The governor of Xinjiang cancels visits to Brussels and London after an outcry

The governor of Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were imprisoned, has canceled his visits to London and Brussels after an outcry from politicians and activists.

Erkin Tuniyaz, governor of Northwest China region, was scheduled to meet with UK government and EU officials this week. But his trip to Brussels has been canceled along with a visit to London, according to two people close to the European Commission.

“We have been informed by the Chinese mission that the visit has been postponed,” the European External Action Service, the bloc’s diplomatic arm, said in a statement to the Financial Times on Wednesday.

Britain’s Foreign Office said: “We are aware that the governor of Xinjiang has canceled his visit to Britain.”

In August last year, a UN probe found evidence of “large-scale arbitrary arrests” in Xinjiang and torture, concluding that the Chinese government’s actions in the region could constitute “crimes against humanity.”

Beijing has previously stated that its policies in the region are aimed at boosting economic development and fighting terrorism.

The British government stressed last week that it had not invited Tuniyaz, that the consular authorities had not issued him a visa and that he is believed to be traveling on a diplomatic visa.

However, British MPs and human rights groups slammed the ministers for allowing Tuniyaz an official meeting and protested outside the Foreign Office on Monday.

Alicia Kearns, Conservative leader of the House of Commons’ Special Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on Monday: “We should arrest [Tuniyaz] at the arrival. The only meetings with him should be in a courtroom.”

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told MPs the meeting was a “propaganda coup for the Chinese government”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – who last November said Beijing posed a “systemic challenge” to Britain’s values ​​and interests – has come under renewed pressure from backbenchers to take a tougher stance on China.

The calls followed the arrest of a BBC journalist in Shanghai last November and the attack by a Hong Kong protester at the Chinese consulate compound in Manchester in October 2022.

Tuniyaz MPs have been sanctioned by both the UK and European Parliaments, but he has not. Tuniyaz is on the US Magnitsky sanctions list, which freezes the assets of suspected human rights abusers.

Ahead of the planned visit, Downing Street said that upon arrival in London, Tuniyaz would be called to meet Foreign Office officials so they could “make clear Britain’s disgust at the treatment of the Uyghurs”.

Number 10 also stressed the need to maintain “diplomatic channels” that would allow it to reinforce its position with the Chinese authorities.

Sam Hogg, founder of Intelligence Briefing Beijing to Britain, said: “No one has taken responsibility [Tuniyaz’s] Trip”.

“The Chinese Embassy in London did not support the trip as it would raise the Xinjiang issue again. And the Foreign Office’s decision to meet him was strategically incoherent,” he added.

The Chinese Embassy in London has been asked for comment.

Koen Stoop of the World Uyghur Congress, an advocacy group, said it was “ironic” that “the Chinese delegation . . . recognized the error of this visit and decided to cancel it,” adding: “Complicity in atrocities should have been a clear red line for the EU.”

Tuniyaz’s visit to Brussels would have come just after the start of the European Parliament’s debate on the Forced Labor Ordinance, which could limit the bloc’s imports of goods from Xinjiang.

The UK Supreme Court last month found an “impressive consensus” on the existence of labor abuse in Xinjiang’s cotton industry. The governor of Xinjiang cancels visits to Brussels and London after an outcry

Adam Bradshaw

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