IS CHINA engaged in a policy of genocide against its Uighur population? Canada believes so. In October last year, the Canadian parliament said China’s actions against the ethnic minority constitute genocide as defined by the United Nations’ Genocide Convention.

Then in November, Genocide Watch said Chinese actions against the Uighur people should be considered “acts of genocide”, and issued a Genocide Emergency Alert.

Since then – what? Almost deafening silence globally. On Tuesday, there was glimmer of moral courage from the UK government with a clampdown announced on any British firm selling goods made by the forced labour of Uighur prisoners. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also proposed a review of export controls to Xinjiang province – the epicentre of the Chinese onslaught against Uighurs.

British politicians, ever slow to lift their eyes beyond their own limited horizons, have at least taken some action and brought the issue to public attention. But in truth, this is a shamefully weak response. If we could get in a time machine and return to 1933, how might we want our political class to act towards Nazi Germany?

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China is engaged in a policy of mass incarceration of the Uighur people within an archipelago of concentration camps, where there’s forced sterilisation, slave labour and torture. The Chinese government’s own statistics show birth rates in Uighur areas dropping by more than 60% between 2015 and 2018. In Xinjiang, in 2019, birth rates fell by 24%.

The Uighurs aren’t part of the Han Chinese majority, and they’re primarily Muslim. That’s their crime in the eyes of China, which wilfully conflates religious faith with terrorism and uses the West’s global war on terror as convenient cover.

Human Rights Watch says there’s “rampant abuses, including torture” within Chinese concentration camps. One Uighur woman, Mihrigul Tursan, was taken to China’s euphemistically named ‘re-education camps’ where she was drugged, interrogated for days without sleep, strapped to a chair and electrocuted. She was beaten until she bled and starved. Her crime? Being Uighur.

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Kayrat Samarkand was made to wear what guards called ‘iron clothes’ – a suit of metal weighing 50 pounds, and sing songs praising China’s leader Xi Jinping before being allowed to eat. His crime? Being Uighur. Zumrat Dwut was forcibly sterilised. Her crime? Being Uighur. Tahir Hamut was a child slave in a labour camp, picking cotton. His crime? Being Uighur.

Prisoners are waterboarded, forced to drink alcohol and eat pork – acts forbidden by Islam. There’s widespread sexual abuse, forced abortions.

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Some 80% of all IUD contraceptives were implanted in Xinjiang – the region only represents 1.8% of China’s population. Chinese officials have the power to live in Uighur family homes to ‘aid assimilation’. Prisoners have been used for organ harvesting. Uighurs are subject to mass state surveillance. Chinese firms use advanced technology to track Uighurs. Huawei is among a number of companies which have refined artificial intelligence so that Uighur characteristics can be spotted in a crowd.

The Uighur people are being wiped out one way or another. Not only is their culture being destroyed, China appears to be literally culling Uighurs via medicine – sterilising them into oblivion. Rendering women infertile – or ‘encouraging’ marriage to Han Chinese men – can have only one intent: the destruction of an entire race of people. Some have stopped sort of calling what’s happening in China ‘genocide’, preferring to refer to it as ‘cultural genocide’. Semantics, though, mean little to those behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp.

Uighur prisoners are subjected to mass indoctrination and brain-washing within China’s gulags. The objective is clear: if these people are ever released, their minds are no longer Uighur. At least 1.5 million people – but perhaps as many as three million – are prisoners in these concentration camps. Children left without parents are taken to state orphanages.

Leaked documents show Xi Jinping making comments such as “we must be harsh on them and show absolutely no mercy”. China, though, can act with near impunity. Beijing is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and has bribed the developing world with its so-called ‘Belt and Road’ foreign policy, that’s seen Beijing building infrastructure in nearly 70 countries - developed nations have also benefited from such Chinese investment. Money stops mouths.

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So far, 39 countries have denounced China at the UN, including the UK, America, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Poland, Norway and Sweden. Some 45 countries defend China, including: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Belarus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.

The bitter irony is that many Western governments have shorn themselves of much of their moral authority over the last two decades. Think of Guantanamo Bay and ‘Black Site prisons’ – the West’s own gulag; extraordinary rendition – state-sponsored kidnapping of suspects without trial; enhanced interrogation techniques or torture, such as waterboarding; colluding with repressive regimes in the abduction, detention and torture of overseas terror suspects. The West dresses its own assault on human rights in Orwellian euphemisms.

Now, when many see genocide happening in China, Beijing – in between strenuous denials – points to the West’s own crimes. Deal with the mote in your own eye, China says, before pointing out the beam in ours.

Human rights groups have called on the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of genocide. The ICC declined as Beijing isn’t a signatory to the Rome Statute which established the court, and so prosecutors have no jurisdiction over the regime.

Where does this leave people of conscience? Our politicians may have sullied themselves with their collusion in the war on terror, or the blind eye they turned to its excesses, but we haven’t.

Regardless of the moral failures of Western governments, we as citizens can compel our leaders to take action against China. A clampdown on UK firms getting rich off the back of slave labour in concentration camps isn’t enough. China should be subjected to a full embargo and sanctions.

Britain can take that stand unilaterally. Scotland – although without levers of international power – can raise its voice in disgust at a political level. And we ordinary citizens can boycott China personally.

I wouldn’t have bought German goods in 1933, and I will not buy Chinese goods today.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald