The very act by the French Parliament of passing a non-binding resolution denouncing China’s genocide of its Uyghur population, signals a new stage in the war against China by the West. The resolution was adopted just prior to the inauguration of the Winter Olympics in China and threatens to strain ties between France and China. Notably, the Resolution states that the National Assembly of France “officially recognises the violence perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide”. Despite its non-binding character, the resolution is a significant one and calls on the French government to take “necessary measures within the international community and its foreign policy towards the People’s Republic of China” with the aim of protecting the Uyghur community in China’s Xinjiang.
The campaign of terror unleashed by the Chinese state against its Uyghur citizens is not just a domestic issue, but often gets into the lives of those Uyghur living abroad as has been recently witnessed in the case of two men, under detention in Saudi Arabia, without charge or trial since November 2020. Information about their imminent deportation to China comes from Human Rights Watch (HRW) which reported(3 January 2022), that a Saudi official had told one of the detainees, Nurmemet Rozi, 46, that he “should be mentally prepared to be deported to China in a few days.” Turkey-based daughter of the other detainee, HemdullahAbduweli, 54, a religious scholar, posted a video on social media in Arabic stating that her father and Rozi are at imminent risk of deportation, and appealedto Saudi Arabia to allow them to return to Turkey where they were residents. The World Uyghur Congress tweeted (24 November 2020) “HemdullahAbduweli, a Uyghur religious scholar, was arrested in Saudi Arabia on 22 Nov. with another Uyghur man, allegedly after China requested his deportation”.
First, let us look at the passage by France’s Parliament (20 January 2022) of the resolution on China. It was passed by 169 votes in favour and just one against. It had been proposed by the opposition Socialists in the National Assembly but was also backed by President Macron’s LREM party. The resolution denounced the “genocide” by China against its Uyghur Muslim population, and asserts “we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight.” Socialist party chief Olivier Faure recounted testimony to parliament from Uyghur survivors who told of conditions inside internment camps where men and women were unable to lie down in cells, subjected to rape and torture, as well as underwent forced organ transplants. French MPs were also called to applaud Uyghur refugees who had been invited to observe the Parliamentary session.
The resolution follows similar ones passed last year by parliaments in the UK, Canada and the Netherlands. The US government has also condemned what it considers genocide in Xinjiang. The Chinese response to the French resolution was on expected lines as they termed it as a “slander and a deliberate stigmatisation of China and a brutal interference in domestic Chinese affairs”. “We are firmly opposed to it and condemn it wholeheartedly” the Chinese MoFA said in a twitter statement. The timing of the resolution is significant as the Chinese blockade of Lithuania’s exports has provoked a EU rethink on dealing with China. Lithuania had recently taken the bold decision of allowing Taiwan to open its representative office in the capital Vilnius.
Will the step taken by France encourage other European Parliaments to start discussing the issue and act? One thing is for certain though, the move will put pressure on the French government to speak out more for the Uyghurs and allow them to work behind the scenes in the UN and elsewhere to put pressure on China. Pertinently, the French government has declined to use the term ‘genocide’ for China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority, arguing that it is a legal term that can only be proven with a judicial investigation. French President, Emmanuel Macron recently told MEP Raphel Glucksmann, “France raises this in a very clear fashion in all of our bilateral talks (with Beijing).” He said he was in favour of an EU regulation that would “ban the import of goods that result from forced labour” and supported increasing requirements on European companies operating in China to check supply chains. Global human rights groups say they have found evidence of mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.
As seen above, two Uyghur men under detention in Saudi Arabia faced with the prospect of being deported to China have been held in al-Dhahban prison(intelligence facility) in Jeddah since November 2020. HRW is working to stop that possibility and has urged Saudi Arabia to refrain from “imminent” deportation of two Uyghur men held “arbitrarily”. Voice of America (VOA) quotes a HRW statement as having argued that, “If Saudi Arabia deports these men, it is likely upon a request from China, unfortunately, Saudi Arabia has no asylum system nor is there any way for these men to legally challenge their deportations.” HRW in its statement recalled that Saudi Arabia had “frequently and flagrantly violated” human rights principle of non-refoulement, the idea that countries should not return refugees to a place where they face a well-founded fear of persecution or torture.
VOA also reports that 54-year-old Hemdullah Abduweli, one of the Uyghur men detained by Saudi police, (known as Aimidoula Waili on his Chinese passport) was taken into custody at the request of the Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia for possible deportation to China. Nuriman Hemdullah, Abduweli’s daughter based in Turkey said they believe her father was arrested after he condemned China for its persecution of Uyghur.
While the West is yet to lend its weight behind the French Parliament, the Turkestan government-in-exile has welcomed the Resolution! A press release from the government-in-exile (Washington D.C.) praised the National Assembly and Government of France for recognising the atrocities committed by China against the Uyghur in Xinjiang. A statement made by Prime Minister Salih Hudayar, heading the East Turkestan government-in-exile reads: “We thank the French National Assembly for recognising China’s ongoing genocide against the Uyghur and other Turkic people in occupied East Turkestan” and called for an international boycott of the Winter Olympic games being held in China. The US and other countries have condemned China’s treatment of Uyghurs and human rights groups have termed their treatment as genocide and crimes against humanity. Greater international pressure is required to put China on the dock for its actions against the Uyghur in Xinjiang.