The Chinese authorities like to say that what happens inside China is not the concern of people outside of China. But when human rights abuses in China are the norm, not the exception, the world needs to know...
There are more than 10 million Uighurs in Xinjiang. They speak a Turkic language, they are Muslim and in many ways, they are culturally and geographically closer to Central Asia than to central China.
Over the past decade due to outbreaks of protests and the subsequent harsh crackdowns from the Chinese state, hundreds of lives have been lost in Xinjiang.
The Chinese persecution of the Uighurs has been persistent and includes penalties designed to suppress Islamic identity and stop them from practicing their religion. Uighurs are unable to travel freely and are subject to ethnic profiling at thousands of checkpoints.
Even more alarming is the Chinese government’s determination to build and operate “high security” camps on a huge and growing scale. The Chinese call them re-education centres. Testimonies from Uighurs living abroad confirm that they are detention camps where inmates are beaten, terrorised and brainwashed.
Although the detention camps in Xinjiang are the most recent Chinese human rights issue to draw the world’s attention, we must not forget that human rights abuses in China are the norm, not the exception, especially among China’s ethnic minority communities.
Within China there are small numbers of people who speak up for human rights, but their voices are invariably silenced. Those of us who have the freedom to do so have an even greater moral responsibility to speak out because of this.
The Chinese authorities like to say that what happens inside China is not the concern of people outside of China. However, China is also a member of the UN and at the core of that organisation’s vision is the belief that human rights are universal.
There are some that argue that our criticism makes no difference. That is untrue. China’s leaders care a great deal about China’s reputation and invest huge resources in its global image. Look at how they tried to hush up this story alone. If the British government spoke out we could make a positive difference.
But the problem is that our own government- alongside the governments of most Western countries- has been afraid to speak out about China’s human rights abuses. China is viewed as an indispensable trade partner. The consequence of this is that almost every country in the world has stopped speaking up on human rights abuses in China. So how can be break this silence?
Three things need to happen:
- There must be a domestic political cost for any British government that does not speak up on Chinese human rights abuses. The media and the public must work together to demand action.
- We need to develop a clear awareness that China is a serious threat. The threat posed by China’s actions is not only to its own people. The Chinese government is no longer just trying to crush dissent internally, it is trying to become a global super-power influencing the wider world. The Chinese government’s view of the world is not democratic or inclusive. The unflinching defence of human rights is a battle over values that is certain to play out over the next decade.
- Countries that believe in human rights need to stand united because no individual country has enough power to stand up to China’s bullying. Collectively we have that power and can defend the values upon which our countries are founded.
One practical way forward could be to create policies of reciprocal access. Chinese journalists and officials are free to go anywhere in most Western foreign countries, but foreign journalists and diplomats do not have anywhere near the same freedom to travel in China.
Human rights abuses flourish in the dark. If journalists and diplomats were free to travel everywhere in China this would make a big difference.
I would like to encourage this government to examine reciprocal access policies alongside its European and global allies.
Human right abuses will only stop if we dare to call them out. We must be prepared to defend our human rights as the pillar on which our democratic societies and the whole international order is built.
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