MPs fine with upsetting China, our biggest trading partner, by criticising 'severe human rights abuses' against Uighurs

MPs from both Labour and National say Parliament's resolution accusing China of committing "severe human rights abuses" in Xinjiang will no doubt upset the authoritarian regime.

But they have the backing of former US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown, who says something has to be done.

The original motion, filed by the ACT Party and backed by the Greens and Maori Party, called China's treatment of its Uighur minority a "genocide". The eventual motion that passed watered that down to "severe human rights abuses". 

Labour MP David Parker, a former Minister for Trade and Export Growth, acknowledged on Friday it would upset China, our biggest trading partner.

"Probably, yep," he told The AM Show. "By publicly, through Parliament, criticising the alleged human rights abuses in parts of China and saying that we think there should be transparent access allowed to international officials, like from the UN, to see how serious it is."

National MP Simon Bridges, appearing on The AM Show with Parker, said it's important for New Zealand to stand up for what's right. 

"We want to trade, we want a strong working relationship with China; but what we also need to do - and what you saw in Parliament this week - was us also saying we will also stand up for our values, and severe human rights abuses are wrong."

It's estimated around a million Uighurs are being held in, or have been through, what China calls re-education centres aimed at combating terrorism and extremism. The Chinese embassy in New Zealand recently hosted a conference via Zoom for Kiwi journalists, academics and the business community to show the "real situation" in Xinjiang, which only seemed to muddy the waters.

"A lot has changed in the last three or four years, and I'm not saying that's the Labour Government's fault," said Bridges.  

"You've got a China that is significantly more aggressive than it has been in the past, and I also think we're in a world - and I don't want to be dramatic about it - that is a more dangerous place. It's more volatile, more unpredictable."

That's a view backed by Brown, who was until December the US Ambassador to New Zealand. 

"We have to deal with China," he told The AM Show.

 "Shutting down the internet... putting people in concentration camps, overleveraging these Pacific Island nations. It's just unacceptable what they're doing, stealing intellectual property. We need to find a way to have them come and be good world partners."

Asked who he'd pick if had to choose between China and the US, Parker said it was impossible.

"The moment you pick a side, you can never chart a middle course. So you should not pick a side." 

He said if Parliament was sitting during the US Capitol siege in January, New Zealand would have criticised the US then too. 

"I don't think it is about choosing sides - it's about criticising what we're criticising."