Labor calls for increased pressure on China over alleged mass detention of Uighur Muslims


The Labor Party has called on the Morrison Government to increase pressure on China over the reported mass detention of Uighur Muslims.

Key points:

  • It is alleged the Chinese Government is attempting to “cleanse” the Uighur people and make them swear allegiance to China’s President
  • Labor’s Penny Wong says the Government should use its UN Rights Council position to apply pressure
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it has raised concerns with Beijing

The comments came as United States Republicans called on the Trump administration to broaden sanctions on China to include entities involved in the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The global human rights community have expressed grave concern about the existence of “re-education camps” in China’s far-western Xinjiang province.

In her first comments to media on the issue earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the Government had raised concerns with China about the situation in Xinjiang.

The statement reiterated previous comments from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) under former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop.

But Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said while Labor welcomed the Government’s decision to raise concerns with Beijing, more could be done.

“Labor is deeply concerned by continuing reports of the mass detention of China’s minority Uighur population and other violations of human rights,” Senator Wong said in a statement.

“Labor calls on the Government to use Australia’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council, in coordination with other members, to continue to pursue this issue with the Chinese Government.”

It is alleged the Chinese Government is attempting to cleanse the Uighur people — the Turkic-speaking ethnic minority of the region — and make them swear allegiance to China’s President Xi Jinping.

In a recent report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that up to 1 million Uighurs may be held in detention.

As part of their detention, it is believed the Uighur Muslims have been banned from using their own language in schools, forced to instead learn Chinese.

All religious practices such as praying, attending mosques, fasting during Ramadan, wearing Islamic clothing and males growing beards have also been banned.

Beijing has rejected all allegations, saying Xinjiang faces a serious terror threat from Islamist militants and separatists who carry out attacks to raise tensions between the Uighur people and the ethnic majority, the Han Chinese.

Senator Wong said it was “important that the Uighur community in Australia do not feel pressured or intimidated by events in China”.

Australia is home to a tight-knit Uighur community of an estimated 600 families, with a combined population estimated to be over 4,000 people, with most living in Adelaide.

Many have families members and friends currently detained in China and have stepped out in protest against the Chinese Government’s treatment of their people.

The East Turkistan Australian Association has presented a petition to Parliament with 10,000 signatures, calling for the Government to increase pressure on China to end the detentions.

The Australian National Imams Council has also condemned the treatment of Uighurs, releasing a statement this week urging action from the Australian Government.

“Xinjiang cannot be regarded as anything but a totalitarian police state … and anyone found with anything relating to Islam is arrested and given many years of imprisonment,” the council said in a statement.

“This treatment cannot be regarded as anything other than inhumane and unbearable.”

US Republicans urge Trump to crack down on China

In a letter on Wednesday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, chaired by senator Marco Rubio and representative Chris Smith, asked the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to expand the list of Chinese entities barred from purchasing surveillance equipment.

“Given the national integration of China’s state security apparatus, we believe there should … be a presumption of denial for any sale of technology or equipment that would make a direct and significant contribution to the police surveillance and detection system [in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region],” Senator Rubio and Mr Smith said in the letter.

The US State Department expressed concern about China’s “worsening crackdown” in the Xinjiang region on Tuesday.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China “has been firmly and strongly opposed to the US using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

“The Chinese Government protects the Chinese citizens’ freedom of religion and belief in accordance with law,” Mr Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Mr Geng also hit back at calls from new Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet for China to allow UN monitors into Xinjiang, after a string of “deeply disturbing” reports of rights abuses in the region.

“China urges the UN Human Rights High Commissioner and office to scrupulously abide by the mission and principles of the UN charter, respect China’s sovereignty, fairly and objectively carry out its duties, and not listen to one-sided information,” Mr Geng said.

The comments echoed previous claims from Beijing that “anti-China” forces are behind criticism of Xinjiang.

By Jack Kilbride


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