Two Kiwi MPs say the United States' determination that China is committing "genocide" with its repression of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region is a "significant" move by the global superpower.
There are also now calls for New Zealand to make a similar statement and ban the import of products from the region.
In his final full day as US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo on Wednesday declared China's persecution of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang amounted to "genocide" and "crimes against humanity".
Over the last few years, countless reports have surfaced detailing how Uighurs are subjected to torture, brainwashing, forced labour and sterlisation in Xinjiang concentration camps as authorities attempt to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates.
It's believed more than two million Uighurs are currently held in the camps, but Beijing has always denied the human rights abuses, instead saying the camps are used for vocational education and counter-terrorism operations.
Pompeo said his Wednesday "determinations" followed "exhaustive documentation" of China's actions in Xinjiang since at least March 2017. He said international observers have been denied "unhindered access" to the region and China spins "fanciful tales" about what's happening there.
New Zealand MPs Simon O'Connor and Louisa Wall, from National and Labour respectively, are co-chairs of the International Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and described the United States' declaration as "significant".
O'Connor, however, said it was "tempered" by the fact it came in the dying hours of the current US administration.
"IPAC is also clear that the treatment of the Uighurs and others in Xinjiang is a human rights abuse," O'Connor said. "New Zealand should approach more cautiously given our size, but it remains important that we still speak up in defence of human rights both at home and abroad."
Wall told Newshub the US was "obviously satisfied by the intelligence and evidence they have to make such a statement". A possible next step, she said, would be for the US to request the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court investigate Chinese leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Advocacy group Uighur Solidarity Aotearoa NZ wants New Zealand to follow the United States' lead, saying it is evident a genocide is happening due to leaked reports, satellite images and the bravery of former detainees to speak out.
"We understand that the United States of America does not have a moral high ground on matters of human rights, justice or freedom, however, we applaud the USA in this instance for speaking out about the worst governmental orchestrated genocide of our time," spokesperson Eliana Darroch said.
"The New Zealand government must show some integrity and speak up, condemning the Uyghur genocide, and take meaningful action in following the USA in banning the import of products resulting from forced labour, or from Xinjiang."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) told Newshub it had "not received any new information about the considerations that led to the United States making the determination announced this week".
"New Zealand remains concerned about severe human rights abuses continuing to take place in Xinjiang," a spokesperson said. "We continue to raise these concerns directly with China at all levels.
"New Zealand will continue to urge China to allow access to Xinjiang for independent international observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights."
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised human rights issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping while in China in 2019 and Aotearoa has also co-signed several statements on the issue, including in October.
Newshub has also contacted the Prime Minister's Office for this report.
Wall said the determination by Pompeo complimented a recent decision by the Trump administration to ban imports on cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang. That move came amid mounting concern about the use of forced labour in the region and was quickly followed by Britain and Canada announcing similar measures.
Wall said on Wednesday that New Zealand needs "to determine with the evidence we have the relevance of this issue to us" and identify what goods from Xinjiang are in our supply chain and "then potentially engage with our businesses too".
"New Zealand businesses are increasingly interested in ethical accounting that reports on financial, social and environmental performance and therefore being responsive to human rights violations such as this."
Newshub asked MFAT last week if New Zealand would introduce any similar measures to Canada and Britain and was told officials were "watching this situation closely".
In his statement on Wednesday, Pompeo said crimes against minorities in Xinjiang included imprisonment, forced sterilisation, torture, forced labour, and draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and religion.
"I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state," he said.
"The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image."
Pompeo called on China to "immediately release" all arbitrarily detained individuals and abolish its repressive measures.
"Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang represent an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China, and civilized people everywhere. We will not remain silent.
"If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future."
President-elect's nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Wednesday that he agreed with Pompeo's declaration.