Friday, October 16, 2020

A parliamentary recognition of Uyghur genocide will be met with a ‘strong reaction,’ says Chinese ambassador

A parliamentary recognition of Uyghur genocide will be met with a 'strong reaction,' says Chinese ambassador

China’s top diplomat in Canada is warning Canadian Parliamentarians to be cautious when considering having the House of Commons recognize Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as an act of genocide, as some Conservative MPs have pushed for.

“Any actions that would damage our interests, especially our core interests, will be met with [a] strong reaction,” Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu told reporters in a virtual press conference on Oct. 15. “We will take resolute measures to safeguard our sovereignty, national security, and the development interests.”

“I strongly urge that they are accessing caution when they are talking about anything that may damage our core interests and you can see from what we have been responding to the United States—those forceful measures, resolute measures—I would refer them to look at this, which demonstrates our determination and the resolve to safeguard our national interests and the security,” he said.

Mr. Cong wouldn’t specify what China’s reaction would be to a recognition of genocide by Parliament.

In the last session of Parliament, MPs on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard from human right activists who called for House of Commons to recognize that acts of genocide have been committed against Uyghurs, including former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler. Mr. Cotler told The Hill Times in July that Parliament is uniquely positioned to have a “distinguishable role” in condemning Beijing’s alleged behaviour to build an international partnership to counter China’s bullying.

Parliament previously unanimously voted in 2018 to recognize Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya as a genocide.

Media reports have highlighted the decline of Uyghur birthrates and the rise of sterilization and IUDs in Xinjiang as overall numbers throughout China have declined.

Mr. Cong encouraged Canadians to use care when invoking genocide.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis has called for both the Canadian government and Parliament to recognize the persecution of Uyghurs as a genocide. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“I would like to suggest to those people here in Canada or elsewhere in some of the Western countries, they should be very careful when they are using the term genocide because there’s nothing like that happening in Xinjiang,” Mr. Cong said, remarking that the Uyghur population has been increasing and adding that the “assimilation, expulsion, and the killing” of Indigenous people in the United States was “genocide, indeed.”

Since the start of the new parliamentary session, Conservative MPs have been tabling a series of petitions in the House of Commons requesting the government recognize that genocide has taken place against the Uyghurs and adopt Magnitsky sanctions against those responsible.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), his party’s human rights critic, attempted to have an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the issue on Sept. 28, but the request was denied by House Speaker Anthony Rota (Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ont.). An emergency debate was held on Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya prior to the House recognizing that genocide has taken place.

“The situation facing Uyghurs is similar to that facing the Rohingya, although it is in certain respects even more terrifying. We see a clear and intentional effort by a permanent member of the UN Security Council to eradicate a people and a culture from the face of the earth, using the most sophisticated technology on offer and in the meantime enslaving those same people and selling us the products of their labour,” Mr. Genuis said in the Chamber last month.

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the last session, told The Hill Times in July that the subcommittee heard “pretty strong proof and testimony that there have been acts of genocide perpetrated against the Uyghur people.”

University of Toronto professor Lynette Ong, an expert on China, told The Hill Times on Oct. 15 that it would be a good thing for Parliament to declare a genocide is taking place against the Uyghurs.

“Acknowledging that it is a genocide and there are concentration camps being built in Xinjiang, I think, it’s a first step to taking actions against China,” Prof. Ong said.

“We cannot do it by ourselves,” she said. “It has to be with other countries, preferably with international institutions like the United Nations.”

Prof. Ong highlighted recent comments made by Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae, who said that despite Canada’s checkered history of human rights abuses, it still can play a role spotlighting the abuses of others.

“[The UN] in everything it has been doing has reaffirmed the significance of our establishing systems of accountability for breaches of human rights whenever and wherever they occur,” Mr. Rae told the UN General Assembly, responding to the Chinese and Syrian missions questioning the ability of Canada to comment on another country’s human rights abuses.

“We’ve established commissions of accountability. We’ve established commissions of truth and reconciliation. Where are the commissions of truth and reconciliation in China?”

Delay in providing virtual access for detained Canadian blamed on pandemic

Mr. Cong blamed the 10-month delay in providing consular access to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Spavor, left, and Michael Kovrig, right, have been detained by Chinese authorities since December 2018. Photographs courtesy of Twitter and the International Crisis Group

Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton was provided virtual consular access to Mr. Spavor on Oct. 9 and Mr. Kovrig on Oct. 10. Canadian officials were last given access to the pair on Jan. 13 and 14, respectively. The Canada-China consular agreement mandates that visits to Canadian citizens detained in China “may be made on a recurring basis” and that “no longer than one month shall be allowed to pass between visits requested by a consular officer.”

Mr. Cong said China has been has been honouring the consular agreement as well as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 in its handling of the cases of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

“The only reason consular access has been suspended has been suspended for a while it was because of the raging COVID-19,” he said, adding it wasn’t targeted against Canada.

Australia was allowed virtual consular access to detained writer Yang Hengjun in September.

The two Canadians have been detained by Chinese authorities since Dec. 10, 2018, in apparent connection to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Mr. Cong denied the linkage of the cases.

The Hill Times

Neil Moss

Neil Moss is a reporter at The Hill Times covering federal politics, foreign policy, and defence.

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