When you think that our politicians can’t sink much lower when it comes to matters related to the dreadful regime in Beijing all one has to do is wait another day or two.
Stuff has a major piece (a double page spread in this morning’s Dominion-Post) about the situation of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province in China, focusing on the stories of some of the Uighurs now living in New Zealand.
But what I wanted to highlight was the reaction of our politicians, National Party foreign affairs spokesman (and MP for Rotorua) Todd McClay in particular (emphasis added).
Ardern’s office didn’t respond to questions. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is overseas and also couldn’t comment.
“Abuses of human rights are a concern wherever they occur,” says National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Todd McClay, “however, the existence and purpose of vocational training centres is a domestic matter for the Chinese Government.”
McClay adds that “if credible evidence of human rights abuses came to light,” National would expect the government to “make representations to China through formal channels”.
The Chinese embassy did not reply to any questions about the issue.
So neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister would comment (in this era, being overseas is not a justification for saying someone “couldn’t” comment). We saw the Prime Minister’s own feeble stance on this issue a couple of weeks ago
She said she might raise her concerns at a future meeting with Chinese officials, but made no firm commitment.
But McClay’s stance plumbs whole new depths. Had he said “look, we know Beijing is an awful regime and often treats its citizens abominably, but we really want an upgraded FTA”, that would be bad enough, but at least it would be honest. Instead he adopts the chilling language of the regime itself, suggesting that these (forced) internment and indoctrination camps are “vocational training centres”, and that the accompanying intense surveillance and control regime (electronic surveillance, let alone the government spies Uighur families are forced to host in their own houses) is just as nothing. Does he suppose that the million of so people locked up in these centres are there voluntarily? What bits of the evidence of systematic abuse and repression does he not believe? Or, more probably, does he just not care?
All manner of brutal regimes have had Western apologists. But history tends not to look very kindly on them. And this man sits in our Parliament – alongside Jian Yang – aspiring to again be a senior Cabinet minister. In my view, anyone that senior who sinks that low should never be allowed anywhere near the reins of government. He disgraces himself, and disgraces a once-decent and honourable party. The same party whose current leader last year, as a senior government minister, signed up with Beijing to some sickening aspiration to a “fusion of civilisations”.
To be clear, the current government seems no better, content to sit by as evil happens, even if not quite so sickeningly crass in their wording as Todd McClay.
As the Stuff article notes, more or less in passing, China’s human rights record has been under review in Geneva this week (part of a five-yearly review that all UN members face). I’m no great fan of the United Nations or its associated bodies, and the Human Rights Council seems to be mostly a sick joke. Nonetheless, these forums – the Universal Periodic Reviews – do pose the opportunity for other countries to ask (openly) searching questions about evident or apparent abuses. A leading US China scholar wrote about it on his blog
On Nov.6, the People’s Republic of China underwent its third UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is a peer review at the Human Rights Council of China’s human rights record. Each country, ridiculously, only had 45 seconds to speak! All eyes were watching if China’s mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang and related repression outside the detention prisons would be criticized. Many countries did speak out, including the U.S., Canada, Germany and the UK. The only Muslim country that raised this issue is Turkey. It is shameful that Muslim countries and their regional organizations have done so little to date. The PRC cleverly lined up a large number of sycophant states to sing its praises and take time away from states that wanted to be critical. (All UPR-related documents are here at the UN’s website.) The PRC has moved relentlessly to increase its influence over the Human Rights Council while the U.S. has withdrawn from it. Accordingly, many countries, including developing and authoritarian countries that rely on China’s economic ties, lavished high praise on China’s human rights achievements, instead of treating the session seriously.
But in addition to the 45 seconds, individual countries could lodge written questions. Many did. From our traditional allies, there was (a selection in each case)
The UK asking
- When will the Government implement the recommendations made by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, including to: halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried, and convicted for a criminal offence in any extra-legal detention facilities; immediately release individuals detained under these circumstances; eliminate travel restrictions that disproportionately affect members of ethnic minorities; and provide statistics on the numbers of those held involuntarily in the past 5 years?
- What steps is the Government taking to ensure that freedom of religion or belief, freedom of movement, and cultural rights are respected and protected for all religious and ethnic groups in China, particularly those in Tibet?
- What steps is the Government taking to ensure that lawyers, activists, journalists and human rights defenders including Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, Jiang Tianyong, Li Yuhan, Gao Zhisheng, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Wu Gan and Huang Qi are protected from harassment, mistreatment and discrimination, and that those detained for merely exercising their constitutional rights are released without delay?
And the US
- Can China provide the number of people involuntarily held in all detention facilities in Xinjiang during the past five years, along with the duration and location of their detention; the grounds for detention; humanitarian conditions in the centers; the content of any training or political curriculum and activities; the rights detainees have to challenge the illegality of their detention or appeal the detention; and any measures taken to ensure that their families are promptly notified of their detention?
- Can China clarify the basis for its apparent criminalization of peaceful religious practices as justification to detain people in these political “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, as well as which officials are responsible for this policy?
- Since the Chinese constitution guarantees religious liberty, what steps is China taking to stop the continued repression of religious freedom, such as increasingly strict regulations being passed or proposed on religious activity China has passed or proposed, the detention and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, and the church closure and demolition campaigns seen in multiple provinces throughout the country?
- What is China doing to end the unlawful practices of torture, secret detentions, and detention without due process halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried and convicted for a criminal offense in including Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado for over three years without an open trial, and Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was released in 2017 and redetained in January 2018?
· Paragraph 4 of China’s 2018 National Report states that “there is no universal road for the development of human rights in the world”, with the relevant section headed “human rights with Chinese characteristics”; in contrast China’s 2013 report stated “China respects the principle of universality of human rights”.
Does China still accept the principle of universal human rights, and if not, can China explain how its conception of human rights fits into the international human rights regime built on the concept of universality? Can China explain how “human rights with Chinese characteristics” differs from universal human rights, and if it does not, why it wishes to introduce this distinction?
· Australia is concerned about reports regarding the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, and the lack of transparency and access for members of the international community, including monitors from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
What steps is China taking to ensure that the concerns raised by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) are being addressed in an open and transparent manner?
And what of New Zealand? Perhaps our diplomats used their 45 seconds in a courageous and searching intervention? But there was no sign of any advance written questions. No sign our government cares even a little.
It isn’t even as if this is some left vs right issue. Human Rights Watch and the United Nations are alarmed by what is going on, but so (according to a piece in my inbox this morning) is the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute. Can we make a difference? On our own no, although us speaking up (even quietly) would probably lead Beijing to sit up and take a bit of notice – if even their pet Caucasians (a description someone passed on) are willing to speak, perhaps we need some different tactics? – but sometimes you just have to do what is right.
I’m going to end as I ended a post last week
The Churchill quote – from his famous ‘iron curtain” speech – is very apposite, but in the specific New Zealand context, and the way our politicians court the regime and fear doing or saying anything even slightly controversial, the commentator’s own line was a nice place to end.
It comes back to the values, not bank balances, we want to have for ourselves and for our children.
Perhaps ethics, morality and decency mean something different in Rotorua. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t that. It is just that they seem to mean something different at the top of our two main political parties.