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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves a news conference in Ottawa on March 3, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Beijing of potential repercussions from the international community after its envoy to Canada rejected reports of genocide, forced labour and relocations of China’s Uyghur population.

Ambassador Cong Peiwu held a virtual news conference Wednesday with select Canadians news outlets, including The Globe and Mail, in which he faced questions about Parliament’s recent vote declaring that genocide was being committed against Uyghurs in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Thousands of Uyghur workers in China are being relocated in an effort to assimilate Muslims, documents show

Parliament declares China is conducting genocide against its Muslim minorities

“Allegations of genocide and forced labour in Xinjiang are the lie of the century,” Mr. Cong said.

He also brushed aside an internal Chinese report obtained by The Globe and the BBC that said Beijing is relocating large numbers of Uyghurs to other parts of the country to better assimilate them and thin their population in Xinjiang.

Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Canada Cong Peiwu participates in a roundtable interview with journalists at the Embassy of China in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Mr. Cong called The Globe’s reporting “lies being spread by people with anti-China intentions.”

A United Nations human-rights panel has estimated that as many as one million Uyghurs have been held in detention centres – what China has called vocational training centres – and reports have emerged about Beijing’s efforts to slash this ethnic minority’s birth rate through mass sterilization, forced abortions and mandatory birth control.

“There are significant concerns being expressed all around the world, and the Parliament of Canada was very clear about its concerns just a few weeks ago,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We have committed to work with our allies internationally on both getting clear answers and holding to account those responsible, with possible consequences that the world can bring forward.”

The Prime Minister and his cabinet abstained in the House of Commons vote, and he told reporters Wednesday that any sanctions against Beijing would be “much better done on a multilateral basis.”

The internal document obtained by The Globe says relocating Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minority groups to industrial workplaces “not only reduces Uyghur population density in Xinjiang, but also is an important method to influence, fuse and assimilate Uyghur minorities.”

Wuhan Hengfa Technology Co., Ltd. Chinese authorities have loaded large numbers of Uyghur workers onto trains bound for factories thousands of kilometres away from their homes as part of a plan to assimilate Muslim minorities into mainstream Chinese culture and thin their populations in Xinjiang.Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

The report, written by researchers with the China Institute of Wealth and Economics at Nankai University, was submitted to senior levels of the Chinese government.

Still, Mr. Cong denied that forced relocations are happening, saying Uyghur workers are leaving Xinjiang of their own accord to make a better living.

“The ambassador should read his own internal report before spreading his own lies,” said Mehet Tohti, the executive director of the Ottawa-based Uyghur Human Rights Advocacy Project.

Mr. Tohti said the report makes clear that large numbers of Uyghurs are being put on trains and sent to factories thousands of kilometres away, where they are doing forced labour under police guard and subjected to Chinese propaganda.

“They don’t have any right to go shopping or have a coffee break after work. They work more than 12 hours [a day] and then are put back into another form of a camp,” he said. “They are forced to watch the Communist Party’s history and sing a Red song. It is another form of concentration camp with mandated forced labour.”

Mr. Tohti expressed disappointment that Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet abstained in the House of Commons vote. The motion was supported by all opposition parties, as well as a majority of Liberal MPs, and represents the will of the House.

But like all resolutions of the House it does not compel the government of the day to take action. Mr. Tohti urged the government to join the U.S. in labelling China’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.

Members of the Uyghur community living in Turkey, hold banners as the join a protest against China, in Istanbul, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.Omer Kuscu/The Associated Press

Canada must also stop imports of Chinese goods produced with forced labour, he said.

Mr. Cong did not respond when asked what he thought of the cabinet’s abstention in the genocide declaration, which was carried by a vote of 266 to 0.

Instead, he dismissed the declaration itself. “Those MPs voting in the House of Commons, most of them, I’m afraid, have never been to Xinjiang or even to China in the last years, so how can they judge the situation on the ground?” he said.

He also claimed “there’s no connection” between the imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China and the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou. The two men were arrested shortly after Canada detained Ms. Wanzhou in December, 2018, on a U.S. extradition warrant; she is accused of bank fraud connected to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“No. It is obvious the Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition obligations,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Nothing the ambassador can say now will dissuade me from understanding that is the case.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said the forced relocation of Uyghurs to assimilate them into Han Chinese society fits the United Nations definition of genocide. “It’s clear there is deliberate coercive effort on the part of Chinese authorities to forcibly break up part of the Uyghur minority.”

Mr. Chong said the government should finally recognize that genocide includes not just mandatory birth control but also mass relocation.

“When I read that one-fifth of the working-age population in [Xinjiang’s] Hotan prefecture has been transferred to other parts of the country as part of this scheme … in my mind it is more evidence of a genocide taking place.”

MPs from all parties are urging the government to create a refugee program specifically for Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims; prevent the import of goods made with forced labour; and impose sanctions on top Chinese officials responsible for the repression.

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