Chinese officials on Wednesday lambasted an initiative by Canada and Britain to ensure their companies are not complicit in Beijing’s human rights abuses against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, saying it amounts to a “gross interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
The suite of seven new measures announced on Tuesday includes a ban on imports of goods produced by forced labour and new requirements for Canadian companies doing business in China to ensure that their supply chains do not involve products produced by forced labour in Xinjiang.
“Canada is deeply concerned regarding the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a news release shortly before taking over the portfolio of the minister of Innovation, Science and Industry in Tuesday’s mini cabinet shuffle.
In a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa accused the federal government of making “blatant accusations” over the human rights situation in Xinjiang and “falsely claiming the practice of ‘forced labor’ and ‘mass arbitrary detention’” to impose trade restrictions on products made in Xinjiang.
“By doing so, the Canadian side has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated the international laws and the basic norms governing international relations,” the statement said. “The Chinese side expresses its strong dissatisfaction, and firm opposition over this and strongly condemns such actions.”
Targeting forced labour in China’s cotton industry
Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat and a respected China expert at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said the new regulations are aimed particularly at China’s cotton industry, which relies heavily on the use of forced labour in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang, home to about 12 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, produces 85 per cent of China’s cotton and 20 per cent of the global supply, which is used by fashion brands worldwide.
Last month, the Washington-based Center for Global Policy said China is forcing hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minorities to pick cotton by hand and called on the U.S. to ban all cotton imports from the Xinjiang region.
China has denied that it uses forced labour in Xinjiang, arguing instead that “workers from ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang as part of China’s large workforce are protected by law.”
Officials at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said that by the end of 2019, nearly 3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in the region thanks to government programs.
‘We have heard that song many times before’
Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China dismissed denials of the existence of Uighur camps and forced labour issues by Chinese officials as “laughable.”
“We have heard that song many times before,” Kwan said. “This is the standard response to any Western pressure or to any Western ‘interference.”‘
Protection of human rights knows no naitonal boundaries, he added.
If anything, Kwan said measures announced by Canada and Britain didn’t go far enough.
“It’s a good first step, however, I think more could be done,” Kwan said.
Canada should consider imposing Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chinese officials involved with the Uighur camps, as well as the violations of human rights in Hong Kong, Kwan said.