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Cross-party MPs shocked by Foreign Office talks with Xinjiang governor

Exclusive: Erkin Tuniyaz ‘played central role’ in persecution of Uyghurs, says inter-parliamentary alliance on China

By Patrick Wintour - Diplomatic Editor

February 8, 2023

The cross-party group of MPs said Erkin Tuniyaz had played ‘a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs – crimes our own parliament has declared a genocide’. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

The Foreign Office has shocked cross-party opponents of the Chinese treatment of Uyghur groups by revealing that it has asked the Xinjiang governor for talks.

MPs belonging to the inter-parliamentary alliance on China (Ipac) called it “incomprehensible” that “anybody within government would think it appropriate to meet with someone who has played a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs – crimes our own parliament has declared to be genocide”.

According to an email from the Foreign Office, Erkin Tuniyaz – who has been sanctioned by the US – is planning to visit the UK next week, followed by trips to other European countries to meet “stakeholders” to “discuss the situation in Xinjiang”.

News of the meeting was conveyed by the Foreign Office to campaigners in a bid to head off protests. It is likely to be taken as a sign by China that the UK is looking to improve bilateral relationships. The Foreign Office argues that engagement and dialogue with Chinese leaders is necessary.

Parliament voted two years ago to declare the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims as a genocide, but the Foreign Office has always resisted this description, saying only an appropriate court could determine whether it amounted to genocide.

Campaigners say Tuniyaz is well known for his vociferous defence of Beijing’s “deradicalisation” policies in the north-west of China, especially the use of detention facilities that some have likened to concentration camps. In 2021, when Tuniyaz was sanctioned, the US Treasury said that during his tenure “more than 1 million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been detained in Xinjiang”.

His invitation comes one week after a group of UN special rapporteurs wrote to Beijing to protest against the separation of 1 million Tibetan children from their families.

In a statement, the Uyghur activists Rahima Mahmut and Rayhan Asat said: “Engagement must have its limits. Meeting and greeting Chinese Communist party officials that have been accused of direct involvement in the implementation of genocidal policies, including mass forced sterilisations and concentration camps, must be a red line.”

The Ipac MPs, who include Labour MPs Carolyn Harris, Chris Bryant, Janet Daby and Judith Cummins, Liberal Democrats Alistair Carmichael and Layla Moran, and Tories Iain Duncan Smith, Bob Seely and Craig Mackinlay, as well as Conservative peer Lord Bethell, said: “We call upon the government to rescind any official invitation and to apologise to the UK Uyghur community for this incomprehensible and hurtful error of judgment.”

The Foreign Office alerted campaigners of its plans in an email saying: “The Governor of Xinjiang (Erkin Tuniyaz) is planning to visit the UK next week. We’ve agreed to meet him at a senior official level, and intend to use the opportunity to press for a change in China’s approach and to make requests on specific issues, including individual cases.

“Ahead of the meeting, our Directors for Open Societies and North East Asia and China, who will meet the Governor, would welcome an opportunity to hear your thoughts on potential topics or requests to raise. We’re really keen to make the most of this opportunity to push for tangible changes on the ground.” It added it was willing to provide feedback on how the meeting went.


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