Skip to main content

A woman wears a mask that reads 'Free Uyghurs' as she attends a protest during the visit of Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press

The Chinese government has accused Canadian parliamentarians of trading in lies and malicious rumours, with Beijing citing population statistics to deny that it has committed genocide against its Uyghur minority.

Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was responding to Canada’s House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights, which this week said it “is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide” against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region, where large numbers of people have been forced into political indoctrination centres, women have been sterilized and mosques destroyed.

But the committee, Mr. Zhao said Thursday, had “turned a blind eye to the political stability, the economic development, the unity and social harmony in Xinjiang. Its statement has no factual basis to support. It is filled with lies.”

It is, he said, a “malicious rumour to hype up so-called genocide in Xinjiang,” where government statistics show a 25-per-cent increase in the Uyghur population from 2010 to 2018, a more rapid growth than that of the general population. “So how come these people call it genocide?” he asked, warning parliamentarians to “avoid doing any further damage to China-Canada relations.”

The Canadian committee uses the term “concentration camps” to describe Chinese centres for forcible political indoctrination and skills training, which China began to build at scale in 2017. The subcommittee also cited Chinese documents with details on plans to subject more than 80 per cent of women of child-bearing age to long-term birth control in four areas of Xinjiang with large Uyghur populations.

“Witnesses were clear that the Government of China’s actions are a clear attempt to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion,” the committee wrote.

It called for Canada to impose sanctions against Chinese officials for human-rights abuses, to work at the international level to “recognize that acts being committed against Uyghurs constitute genocide” and to expedite refugee applications for Uyghurs.

Others welcomed the subcommittee’s work.

What is taking place in Xinjiang meets at least one of the United Nations' criteria for genocide, said Adrian Zenz, a U.S.-based scholar and senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

“I have called it demographic genocide,” he said. “It is evident that Beijing is seeking to destroy the Uyghurs ‘in part.’

“It is, in my view, very shameful that Western nations, including Canada, have not yet bothered to embark on the process of determining whether Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang meet the legal definitions of crimes against humanity or genocide.”

Chinese officials have called their policies in Xinjiang a response to terrorism and an effort to root out radicalization through education and economic development.

But “it’s still a severe and complicated situation” in the area, Mr. Zhao said, with terrorist elements “still biding their time.” As a result, Xinjiang will continue its terrorism crackdown and “take preventative measures to deal with this issue by the root,” including through education.

China has said its Xinjiang centres for political indoctrination and skills training have graduated all of their students, but research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and Buzzfeed News has documented the existence of roughly 400 such centres in Xinjiang.

Satellite images examined by ASPI have also shown that roughly 35 per cent of mosques in the region have been torn down and another 30 per cent have been altered to remove Islamic architectural features such as domes and minarets.

The Canadian subcommittee’s report “adds to evidence that the egregious human rights violations perpetrated against Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang may amount to genocide,” said Benedict Rogers, a human-rights activist and member of the advisory board of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

“The findings of Canadian MPs should encourage governments around the world to take the situation far more seriously and respond with concrete steps to stop genocide.”

Earlier this month, Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang, delivered a speech in which he called for strengthening studies of Chinese unity. The language suggests Chinese authorities intend to “expand and continue the camps,” said Rukiye Turdush, a Canadian Uyghur activist who is president of the East Turkestan Information Center.

Chinese authorities are not likely to ease their campaign in Xinjiang “until they eradicate Uyghurs who can’t become Chinese. So it is important to prevent this genocide,” she said.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.