By Mehmet Tohti
Jan 2, 2020
The parliamentary vote setting up a special committee to review Canada’s China policy could be seen as an initial response to China’s growing bullying and assertiveness, which for too long has paralyzed Canada’s China policy.
China’s new Ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, undiplomatically targeted our elected institutions and officials in his latest warning, threatening that “very firm countermeasures” would be on the table should Parliament adopt a motion calling for sanctions against Chinese leaders. He was referring to the joint initiative by Senators Leo Housakos and Thanh Hai Ngo to invoke the Magnitsky Bill to target Chinese leaders who are responsible for serious human rights violations in Hongkong and the internment of millions of Uyghurs in camps in East Turkistan (which China calls Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region).
After repeated US and EU demands for unfettered UN access to the Uyghur concentration camps went unheeded, the US House of Representative passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act on December 3rd, 2019. During the debate on the Bill, Rep. Chris Smith categorically condemned “the massive crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Autonomous Region,” and emphasized that the persecution is on a scale that hasn’t been seen “since the Holocaust.”
Ambassador Cong Peiwu’s comments threatening Canada came just after the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in the US and is aimed at preventing Canada from adopting similar tools alongside a growing number of countries opposing Xi Jinping’s current brutality.
The Chinese Ambassador to Sweden has also threatened the Swedish government with similar rhetoric.
China’s bullying of Canada is not new. After sentencing Canadian citizen of Uyghur origin Huseyin Celil to life imprisonment in 2006 on bogus charges, China has detained two more Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and held them hostage in torturous circumstances without legal access.
Despite the growing calls by experts and scholars for changing course on our current China policy, Canada has largely maintained its defensive and fear-centric status quo approach, in the naïve hope that this will save the “two Michaels.” Therefore, the formation of a Parliamentary committee mandated to reassess and reset Canada’s China policy is a good start in the right direction.
Recent leaks of internal Chinese documents by the New York Times and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have confirmed the incarceration of millions of Uyghurs in more than 1300 Nazi-style concentration camps by direct order from the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The entire Uyghur region has been turned into an open-air prison where digital surveillance, shattered families and neighborhoods, destruction of religious sanctuaries, separated children, physical and physiological tortures, and enforced denunciation of Uyghur faith and ethnicity have become a routine. Widespread abuse, rape, disappearances, slave labor, and deaths are widely reported. What is happening to the Uyghurs is no less than a cultural and ethnic genocide and is acknowledged as the largest incarceration of a single ethnic group since the Holocaust.
As the US has already applied strong sanctions to 28 government entities and high-tech companies that have direct links to the persecution of the Uyghurs, Canada shouldn’t be satisfied with the status quo of verbal expression of concerns without meaningful action as we sit at the crossroads of a ”never again” moment.
Canada must use the Magnitsky Law to impose sanctions against those responsible for this mass atrocity if ‘never again’ still means anything in this century. If the caging of millions of Uyghurs and others in the no rights zone of China’s digital gulag is not sufficient to cause to invoke the Magnitsky Law, then it should be declared a dead letter.
Canada should join the US to sanction the perpetrators of this crime and follow the EU States to call publicly for unfettered access to the concentration camps and the immediate release of detainees.
Strong regulation of import supply chains is needed – especially for cotton-based products from China – to ensure that products in Canadian markets do not originate from labor camps in the region. The regulation should also cover technology companies that are directly or indirectly associated with Chinese surveillance and rights abuses of the Uyghurs.
Funding for the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank of China should be immediately halted, since China’s ambitious transnational infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, is one of the prime reasons for the Uyghur persecution; their ancestral land is seen as key for China’s expansionist policy.
As a recognized global leader for defending human rights and international law, Canada’s continuing silence on China’s crimes against the Uyghurs is utterly unacceptable.
Mehmet Tohti is a prominent Uyghur Canadian Human Rights activist and co-founder of the World Uyghur Congress. He was a teacher at Kashgar Normal University before his exile in 1991. He worked as a special representative of the WUC to the EU from 2010-2012 in Brussels, Belgium. Mr. Tohti currently serves as the Canadian representative of the World Uyghur Congress. (Photo supplied by Mehmet Tohti)