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China imposes retaliatory sanctions on British MPs for highlighting Uyghur persecution

The Chinese government has imposed sanctions on 9 British citizens, including 5 MPs, 2 members of the House of Lords, a barrister and an academic; with 4 British entities also targeted. They constitute the latest in a set of retaliatory measures against the UK and its allies for spreading what China calls “lies and disinformation” about the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The sanctions are largely symbolic, devised as a distraction from international condemnation of the PRC’s deteriorating human rights record. They include freezing any assets the 9 individuals may have in China and barring them from entering Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China.

The countermeasures come following the UK government’s recent announcement of Magnitsky sanctions against senior Chinese officials; part of a coordinated effort with Britain’s international partners to hold the PRC accountable for the egregious violations taking place in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs.

Announcing the sanctions in a statement released on their website, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that:

“This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations.”

Chinese sanctions have targeted members of Parliament and other individuals who in the course of their official roles have taken a forthright approach to their opposition of Chinese practises with regards to human rights violations. Those blacklisted by China’s latest sanctions are:

Tom Tugendhat MP

As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tugendhat has presided over an inquiry into “Xinjiang detention camps” and was among those who defied the government in January, voting against the removal of an amendment to the trade bill which would outlaw trade deals with countries deemed to have committed genocide.

Tugendhat also leads the China Research Group – a group that many feel lobbies for a more hawkish approach to Anglo-Chinese relations. In a statement released on the CRG’s website, they said that the sanctions are:

“profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping”

Iain Duncan Smith MP

Former Conservative Party leader and a member of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission; Duncan Smith tabled an Urgent Question on the Chinese government’s use of slave labour camps in December 2020, was also among those who rebelled against the genocide amendment and criticised the government for buying £150m worth of PPE from Chinese firms, using cotton produced by Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang.

Nusrat Ghani MP

A member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Ghani is one of the UK’s most vocal critics of Uyghur human rights transgressions, repeatedly calling on the government to recognise Beijing’s actions as genocide.

She recently took the lead on a report titled ‘Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang and UK value chains’, arguing that British firms should be subject to sanctions if they fail to show they are not complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labour.

Ghani’s official website has a section specifically dedicated to “Calling for action against human rights abuses of the Uighurs”, in which she states that:

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Chinese regime has been engaging in state-sponsored ethnic cleansing.”

Neil O’Brien MP

Head of the Conservative policy board, O’Brien is also a member of the CRG and has repeatedly spoken up about Uyghur abuses on Twitter, typically maintaining a hawkish approach to relations with China.

In May 2020, he wrote an article titled: “Bullying, hostage taking, censorship, bribery. How China is dealing with its critics abroad.”

O’Brien has consistently opposed moves to involve Chinese tech giant Huawei in UK 5g and has remained a vocal critic of the CCP’s actions in Hong Kong.

Tim Loughton MP

A member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a global cross-party group focused on “working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China”, Loughton was one of the most outspoken Conservative advocates for the genocide amendment and was another who rebelled against the government.

In June 2020, Loughton spoke about the plight of Uyghurs to the House of Commons, stating that:

“For more than 60 years, the Chinese regime has sought to snuff out the culture, religion, heritage and liberty of the Tibetan people, and more than a million Tibetans have lost their lives. Now we hear of even more sinister tactics to suppress the Uyghurs, beyond even the outrageous concentration camps we already know about: sterilisation and eugenics.”

Two lords, Lord David Alton and Helena Kennedy QC, were sanctioned for their role in leading a campaign to give the UK high court a role in investigating whether genocide is occurring in Xinjiang.

Geoffrey Nice QC, a barrister leading a tribunal investigating atrocities against Uyghurs, and Joanne Nicola Smith Finley, an academic whose research focuses on Uyghurs, were also blacklisted.

Following the announcement of the sanctions, senior British ministers denounced the measures and expressed solidarity with those targeted.

In a statement released on Twitter, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims. Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”

This sentiment was echoed by British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, who said that:

“This action is really a sign of weakness from Beijing and we will not be deterred from speaking up on human rights.”

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory for Human Rights, said that:

“Kowtow: to show obsequious deference. Is this what western democracies are supposed to do now that we have been bought by China? The Chinese government is committing genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide convention in their destruction of the Uyghur people. Thousands of witness statements, satellite photographs, Chinese official papers and documents prove that the State is perpetrating gross human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other minority groups.

As part of its retaliation campaign, the Chinese Embassy in the UK issued a statement accusing the UK of various interference while obfuscating any details about the plight of the Uyghurs, Peay commented,

“The Chinese government accused the UK today of spreading “lies and disinformation” and of “grossly interfer[ing] in China’s internal affairs”. China is a repressive state who is now turning its bullying attacks outwards to discredit and silence any voices that stand up for human rights. It’s time we faced facts and used them. We may need to do business with China, but we can no longer be complicit to genocide. China does not have the right to sit on the UN Human Rights Council while they re-write a history without Uyghurs or Tibetans or Hong Kong democracy.“

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