China‘s ambassador to Canada says reports of genocide and forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province are the “lie of the century,” despite international bodies like the United Nations deeming the reports of such activities “numerous and credible.”
Cong Peiwu on Wednesday held a virtual press conference with political journalists from several Canadian outlets, including Global News. The event came a little over one week after the House of Commons voted to recognize China’s treatment of Uyghurs as a genocide.
“Those MPs voting in the House of Commons, most of them, I’m afraid, have never been to Xinjiang or even to China in the last years, so how can they judge the situation on the ground?” he said.
‘They simply, some of them, are doing things out of political intention and trying to secure political gains.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal cabinet abstained from that vote.
No MPs voted against it.
Cong said that there is no truth to the growing international concerns and condemnation of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, which include accusations of forced sterilization.
“Allegations of genocide and forced labour in Xinjiang are the lie of the century,” said Cong, echoing Beijing’s insistence that the facilities in China’s northwestern province are about “re-education.”
“They are no different than the deradicalization centres in France.”
However, UN estimates suggest as many as one million Uyghurs are being held in the facilities, which human rights groups say are actually sites of forced labour that represent rampant human rights abuses against the Muslim minority group carried out under the claim of counterterrorism.
A legal opinion issued by senior U.K. barristers last month determined that “there is a very credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uighur people in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.”
The BBC reported that opinion was commissioned — but not paid for — by the Global Legal Action Network, the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Trudeau was asked during a press conference an hour later about the ambassador’s rejection of the concerns raised by the international community about China’s treatment of Uyghurs.
“We have and will continue to take very seriously the very credible reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in China, perpetrated against the Uyghurs by the Chinese state,” said Trudeau.
“There are significant concerns being expressed around the world and the Parliament of Canada was very clear in expressing its concerns.”
He added Canadian officials have expressed concerns directly to Chinese counterparts but that discussions about possible responses are “much better done on a multilateral basis.”
Trudeau also rejected a claim by Cong that Beijing’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is linked to Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, despite Chinese officials including Cong previously linking the cases.
Cong claimed that “there’s no connection between these cases,” even though he himself linked the cases directly during an interview with Global News last year.
Trudeau was asked directly by Global News whether he believes Cong’s claim.
“No. It is obvious the Michaels were arrested on trumped up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition obligations,” Trudeau responded.
“Nothing the ambassador can say now will dissuade me from understanding that is the case.”
Cong was asked last year about accusations that Beijing’s detention of the two Michaels just days after Canada arrested Meng in accordance with its extradition treaty with the U.S. constitutes hostage diplomacy.
He rejected that, and then raised the case of Meng.
When asked during that interview why China had not allowed Kovrig and Spavor to get video consular calls, he again raised the matter of Meng, and insisted that she “should not be detained in Vancouver in the first place.”
Kovrig and Spavor have been arbitrarily detained in Chinese prisons for more than two years on vague charges of endangering national security, with no evidence provided to support any of the claims.
Meng, in contrast, is free on bail living in her Vancouver mansion while she fights extradition to the U.S., where authorities have charged her and her company with dozens of charges related to allegedly stealing corporate secrets and skirting sanctions on Iran.
U.S. authorities have filed all of their allegations and the evidence they say they have in support of them in court, and those records are publicly available.