Jacinda Ardern not surprised by China's angry response to Parliament declaring 'severe human rights abuses' in Xinjiang

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isn't surprised by China's response to the New Zealand Parliament declaring that "severe human rights abuses" are occurring in Xinjiang.

MPs on Wednesday afternoon unanimously agreed to a motion expressing grave concern about the abuses reported to be underway in China against the Uighur minority. The ACT Party-backed motion originally said a "genocide" was happening, but that term was removed after deliberations with the Labour Party, ACT says.

The Chinese Embassy in Wellington responded on Thursday morning, saying the Parliament had interfered in China's internal affairs, something it "firmly opposes". Beijing has always denied abuses are happening in Xinjiang, counter to numerous independent reports and testimonials from people who have escaped the region. 

"Using Xinjiang-related issues to pressure China will go nowhere but to harm the mutual trust between China and NZ," the embassy spokesperson said. 

"We urge the New Zealand side to respect truth and facts, stop the erroneous practices immediately and uphold China-New Zealand relations through concrete actions. We hope the NZ Parliament will do more to strengthen the friendship and cooperation between our two countries and people, not the other way around."

Asked about the embassy's response, Ardern said it was "not unexpected". She said there is "credible evidence of human rights abuses" in Xinjiang and that it was significant all MPs had supported the motion. 

"There have been a number of statements that have been made globally on the human rights situation of the Uighur people, but unlike many others, there were no abstentions on our motion. Ours was one that was supported by the Parliament," Ardern said.

"That demonstrates the strength of feeling for New Zealand parliamentarians over the issue."

Other parliaments have passed similar motions in which there were abstentions, often by government members concerned about the message it would send to Beijing. However, many of those, such as in Canada and Britain included the word 'genocide'. 

As it did after those parliaments declared genocides, China regularly releases statements accusing other countries of interfering in its domestic affairs. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also uses its local media arms, such as The Global Times, to criticise countries' actions. 

The Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman, who during Wednesday's debate unsuccessfully tried to have 'genocide' added back to the motion, agreed that China's response wasn't "unforeseen". 

"I think we knew that was going to be upsetting for them. I think we should be proud of our Government for not taking that into account when we passed the motion," she said.

"I am disappointed we didn't declare a genocide or that crimes against humanity are occurring. But I am also more disappointed that we aren't taking any further steps to ban slave labour products, for example."

During Wednesday's debate, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta explained the Government hasn't formally determined a genocide is occurring as any such designation should come "following a rigorous assessment on the basis of international law". 

Despite that, Aotearoa has frequently expressed its concern about activities in Xinjiang. It has done so independently, with Australia and with other international groups.

New Zealand has ratified the UN Genocide Convention, which says genocide is any of several acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Those acts include killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group or imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group.

Aotearoa has consistently called on China to allow United Nations observers access to Xinjiang to ascertain what is happening there, but the Asian superpower has been reluctant to allow officials in without restrictions.