The government should freeze the assets of Chinese officials over the persecution of the Uighur people, Labour has said.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy argued that new “Magnitsky Act”-style legislation introduced by the government should be used against any officials involved in human rights abuses.
“There’s one thing that the government could do in relation to helping the Uighur people at the moment and that is to freeze the assets of any of the Chinese officials involved in those human rights abuses over in China,” she told Sky News.
“We’ve got new legislation now, we’ve been pushing the government to do that for two years. The UK should not be a haven for people who abuse human rights overseas.”
On 6 July the government announced its first wave of asset freezes under the new legislation, targeting 25 Russian nationals, 20 Saudi nationals, two Burmese military general and two organisations with links to North Korean forced labour camps.
But Chinese officials were notable by their absence from the list despite growing concerns about repression by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang. The government also has concerns about China’s involvement in UK infrastructure like its nascent 5G telecommunications network.
Human rights groups say recent Chinese policy in the long-running conflict with the Muslim minority in Xinjiang has involved mass surveillance and the incarceration without trial of over one million people without trial in “re-education camps”.
There are reports that the camps are being used for force labour. China says its policies are in response to political extremism and a terrorist threat.
Speaking on the same programme, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said of the UK’s relationship with China: “I think we need to be very careful in our dealings. On the one hand we want a positive relationship with China – there are all sorts of areas and scope for cooperation not least on investment and trade and things like that, but also on climate change.
“Equally, with various efforts, cyberattacks, the resilience of our various interests like 5G and standing up for our values as we’ve done very clearly on Hong Kong we will always make clear our position on those key interests and values to China. That’s the calibrated approach we’ll take.”
Mr Raab said “there won’t be business as usual” and the UK would be “clear-eyed” in its dealings.
On the issue of sanctions, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming said any sanctions would be met with a response.
“We never believe in unilateral sanctions. We believe the UN is the authority, has the authority to impose sanctions. If the UK government goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make a resolute response to it,” he told the BBC.
“You’ve seen what happened between China and the US – they sanctions Chinese officials, we sanctioned their senators. I do not want to see this tit-for-tat in UK relations. I think the UK should have its own independent foreign policy rather than the dance to the tune of Americans rather than to dance to the tune of Huawei.”
On the issue of Uighur persecution, the ambassador told the broadcaster: “The so-called western intelligence agencies, keeping up making this false accusation against China, that on million Uighur has been persecuted, you know how many population Xinjiang has – 40 years ago it was four or five million. Now its 11 million people – people say we impose ethnic cleansing but the population had doubled in 40 years.
“I can easily refute this accusation: There’s some, a small group of anti-Chinese people, anti-China elements working against the interests of China. But the majority of people in Xinjiang people are happy. In the last three years there’s been no single terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.
“People can enjoy harmonious life. Uighur people can enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people. Uighur people is just one small portion of the Chinese population among even the Muslims – but the majority of them are living happily and peacefully with other ethnic groups. The success of China is we have a very successful ethnic policy, we treat every ethnic group as an equal.”
Turning to other issues, Labour’s Ms Nandy said her party had “got it wrong” on its earlier response to concerns about the Russian government.
“By prevaricating about issues like [the poisoning in] Salisbury we let the Tories off the hook. I strongly believe that that has to change and that we have to have a much more strategic approach to Russia,” she told the same programme