China's foreign ministry is lashing out at Canada after a House of Commons subcommittee concluded that the state's mistreatment of Uighurs living in Xinjiang province amounts to a policy of genocide.
The committee's report, tabled Wednesday, says that China's persecution of this Muslim minority — through mass detentions in concentration camps, forced labour, state surveillance and population control measures — is a clear violation of human rights and is meant to "eradicate Uighur culture and religion."
The committee said that it agrees with the experts who say China's campaign against the Uighurs meets the definition of genocide set out in the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said today that this "so-called genocide" is "a rumour and a farce fabricated by some anti-Chinese forces to slander China."
"Its groundless statement is full of lies and disinformation," he said of the committee's report, warning parliamentarians to "avoid doing any further damage to China-Canada relations.
"This is blatant interference in China's internal affairs and reflects those Canadian individuals' ignorance and prejudice. China firmly deplores and rejects that."
The subcommittee on international human rights, chaired by Liberal MP Peter Fonseca, heard from witnesses who survived the concentration camps China has built to suppress Muslims living in this oil-rich northwestern province.
Committee witnesses described "deplorable" conditions where they were psychologically, physically and sexually abused and subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the dominant Chinese culture.
Asked about the camps, Zhao insisted they are "vocational training and education centres" where religious "extremists" were educated in the "national common spoken and written language, legal knowledge, vocational skills and de-radicalization."
"The aim is to eliminate the root cause of terrorism and extremism," he said.
The Commons committee also concluded that Chinese communist officials have forcibly sterilized Uighur women and girls and pushed abortions and intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) on hundreds of thousands in a systematic attempt "to persecute and possibly eradicate Uighurs."
Uighurs make up less than one per cent of the population in a country where Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese people — the Han — constitute the overwhelming majority.
While the Turkic-speaking Uighurs are just a small ethnic subset, Chinese government documents obtained by the committee show that approximately 80 per cent of all new IUD placements in China took place in Xinjiang.
Birth rates continue to plummet across the region, falling nearly 24 per cent last year alone — compared to a drop of just 4.2 per cent nationwide — according to statistics compiled by the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation. The population control measures are backed by mass detention, both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.
Witnesses also told committee members about a "poverty reduction" measure implemented by Beijing that forced Uighurs into camps to perform slave labour, making products that were to be sold in Canada and other western nations.
A recent report titled "Uighurs for sale" by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that thousands of Muslims have been used as forced labour in factories that supply companies like BMW, Nike and Huawei, among others.
The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uighur and other ethnic minority citizens from Xinjiang to factories across the country.
Under constant state surveillance through closed-circuit television cameras and mobile tracking devices, Uighur survivors have said they lived in constant fear.
They told committee members that Uighur expatriates are subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Chinese regime — even in Canada.
"The subcommittee unequivocally condemns the persecution of Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang by the government of China," the committee's report reads. "The subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide."
The committee said these control tactics are designed to suppress the Uighurs because they "desire more autonomy or independence from China," and the communists consider them a "threat" to economic development and prosperity.
The committee is recommending the federal government condemn China's abuse of Uighurs, work with allies to secure unfettered access to Xinjiang for international observers to prevent further abuse, recognize that China's actions constitute genocide and impose sanctions on implicated officials through Canada's so-called Magnitsky law.
That law allows the government to impose sanctions and freeze assets owned by foreign nationals and prohibit financial transactions by known human rights abusers.
The law is informally named after Russian tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison after documenting fraud in Russia.
"Canada needs to take immediate action and live up to the values it espouses at home and abroad," says the report. "Canada must act now to address China's aggression against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims."
Canada 'deeply disturbed' by Uighur abuse
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he is "deeply disturbed" by the troubling reports documented by the subcommittee.
He said he raised the issue of Uighur abuse with Michelle Bachelet, the UN commissioner for human rights, during a recent meeting in Switzerland.
Earlier this month, Canada and 37 allies also expressed "grave concerns" about the situation in Xinjiang at the UN, he said.
Champagne said the government would back a plan to send impartial advisers into the region to document the plight of the Uighurs.
"Canada takes the allegations of genocide very seriously. We will continue ... with our allies to push for these to be investigated through an international independent body," he said.
Champagne did not address a question about whether Canada would pursue Magnitsky sanctions like those slapped on Russian and Venezuelan officials in recent years.
This parliamentary report is the latest attempt by some MPs and senators to put pressure on the government to take a tougher stand against China.
In June, more than a dozen senators — including several appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — urged the federal government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for "gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Citing China's detention of Uighur Muslims, its crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong, its decades-long repression of Tibet and its imprisonment of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the senators described the regime in Beijing as the "biggest threat to mankind and a danger to international security."
That letter was followed by a call from 68 MPs and senators for Canada to levy sanctions on top Chinese officials.