Beijing Shores Up Support for Xinjiang Policies in Spite of UN Human Rights Report

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas concluded a four-day trip to China last Friday, agreeing to expedite negotiations on a free trade agreement and stating his support for Beijing’s repressive policies against Uyghurs. Abbas is the latest figure to come out in support of China on the Uyghur issue, implicitly prioritizing trade and investment over the plight of the Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the northwest of the country.

In August 2022, the UN Human Rights Office published a long-awaited report on China’s policies in Xinjiang, concluding that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs . . . may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Uyghur issue ‘not a priority’

Erkin Ekrem, an associate professor of Chinese foreign policy at Hacettepe University in Turkey, told Radio Free Asia that, “the benefits [the Palestinians] can gain from China outweigh the gains of supporting the Uyghurs.” As a result, he says, “the Uyghur issue, despite the fact that the Uyghurs are Muslims, is not a priority for them.”

In 2019, 22 countries, including Canada, censured China over the country’s reported mass detention of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang. In response, one day later, 37 countries praised China for what they called its “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” Close to half of the signatories were Muslim-majority countries.

Canadian responses to the issue

In 2021, 266 Canadian MPs voted in favour of a motion that accused China of engaging in actions consistent with the UN’s Genocide Convention as it pertains to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

On February 1, MPs voted unanimously for a non-binding private member's bill that would see Canada take in 10,000 Uyghurs marooned in ‘third countries’ from 2024-26. Immigration minister Sean Fraser explicitly supported the motion, calling Canada a leader in refugee resettlement.

Six weeks later, Global Affairs Canada issued an advisory on doing business with Xinjiang-related entities, cautioning businesses of possible human rights violations and “evidence [that] suggests forced labour of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities is taking place not only in Xinjiang, but across China.”