Xinjiang: China blasts New Zealand Parliament for 'severe abuses' declaration, warns of potential 'harm' to relationship

China has blasted the New Zealand Parliament's decision to declare "severe human rights abuses" are underway in Xinjiang, warning the two countries' relationship may be harmed if the issue is pursued. 

Parliamentarians unanimously backed an ACT Party motion on Wednesday afternoon expressing grave concern at "severe human rights abuses" against the Uighur minority in China's Xinjiang and called on the Government to work with international partners to end the abuses. 

The Chinese Embassy in Wellington has now reacted, saying the New Zealand Parliament's action "grossly interferes in China's internal affairs and runs counter to international law and basic norms governing international relations".

"The Chinese side deplores and firmly opposes such action," a spokesperson said.

China has always denied accusations it abuses the indigenous population, but over recent years, a large number of independent reports have found about 1 million Uighur Muslims are confined to concentration camps subject to torture and forced sterilisation as authorities try to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates. 

As it always does when confronted with questions about Xinjiang, the Chinese Embassy goes on to say that camps in the north-western province are for vocational education and counter-terrorism. 

It claims people in the region "are living a safe and happy life". However, that runs counter to the testimonials of many who have escaped Xinjiang or know of relatives trapped there. Rizwangul Nurmuhammad, a Uighur in New Zealand, last month told Newshub Nation that she hasn't heard from her brother in China since 2017 and fears he is being subjected to "inhuman" treatment.

The embassy ended its reply with a warning for New Zealand.

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

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi. Photo credit: Getty Images.

ACT was initially intending to ask MPs to consider if "genocide" is occurring in Xinjiang, but that term was removed after it says Labour, the governing party, threatened to stop the debate going ahead at all. However, that didn't stop representatives from ACT, the Greens and the Māori Party saying genocide is underway. 

"We must never attempt to silence the atrocities of genocides, and that's happening to indigenous peoples," said the Māori Party's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. "We need to be calling out these atrocities for what they are, wherever they are happening in the world."

Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta told the House that the Government has consistently raised grave concerns about activities in Xinjiang, including to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any determination of genocide, she said, should come "following a rigorous assessment on the basis of international law". 

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.

"The purpose of the visit should not be an investigation or accountability with the presumption of guilt. This should not be the purpose," Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi said on Friday. "China is a sovereign country and people need to respect China's sovereignty and they need to comply with all the laws and regulations in China."

Wu earlier told attendees the door to Xinjiang was open to "unbiased foreigners" and talks were underway with the United Nations for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit.

In a speech to the China Business Summit on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the differences between New Zealand and China's interests and values "are becoming harder to reconcile". However, she said areas of difference "need not define a relationship" and those areas "form part of a comprehensive relationship".

"We hope that China too sees it in its own core interests to act in the world in ways that are consistent with its responsibilities as a growing power, including as a permanent member of the UN Security Council."

The New Zealand Parliament's decision not to grapple with the issue of 'genocide' distances it from the United Kingdom and Canada - both of whom have had their Parliaments declare genocide - and the United States, which has had two administrations say crimes against humanity are happening.