China's UK ambassador denies abuse of Uighurs despite fresh drone footage

UK expected to suspend extradition arrangements with Hong Kong as Liu Xiaoming blames reports of forced sterilisation on ‘anti-China elements’

China’s ambassador to the UK gave a brazen defence of his country’s human rights record on Sunday, insisting the Uighur people live in “peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups”, as he was confronted with footage of shackled prisoners being herded on to trains in Xinjiang.

As the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, prepared to give a statement on Hong Kong on Monday, in which he is expected to suspend extradition arrangements with the territory, Liu Xiaoming flatly denied claims of abuses by Beijing.

Human rights groups and western governments have catalogued systematic attacks on the Muslim Uighur minority in China’s western region, including mass forced sterilisation and detainment in “re-education” camps.

Drone footage of hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men, who appeared to be Uighur and other minority ethnic groups, being led from a train in what was believed to be a transfer of inmates in Xinjiang last August.

Shown the pictures during a combative interview by the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Liu said: “I do not know where you get this videotape,” adding, “sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country.”

“Uighur people enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people,” he said, adding: “We treat every ethnic group as equal.”

The video, which was posted anonymously online last year, has resurfaced recently and gone viral online amid new allegations and reports of forced sterilisation and other abuses against Uighur detainees. China has come under fire for the mass detention of detainees in Xinjiang in both the formal prison system as well as internment camps that serve as de facto prisons, which Beijing claims are merely vocational training centres.

As well as the drone footage, Liu was played an interview with a woman who said she had been subjected to forced sterilisation. He responded by blaming such reports on “some small group of anti-China elements”.

“There’s no, so-called, pervasive, massive, forced sterilisation among Uighur women in China,” he said. But he conceded: “I cannot rule out single cases. For any country, there’s single cases.”

Liu also defended the new security law recently passed in Hong Kong, which has facilitated a draconian crackdown on anti-government protests.

He said ensuring national security is the responsibility of every government, and Beijing had been forced to act because Hong Kong law had “failed to curtail, to contain this violence, looting, smashing”.

China’s human rights record in Xinjiang has provoked growing international condemnation. Earlier this month, the US imposed sanctions on Chinese officials in protest at the treatment of the Uighurs and other minority groups, including Kazakhs.

The UK shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, interviewed by the BBC after Liu, said it appeared China was engaged in genocide.

“It certainly looks that way,” she said, describing China’s actions as “the deliberate persecution and killing of a large group of people on the basis of their ethnicity of nationhood”. She urged the UK government to echo the US’s approach, and impose unilateral sanctions.

Raab said he would announce the result of a review of extradition arrangements with Hong Kong on Monday, amid mounting concern over the situation.

The UK has already promised that up to 3 million Hong Kong residents will be offered the chance to settle in the UK, and a path to permanent citizenship.

Raab said: “I’m going to go to the House of Commons tomorrow to make a further statement on the work we’ve been doing with our partners in government. I’ve said that we’d review a whole range of other considerations. One of the things that we reviewed is our extradition arrangements and I will be updating the house on the conclusion of that review, along with other things that we’ve been looking at, tomorrow,” he said, interviewed on Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News.

However, in what appeared to be a hint that the UK is not preparing to impose unilateral sanctions on China as the US has done, he said, “we have said there won’t be business as usual after Covid-19 and we are working with our international partners to get a proper independent review of what happened but we also want to make sure that we’re not slipping into some outdated dogmatic approach.”

Liu said China would make a “resolute response” to any sanctions. It has already imposed travel bans on US officials in retaliation for the sanctions.

China will be high on the agenda when Raab meets his US counterpart, Mike Pompeo, in London this week.

As well as flatly denying the persecution of the Uighur, Liu expressed anger at Boris Johnson’s decision to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G network by the end of 2027, suggesting it showed London was “dancing to the tune” of Washington.

“We are still evaluating the consequences. This is a very bad decision,” he said.


Heather Stewart Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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