By Joseph Cummins
BORIS Johnson and the Conservative leadership must catch up their own party’s views on human rights in order to act on abuses in Xinjang, a spearhead of the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill has said.
Coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Luke de Pulford, said that the Tory party’s leadership is at odds with its own MPs’ views that the government should take action against human rights violations in Xinjiang, China.
The amendment would have compelled the UK to terminate any deal where the other side was found to have committed genocide by the British High Court. The proposed change, defeated by 319 votes to 308 on January 19, is thought to specifically attempt to hold Beijing accountable for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
“China thinks ‘we’re getting away with it’ – it’s totally ridiculous,” said de Pulford. “The Conservative party [members] are so far away from the leadership on this – we are not going to acquiesce to China’s human rights abuses.”
[READ MORE: Xinjiang’s tainted cotton shows how reliant the West has become on China]
He believes that 40 years of inertia in British foreign policy will have to be undone if the amendment is to pass and the UK can take real action on human rights offences by China.
“If the genocide amendment passed, the UK will be obligated to protect and prevent acts of genocide,” de Pulford said, “with actions up to and including economic sanctions and who knows whatever else.
“Every bill is a China bill until something changes.”
He added that a post-Brexit UK is free to show that human rights are more important than trade, but the UK’s current economic proximity to China has stymied its options.
“We’ve firmly attached the wagon to China and the question is; ‘are we too wedded to this economy to speak up for human rights?’”
The House of Lords is set to reassess the amendment on February 2. It is thought that a compromise will be offered that affords MPs more power to scrutinise trade deals but falls short of allowing the courts to rule on genocide.
A spokesperson for the Department of International Trade (DIT) said: “The Trade Bill only applies to free trade agreements that have already been signed with the EU, which we are rolling over as an independent trading nation.
“None of the agreements we have signed – and which have been scrutinised by Parliament – have eroded any domestic standards in relation to human rights or equalities.”
The DIT spokesperson added that any amendment could not be used to implement – or prevent – any future trade agreements with China.
Typically, any genocide ruling that would affect trade and diplomacy is determined by the International Criminal Court through the UN Security Council, but can be vetoed by its member states – including China.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told ITV’s The Peston Show that it is “a matter for the courts to decide” what constitutes genocide, despite voting against the amendment to allow them to affect trade deals by doing so.
[READ MORE: Rahima Mahmut talks about the ‘unbearable’ suffering of the Uyghur people]
Earlier this year, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that companies will have to meet requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour in the Xinjiang province that sells cotton, batteries and electronics to the UK.
The foreign secretary previously said that there was evidence of “egregious human rights abuses” against the population of Xinjiang but refused to call it genocide.
Amnesty UK economic affairs programme director Peter Frankental said: “If the government had responded more decisively to the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act, then proper controls over supply chains would already be in place.”
“We’d like the Government to extend safeguards to ensure that our supermarket shelves exclude any products arising from human rights violations, not just those relating to internment camps in Xinjiang.”
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