As Liz Truss speaks out on China in Taiwan, new evidence emerges of abuse of Uyghur children

As Liz Truss speaks out on China in Taiwan, new evidence emerges of abuse of Uyghur children

As Liz Truss speaks out on China in Taiwan, new evidence emerges of abuse of Uyghur children

Image: Protesters attend a rally in Hong Kong to show support for the Uyghur minority in China (Photo: Dale de la Ray/AFP via Getty)

Thousands of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, including the elderly and children, are being forced to pick cotton, research suggests

The Chinese government is forcing thousands of Uyghur Muslims to pick cotton in a disturbing echo of last century’s racist Jim Crow laws in the US, new research suggests.

Even the elderly and mothers of young children are forced into the work, according to the study of the coercive labour in the cotton harvest in China’s north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

It comes after former prime minister Liz Truss hit out at the Chinese regime in a speech in Taiwan.

The research was carried out by German academic Adrian Zenz. When claims over mass forced labour in Xinjiang’s cotton industry first appeared more than two years ago, Chinese officials denied that such abuses were taking place.

But Dr Zenz says his examination of Chinese government documents – including police files – confirms that such abuses of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are prevalent on Xinjiang.

Dr Zenz says some of the forced transfer of Uyghurs into seasonal labour, such as cotton picking, operates separately from the re-education camps. But those who fail to comply with the cotton picking are liable to be labeled “extremists,” and then sent for “re-education”.

Since 2017, there has been extensive documentation of China’s crackdown against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Increased mechanisation of Chinese harvests actually encourages forced labour, says Dr Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington.

This is because mechanical harvesting requires very large plantations. To obtain these, he says, Uyghur farmers are made to surrender their land use rights to large private or state-owned entities.

The farmers are then subjected to state-arranged labour transfers, “typically low-skilled manual work in nearby factories or sweatshops”, he writes in Foreign Policy.

In response to reports from Xinjiang, the Biden administration passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which came into effect last year. It bans all imports from Xinjiang unless businesses are able to prove their products involve no forced labour, further chilling already-strained US-China relations.

Imports from Xinjiang to the US fell by 90 per cent within eight months of the ban.

Now, with the EU mulling a similar ban, China has continued to deny forced labour is being used.

Last week, Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the US House Committee on Rules that other key markets such as the EU, Canada, Australia, and the UK should introduce import restrictions tied to forced labour in Xinjiang.

Western-China relations, already is a parlous state over trade, security issues and the Ukraine conflict took a further knock today with former premier Liz Truss’s trip to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province of China.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said the visit was “a dangerous political show which will do nothing but harm to the UK”.

In Taipei, Ms Truss said the UK’s recently updated integrated review of foreign policy should be amended to state clearly that China is a threat to the UK.

When the US State Department released its “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, accusing Beijing of “genocide” in Xinjiang, the Chinese foreign ministry reacted angrily.

Ministry’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was “beyond absurd for the US to keep churning out lies and weaving utterly groundless stories of ‘forced labour’ and ‘genocide’.”

She added: “China’s family planning policy has been more leniently applied to ethnic minorities than the ethnic Han people, leading to higher growth rate in ethnic minority populations compared with the national average.”

But her comments may have inadvertently focused attention on other claims that Chinese authorities are seeking to forcibly sterilise its ethnic minorities.

In 2021, the London-based The Uyghur Tribunal said it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that China had subjected the Muslim minority in Xinjiang to forced sterilisations and abortions, approved at the highest levels in Beijing, and was therefore guilty of genocide.

In February, this year, Erkin Tuniyaz, the governor of Xinjiang region, cancelled a planned visit to London following a huge backlash from US officials and human rights activists.

Amnesty International’s China researcher Alkan Akad said that as governor of Xinjiang, Erkin Tuniyaz would have had “a leading role and be intimately aware of the Chinese government’s massive and systematic abuses targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim communities living in the region”.

He said these included torture, persecution and mass imprisonment, which may constitute potential crimes against humanity.

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman had told reporters that Foreign Office officials would convey their “abhorrence” to Mr Tuniyaz regarding the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.