Friday 14 May 2021 12:56 pm

World Uyghur Congress hits out at City of London Corporation's China stance

A non-profit group representing the world’s Uyghur Muslims has accused the City of London Corporation’s bosses of siding “with oppressive Chinese forces” for not holding Beijing to account for its human rights abuses.

The World Uyghur Congress sent a letter, seen by City A.M., to City of London Lord Mayor William Russell and the powerful local authority’s policy chair Catherine McGuinness, saying the Corporation’s move to remove historic slave trader statues will “ring hollow” if it does not take a stronger stance on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

The letter highlighted comments McGuinness made to City A.M. earlier this year when she said she was “really not clear it’s our place” to publicly criticise the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims and that “we do need to look at business connections” with the economic superpower.

An estimated 1m Uyghur Muslims have been detained by the Chinese government and put into labour camps in the northern region of Xinjiang.

There have also been widespread reports of sterilisation of Uyghur women, the wholesale destruction of mosques and restrictions on religious freedom.

The letter, written by World Uyghur Congress UK project director Rahima Mahmut, said “while the Corporation’s function is to promote trade” that in fact “trade is as much part of foreign policy as defence and diplomacy”.

“In the last four years, Uyghur slave labour has become widely integrated into China’s manufacturing industry,” she said.

“By neglecting to discuss or factor in Uyghur suffering during trade talks, rather than remaining neutral, as may very well be the intention, the Corporation by default sides with oppressive Chinese forces. 

“By this letter, I ask the Lord Mayor, the chair of policy and all the Corporation’s elected members to follow Parliament’s lead implement robust measures to challenge the Chinese government over its atrocity crimes against my people.”

A Corporation spokesperson said the local authority would “continue to seek guidance from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office” on its relations with China.

The City of London Corporation – the Square Mile’s local authority based in the historic Guildhall building – has strong China links, including offices in Beijing and Shanghai.

The Corporation voted last year to censure the Chinese government for imposing draconian security laws that clamped down on freedom of speech in Hong Kong and to also welcome the 2.9m Hong Kongers offered British visas by the UK government.

McGuinness and Russell voted against the motion.

McGuinness said she would not censure Beijing as “China is an important market for UK financial and related professional services” and that the Corporation should stay out of international politics.

City of London Corporation councillor Graeme Harrower said at the time this was “disengenous” as McGuinness and Russell often hold banquets and events with foreign leaders.

Harrower told City A.M. that the Uyghur Congress’ letter “demolishes the City Corporation’s usual excuses for appeasing China”.

“The Corporation, by continuing to justify the unjustifiable, is making the case for its abolition by Westminster clearer than any of its critics can,” he said.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab hit China with a range of sanctions earlier this year over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

This included asset freezes and travel bans on senior Chinese government officials and export bans on goods produced in the Xinjiang region.

However, the government’s integrated review of foreign and defence policy also said the UK would “invest in enhanced China facing capabilities”, while adding that “open, trading economies like the UK will need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment”.

China was also labelled as a “systemic challenge” in the review and not a threat to security, such a countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea.

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “We are guided by the UK government on how and when to engage with the Chinese Government and we will continue to seek guidance from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the current status of our relations with China. 

“The foreign secretary recently said the UK is looking to form a constructive and calibrated approach to engage with China, including on climate change and being clear on the values that the UK holds. We will continue to take the UK government’s lead.”