February 9, 2023
China is back on the agenda in Westminster, with Liz Truss expected to make a speech on the subject later this month. This week, MPs have been rocked by the news that the Foreign Office has asked the governor of the Xinjiang region for talks. 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.’
Mr S scarcely need remind his readers about the region’s appalling treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Survivors of detention camps in Xinjiang have testified that prisoners there are routinely raped, tortured and forcibly sterilised. In 2021, when Tuniyaz was sanctioned, the US Treasury said that during his tenure ‘more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been detained in Xinjiang.’ That same year the House of Commons voted to declare the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of them as a genocide, but, in typical style, the Foreign Office has always resisted this description.
Not all in Westminster though are happy to meekly accept this indignity lying down. A cross-party group of MPs who belong to the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) have said it is ‘incomprehensible’ that ‘anybody within government would think it appropriate to meet with someone who has played a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs.’ And now Mr S has learned of their efforts to try to hold Tuniyaz to account.
Seven MPs including Chris Bryant, Alistair Carmichael and Iain Duncan Smith have written to Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, about a request that has been lodged by a Kazakh who alleges that he experienced torture in Xinjiang to prosecute Tuniyaz. Noting that evidence has been submitted to the Met Police’s war crimes team, they ask that Prentis ‘serious consideration’ be given to this application as ‘in the absence of an international mechanism to hold to account those responsible for Uyghur abuses to account, we must seize every opportunity.’
Sir Iain told Mr S that:
This invitation to meet officials shows a level of weakness in the UK’s approach that is almost unique in international circles. The reality is that this is a man who played a critical role in the design and implementation of the brutal repression of Uyghurs. He should not be spoken to, but simply arrested on charges of crimes against humanity. Nothing less than that will do. Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael preferred to put it more bluntly: ‘there’s only reasons for having a meeting like this… to keep that man talking until the rozzers arrive with a stout pair of handcuffs.’
Over to you, Attorney General…
Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or message @MrSteerpike