurement Bill will further strengthen the ability of public sector bodies to disqualify suppliers from bidding for contracts where they have a history of misconduct, including forced labour or modern slavery. We will set out more detail on this in the coming months.
Implement additional early warning tools focused on predicting mass atrocities, and mainstream non-conflict atrocity prevention in the newly announced Conflict Centre. The Conflict Centre should be renamed to the Conflict and Atrocity Prevention Centre, to ensure atrocity prevention thinking is prioritised in its operations.
We agree on the importance of drawing on early warning tools to help to predict mass atrocities…The FCDO is currently exploring how we can better use data and technology to improve our understanding of emerging stability risks and strengthen early warning systems, including in fragile and conflict affected states. Geographic departments can commission a Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability from the FCDO’s conflict centre…The focus of the FCDO’s new conflict centre will be on developing a more integrated UK approach to conflict and instability…Further details of the FCDO’s conflict centre will be announced in due course.
Appoint a Special Envoy on Atrocity Prevention to ensure that the prevention of mass atrocities is consistently championed in Parliament and Government.
We do not currently have plans to appoint a Special Envoy on Atrocity Prevention.
Commit to funding further such research, which is doing vital work to expose those injustices which the Communist Party of China is eager to hide.
We recognise the important role that research plays in informing policy and shining a spotlight on the human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang. Research that the FCDO has already funded include reports published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in October 2021 and March 2020, and a report by the Rights Practice, “Criminal Law and Deprivation of Liberty in Xinjiang”, published in August 2021. We accept this recommendation and commit to funding further valuable research on the human situation in Xinjiang.
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