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Conference partly funded by National Defence includes speaker who denied China committed genocide

By Steven Chase, Senior Parliamentary Reporter

and Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief

October 31, 2022

Students training to become imams recite verses from the Quran at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in Urumqi, the capital of China's far west Xinjiang region, during a government organized visit for foreign journalists on April 21, 2021.


A conference on East Asia partly funded by Canada’s Department of National Defence is featuring a speaker from a Chinese think tank who has denied Beijing is committing genocide in Xinjiang – drawing criticism from Uyghur human-rights advocates.

Henry Wang, president and founder of the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, last year criticized the Canadian Parliament’s declaration that China is carrying out the crime. He made the comments in a panel discussion organized by the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD), a Canadian think tank.

Mr. Wang is speaking on a panel at this year’s East Asia Strategy Forum, or EASF, being held in Ottawa on Nov. 1 and 2 and hosted by the IPD as well as the Asia Pacific Foundation.

On Feb. 22, 2021, the House of Commons voted 266-0 to adopt a motion that said China is committing a genocide against Uyghurs, who primarily live in Xinjiang, and other Turkic minorities. The U.S. government and legislative bodies in Britain, the Netherlands, France, Lithuania and the Czech Republic have also made similar determinations.

In an IPD talk days later on the topic, Assessing Canada-China Relations: Challenges and Opportunities, Mr. Wang described the Canadian motion as “very, very negative” and questioned whether there was evidence “to talk about genocide in Xinjiang.”

“What are the evidence there?” Mr. Wang asked during the panel, which is posted on YouTube. “There was no massacre. There was no anything.”

“Xinjiang’s population [was] actually on the rising side for the last, you know, 10 years,” he said. “There was two million more Uyghurs born in the last 10 years,” he said. “And the GDP has gone up hundreds of times for Xinjiang.”

He said anyone who came to China would see “it has transformed beyond recognition.”

Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Advocacy Project, said Canadian tax dollars should not be used to support a conference that includes a speaker who denies Beijing is committing genocide.

A Department of National Defence spokesperson said it contributed $50,000 to the EASF and that it will be investigating the matter.

“Canada takes the allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs very seriously,” said Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations for the DND.

“Canada is very concerned about the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. DND immediately contacted the organizer of this forum to relay its deep concerns with the speaker in question. The department is concurrently and swiftly examining options to address this very concerning matter.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited Xinjiang this year, and her office’s report in late August says China had committed “serious human rights violations” against Uyghur Muslims in the region which may amount to crimes against humanity. However, the report did not describe China’s conduct as genocide.

Ms. Bachelet’s report details “allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labour and reports of deaths in custody.” It also discusses a sharp decline in birth rates in Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019 by more than 48.5 per cent: from 15.88 per thousand in 2017 to 8.14 per thousand in 2019.

Media reports including from the Associated Press have detailed how China has forced intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion in Xinjiang.

The Globe and Mail tried to reach Mr. Wang for comment, but he did not return e-mails or messages to him or the Center for China and Globalization.

Bijan Ahmadi, executive director of the IPD, said he recognizes and condemns “China’s gross violations of human rights including the rights of Uyghurs and other minorities as affirmed by the Government of Canada and documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

He said Mr. Wang is participating in the forum to offer a Chinese viewpoint on a panel discussing regional perspectives on East Asia’s strategic environment and the challenges Canada and its Western allies face in the region – including China’s growing assertiveness and disregard for the rules-based order and internationally recognized human rights.

“As a major power in the region, China’s actions have significant implications for the strategic interests of Canada and its allies in the Indo-Pacific, and thus, we believe it is essential for the Chinese perspective to be critically discussed and challenged in the roundtable discussions at EASF,” Mr. Ahmadi said.

“We’ve invited Henry Wang to participate as a panelist alongside well-established scholars from Canada and the United States who have deep concerns for human rights and security in Asia and opposing views to Mr. Wang.”

The IPD executive director pointed out Mr. Wang is a frequent speaker at conferences in North America and Europe, hosted by organizations that include “Wilson Center, Brookings Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Hudson Institute, the Institut Montaigne, Chatham House, the Munk Debates, among others.”

Mr. Ahmadi added that forum hosts are not compensating Mr. Wang, who is taking part virtually by videoconference, or his think tank for participating.

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