Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, signalled a tough line on China from the new administration in Washington on Tuesday, when he told a Senate confirmation hearing that he backed his predecessor Mike Pompeo’s charge of genocide against Beijing.
Mr Pompeo used his final full day in office as Donald Trump’s minister for international affairs to say: “I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”
He cited the forced sterilisation and torture of some of the “more than a million” civilians he said were detained under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party in the western province of Xinjiang.
But challenged to take the same step in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Johnson insisted that, while he regarded the treatment of the Uighurs as “utterly abhorrent”, determining whether it amounted to genocide was a matter for judges, not politicians.
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Mr Johnson was speaking a day after his government overturned an amendment to its trade bill which would have forced the UK to withdraw from any free trade agreement negotiated with a state guilty of genocide.
He told prime ministers questions in the Commons: “The attribution of genocide is a judicial matter.
“But I can say for myself that I regard what is happening in Xinjiang and what's happening to the Uighurs as utterly abhorrent.”
Mr Johnson was responding to a question from Scottish National Party Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who told MPs: "People would find the prime minister’s claims about the UK’s global leadership a bit more believable if last night he hadn’t ordered his MPs to vote down an amendment to the trade bill that would have stopped trade deals with countries who commit genocide.
"Genocide isn’t a matter of history, it is happening in our world right now. The international community has stood idly by as Uighur Muslim men, women and children are forced into concentration camps in China's Xinjiang province.
“Yesterday the outgoing US secretary of state officially said that genocide was taking place, and the incoming secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, agrees with his view.”
Mr Blackford called on the PM to follow the lead of Pompeo and Blinken, and “stand up today and clearly state that genocide is being committed against the Uighur population in China”.
Beijing rejected Mr Pompeo’s characterisation of its treatment of the Muslim minority.
Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said: “Pompeo‘s comment on Xinjiang is just another one of his ridiculous lies. Pompeo is a clown . . . Genocide has never happened in China and will never happen in China.”
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