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Umer Jan, 12, takes part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labeling China's treatment of its Uyghur population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian Embassy, in Washington, on Feb. 19, 2021.

LEAH MILLIS/Reuters

The Chinese government says it is not aware of any effort to investigate allegations of systemic abuses in Xinjiang, the region where Canada’s Parliament declared this week that genocide has taken place.

For years, evidence has emerged for the widespread detention, forcible political indoctrination, coerced employment and sterilization of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim groups in northwestern China. Chinese authorities have denied any wrongdoing, saying, “Xinjiang is a nice place” that has experienced healthy economic and population growth.

But on Tuesday, a day after the House of Commons voted to recognize “that a genocide is being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” China’s foreign ministry said it knows of no attempt to probe the accounts of systemic abuse.

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Opinion: Parliament’s genocide declaration puts Trudeau in tough spot on China

Canadian school offering Nova Scotia diplomas operating in China’s fraught Xinjiang region

“I have not heard of any working group or investigation,” said Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman. Chinese authorities have in the past launched task-force investigations to respond to issues of public concern, such as child labour or food safety problems.

Mr. Wang, however, lashed out at what he called the “smearing and attacking of China” over Xinjiang, calling into question accounts from women who have described widespread sexual abuse in the region.

“Facts have proven that there has never been genocide in Xinjiang. This is the lie of the century made up by extremely anti-China forces,” he said.

China has made its position clear to the Canadian government over the genocide motion, he said, accusing Canada of trampling on its own values by spreading “lies.” Beijing “will surely make a resolute response” to any action that “harms Chinese interests,” he warned.

In Xinjiang, former detainees have described incarceration they called torturous, while government documents have delineated efforts to detain large numbers of people for legal and skills instruction, move them away from homes into industrial workplaces as part of anti-poverty campaigns, and sterilize women – in at least one case – as part of an effort “to control birth-control violations.”

The Chinese government says it has acted to curb terrorism and religious extremism in Xinjiang. It has denied all accusations of sterilization and forced labour, while describing its centres for political indoctrination – where detainees could be held for more than a year behind walls lined with razor wire – as vocational boarding schools offering free training. Chinese authorities say all detainees have “graduated” from such centres.

China has in the past employed trade blocks as reprisal against countries that have been critical of its approach. But Beijing has other options for retribution against Canada, whose own historical treatment of Indigenous peoples China has frequently invoked.

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The Canadian genocide motion “may trigger a formal demand that the extermination of Native Indian populations in North America be formally classified as genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Victor Gao, vice-president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential think tank closely affiliated with the Chinese government.

The Chinese government could raise the issue at the United Nations or the International Criminal Court, he said, calling the Canadian parliamentary motion “crazy.”

“If they want to have a reckoning, the reckoning will come,” Mr. Gao said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said, in 2019, that what happened to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada “amounts to genocide.”

Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet, however, abstained from voting on the Xinjiang genocide motion, which is not binding.

And the unofficial nature of the motion is likely to temper the Chinese response, said Dong Yikun, a senior researcher at the G20 Research Centre at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

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“I do not see a great possibility that China will respond to this motion with further, more forceful means,” said Ms. Dong, who previously worked in the university’s Canadian Studies centre.

Still, she warned that the motion could have further “damaging effects on confidence” in relations between the two countries, which have already been badly strained since December, 2018. After Canadian authorities acted on a U.S. warrant to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Chinese security agents seized Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Ms. Meng is accused of committing bank fraud, which she denies. Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are accused of state secrets violations. The Canadian government has called them victims of arbitrary detention.

The parliamentary genocide motion threatens to deepen tensions between the countries and make it more difficult to seek solutions, Ms. Dong said.

“If Canada continues to escalate friction, we cannot rule out countermeasures from China, such as restricting the entry of some people or blacklisting them,” she said.

She pointed to Australia, which has also been the focus of Chinese anger. Beijing has erected hurdles to imports of Australian wine, beef and barley, warned its students about travel to the country, frozen out high-level political contacts and detained Australian journalists.

Canada, Ms. Dong said, should “leave strategic manoeuvring space and buffer zones, and avoid being negatively affected by other bilateral disputes, such as those between China and the United States.”

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