The Liberal Democrats are to call on the government to consider sanctions against Chinese leaders over rights abuses against the Uighur people, and urged the British public to think about boycotting Chinese firms such as TikTok and Huawei.
Layla Moran, the party’s new foreign affairs spokesperson, is to use her speech to the party’s annual conference at the weekend to castigate what she calls a lack of government action over Chinese repression against people in the western Xinjiang region.
There is increasing evidence that China is imprisoning enormous numbers of people from the primarily Muslim Uighur population, with a new report saying China has now built nearly 400 camps. Some people who have fled the region have told of programmes of forced sterilisation for Uighur women.
In her speech to the conference, being held online, Moran is to argue that it is clear China’s actions in Xinjiang fall under the definition of genocide. “History is watching us. The world is looking to the UK and the international community to stand up and take action.”
Moran will call on the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to take more action against China, including the use of so-called Magnitsky sanctions against leaders or other people complicit in the abuses. These allow individuals or organisations accused of human rights abuses to be barred from the UK, or have their assets targeted.
In her speech, Moran will call for an independent UN investigation into repression in Xinjiang, and for the UK to take a more clearly ethical and compassionate approach to foreign policy.
“Why haven’t we offered to automatically grant refugee status to Uighur asylum seekers? Again I ask you – what does global Britain mean to you?” she is expected to say. “To me, it means open arms, it means leading on the world stage in taking firm action against hatred and repression.”
Moran, who lost to Ed Davey in the recent Lib Dem leadership race, is also calling for consumer pressure on China, including more information about the potential complicity in abuses of Chinese companies such as Huawei, and the social media firm TikTok, which has been accused of censoring videos about the Uighur repression.
“This is about transparency as much as anything else,” Moran will say.
Moran told the Guardian that, even as a keen user of social media, she initially had no idea about the concerns about TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance. ByteDance has sought to get around US worries about its ownership by creating a US subsidiary, part-owned by American firms.
Moran’s speech will be pre-recorded at the Lib Dem headquarters in London, and broadcast to the virtual conference on Saturday morning, after which she will hold a live question and answer session with delegates.
The lack of a physical gathering due to coronavirus could prove particularly challenging for the Liberal Democrats, where members enjoy notably more policy clout than in Labour or the Conservatives, and where the annual conference often involves genuine, and sometimes feisty, debates.
Moran told the Guardian that membership involvement was “absolutely built into the system” for the online equivalent. “We are not Lib Dems unless we are having a good political debate where there are 11 opinions for 10 people.”
One particularly fraught debate could be about Europe. A frontbench motion calls for the party to step back from its demands for a resumption of UK membership of the EU, instead saying the party should “keep all options open”. This is expected to face amendments from members seeking a more explicit pro-EU stance.
By Peter Walker