As G-7 leaders gather in Cornwall tomorrow, there are three major issues that deserve to be priorities on the agenda: the genocide of the Uyghurs, the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms, and the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. And all three have a common factor: China.
A week ago, the Uyghur Tribunal began four days of hearings on the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the British lawyer who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, the independent tribunal has been established to answer one simple question: Do the atrocities facing the Uyghurs amount to genocide? The panel heard hours of harrowing testimonies of torture, gang rape, slave labor, forced sterilization, forced abortions, religious persecution, indoctrination, and enforced disappearances. Either every witness was lying, or a pattern of medieval and macabre atrocities is being committed by the Chinese Communist Party regime.
Qelbinur Sidik told the tribunal: “Guards in the camp did not treat the prisoners as human beings. They were treated less than dogs. They enjoyed watching them being humiliated and their suffering was for them their joy.”
Omar Bekali described how he was hung from the ceiling, beaten all over his body, and shackled in chains. In a powerful reconstruction, he put on chains in front of the tribunal, around his feet and hands, to demonstrate his experience.
Other witnesses described further horrors: wires being pushed into one man’s penis, needles pushed under fingernails, and one woman being presented with the dead, frozen body of one of her babies.
Without prejudging the tribunal’s conclusion – which will not come until the end of this year – it is worth noting that the Canadian, Dutch, Lithuanian, and British Parliaments, the previous and current U.S. administrations, and a growing number of legal experts and scholars believe the Chinese regime is perpetrating genocide – and at the very least, based on current evidence, serious atrocity crimes.
Parliamentarians from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) have written to G-7 leaders calling for reform of global supply chains due to these abuses, and over 20 faith leaders, led by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, have written calling for action to end impunity for atrocity crimes. The Bishop of Truro Philip Mountstephen and the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Angaelos are hosting a breakfast event on the fringes of the G-7, focused on the Uyghur crisis.
The G-7 should therefore be cognizant of the profound gravity of this crisis, and take collective steps to pursue further targeted sanctions against the perpetrators, an international accountability mechanism to seek justice, and action to end the use of Uyghur slave labor in multinational supply chains.
The dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and the rule of law over the past 12 months must surely also be a focus for discussion and action in Cornwall. The Chinese regime has repeatedly and flagrantly violated an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and destroyed what remained of Hong Kong’s limited democracy. Its draconian national security law is one of the most unjust pieces of legislation in the world, resulting in the imprisonment of, among others, pro-democracy politicians and activists simply for holding a primary election to choose their candidates for the legislature. Subsequently the pro-democracy camp was kicked out of the legislature entirely, and changes to the electoral system make it almost impossible for democrats to compete in the future. Almost every prominent pro-democracy leader in Hong Kong is either on trial, in prison, or in exile.
A week ago, six former British foreign secretaries wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to use the U.K.’s chairmanship of the G-7 to “ensure that the international response to the crisis in Hong Kong is on the agenda.” They called for “international leadership” from the U.K. and for efforts to be made to “forge consensus on a response” to China’s repeated breaches of international law.
This is essential – if Beijing is allowed to get away with tearing up its promises to Hong Kong and undermining the international rules-based order, it will only be emboldened to further intensify its threats to Taiwan, its aggression in the South China Sea, and its intimidating behavior beyond. And if the G-7 isn’t prepared to speak out for freedom and the rule of law in one of the world’s major financial and trading centers, will it ever do so?
Meanwhile, Myanmar is on the verge of economic collapse, civil war, and humanitarian disaster. Since the military coup on February 1, almost 900 civilians have been killed, nearly 6,000 arrested, and 4,782 remain in prison. The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has warned of “mass deaths” from starvation and disease as the military’s airstrikes on ethnic minorities in the country’s border areas displace at least 100,000. The junta’s bombing of Karen, Kachin, northern Shan, and Chin states in recent months had already led to a humanitarian emergency accompanied by grave human rights violations, but in recent weeks a campaign of terror has unfolded in Myanmar’s Kayah (Karenni) state, which has left people, according to the U.N. rapporteur, “in dire need of food, water and medicine.”
The country’s government-in-exile, a body consisting of parliamentarians elected last November and ethnic leaders, known as the National Unity Government (NUG), wrote to Johnson earlier this week, appealing to him to put the deepening crisis in Myanmar on the G-7 agenda. Dr. Sasa, the NUG’s minister for international cooperation, urges world leaders to engage with the NUG “as the legitimate representative of Myanmar,” provide emergency humanitarian assistance, and intensify financial and diplomatic pressure on the junta, including by cutting the flow of revenue and arms.
Although Beijing did not cause the coup and is unlikely to be happy with the resulting instability on its doorstep, China continues to provide Myanmar’s generals with diplomatic cover, military equipment, and an economic lifeline. Pressure should be intensified on Beijing to use its influence with Myanmar’s regime to end its brutal assault on its people and return power to democratically elected representatives to navigate the country through a new process of political and constitutional reform and peace and reconciliation. If the international community – Western democracies, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and China – don’t act fast, they will find a failed state on their hands, destined for yet more conflict, repression, and humanitarian disaster. If China fails to act constructively, it should be deemed complicit with crimes against humanity in Myanmar.
There will be many other issues on the G-7 agenda, but these three cannot wait. Johnson has received specific letters appealing to him to lead on Hong Kong, Uyghurs, and Myanmar, from former foreign secretaries, religious leaders, and an exiled government, respectively. Let the summit in Cornwall result in an action plan to tackle these three crises and the common thread that links them: the Chinese Communist Party regime’s mendacious, repressive, criminal, and dangerous behavior.