British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights violations against its Uighur population and said that sanctions against those responsible cannot be excluded.
The Muslim group’s reports of forced sterilization and wider persecution “are reminiscent of something that has not been seen in a long time,” he told the BBC.
The UK will work with its allies to take appropriate action, he insisted.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK said that to speak of concentration camps was “wrong”.
Liu Xiaoming told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that Uyghurs received the same treatment under the law as other ethnic groups in his country.
Images of drones that appear to show blindfolded Uighurs being taken to trains, and which have 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, country ”.
“There are no such concentration camps in Xinjiang,” he added. “There are a lot of false accusations against China. ”
It is believed that there are around a million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities detained in China, in what the state defines as “re-education” camps.
China had previously denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism, following separatist violence in the Xinjiang region.
Authorities were recently charged with forcing women to be sterilized or fitted with contraceptive devices in an apparent attempt to limit the population, which prompted the UN to investigate.
Asked whether the treatment of Uyghurs met the legal definition of genocide, Mr. Raab said that the international community must be “careful” before making such allegations.
But he said, “Whatever the legal label, it is clear that gross and egregious human rights violations continue.
According to recent research from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, the rate of population growth in the two largest Uyghur prefectures in Xinjiang fell by more than 80% between 2013 and 2018.
China does not accept the findings and insisted on the numbers, Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming said Xinjiang’s Uyghur population numbered four to five million 40 years ago and had now grown to 11 million.
“People say we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled,” he added.
Population research, which draws on official Chinese data and media reports, does not go back 40 years.
But this suggests that there was a rapid increase in the rate of population growth in Xinjiang between 2005 and 2015, followed by a sharp decline in the following years.
“It is deeply, deeply disturbing and the reports on the human aspect – from forced sterilization to education camps – remind us of something that we have not seen in a very long time.
“We want a positive relationship with China, but we cannot see behavior like this and not speak out against it. ”
There are more and more calls in the UK to impose sanctions, such as an asset freeze and a travel ban, on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution of Uighurs.
A petition supporting this initiative has collected more than 100,000 signatures, which means that it will be examined for debate in Parliament.
The UK recently took action against Myanmar’s senior generals who orchestrated the campaign of violence against the Rohingya and against the North Korean bodies behind the forced labor camps.
Mr Raab said it showed the UK was ready to take action unilaterally, as well as through bodies like the UN, but that it was “not as simple as deciding to sanction good over the counter X or Y “.
“You have to, as we did with the Rohingya and North Korea, build an evidence base and it takes a long time to do because you have to identify precisely and responsibly the people involved. ”
Conservative MPs are also pressing for action against senior government officials in Hong Kong following the imposition of a new security law that the UK claims violates international agreements protecting freedoms.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs is to inform Parliament on Monday of the UK’s response amid speculation that he will abolish the extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the former British colony.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, the Chinese ambassador said that if the United Kingdom – which also offered residency rights to three million Hong Kong citizens eligible for British passports – targeted its officials, its country could retaliate.
“If the UK goes that far to impose sanctions on individuals in China, China will certainly respond to it,” he said.
He dismissed the allegations of “ethnic cleansing” of the Uyghurs as baseless, claiming that they “enjoy peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups”.
He said figures suggesting that population growth in Uyghur areas fell 84 percent between 2015 and 2018 were “not correct,” saying the number of Uyghurs in all of Xinjiang had “doubled” in the past. over the past four decades.
“There is no so-called ubiquitous and massive forced sterilization among Uighurs in China,” he added. “Government policy is firmly opposed to this type of practice. ”
While he “cannot rule out unique cases” of sterilization, he insisted that “we treat every ethnic group as equal”.