The British government accused Beijing of “gross, egregious human rights abuses” over its “deeply troubling” treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the reports of forced sterilizations and mass detentions required international attention, adding that sanctions against those responsible cannot be ruled out.
Asked whether the treatment of the Uighurs met the legal definition of genocide, Mr. Raab said the international community had to be “careful” before making such claims.
But he said: “Whatever the legal label, it is clear that gross, egregious human rights abuses are going on.
“It is deeply, deeply troubling and the reports on the human aspect of this – from forced sterilisation to the education camps – are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a very long time.
“We want a positive relationship with China but we can’t see behaviour like that and not call it out.”
There are growing calls for the UK to impose sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution of the Uyghurs.
A petition backing the move has amassed more than 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for debate in Parliament.
But China’s UK ambassador said talk of concentration camps was “fake”.
Liu Xiaoming told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the Uyghurs received the same treatment under the law as other ethnic groups in his country.
Shown drone footage that appears to show Uyghurs being blindfolded and led to trains, and which has been authenticated by Australian security services, he said he “did not know” what the video was showing and “sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country”.
“There is no such concentration camps in Xinjiang,” he added. “There’s a lot of fake accusations against China.”
It is believed that up to a million Uighur people have been detained over the past few years in what the Chinese state defines as “re-education camps”.
China previously denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism, following separatist violence in the Xinjiang region.
The authorities have recently been accused of forcing women to be sterilised or fitted with contraceptive devices in an apparent attempt to limit the population, prompting calls for the UN to investigate.
The UK recently took action against senior generals in Myanmar who orchestrated the campaign of violence against the Rohingya and against North Korean bodies behind forced labour camps.
Conservative British MPs are also pressing for action against senior officials in the Hong Kong government following the imposition of a new security law which the UK says violates international agreements protecting freedoms.
The foreign secretary is due to update Parliament on Monday on the UK’s response, amid speculation it will scrap the UK’s existing extradition treaty with the former British colony.
Speaking on a BBC show, the Chinese ambassador said if the UK – which has also offered residency rights to three million HongKongers eligible for British passports – targeted its officials, his country could retaliate.
“If the UK goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make a resolute response to it,” he said.
He dismissed claims of “ethnic cleansing” of the Uighurs as baseless, saying they “enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people”.
He said figures suggesting population growth in Uyghur areas had fallen by 84% between 2015 and 2018 were “not correct”, claiming the number of Uyghurs in the whole of Xinjiang had “doubled” over the past four decades.
“There is no so-called pervasive, massive forced sterilisation among Uyghur people in China,” he added. “Government policy is strongly opposed to this kind of practice.”
While he “cannot rule out single cases” of sterilisation, he insisted “we treat every ethnic group as equal”. (Source: BBC)