New Zealand and Australia 'welcome' coordinated sanctions against China, but can't join effort

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New Zealand and Australia have issued a joint statement supporting the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Canada in the sanctioning of Chinese officials over the abuse of Uyghurs, but neither country has said it will join the effort.

The countries on Monday announced sanctions directed at officials in Xinjiang, a western province of China that is home to the Uyghur minority. The sanctions were aimed at freezing the assets of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary force which is held responsible for human rights abuse.

The “intensive diplomacy”, as British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, was met with an immediate response by China, which sanctioned 10 EU parliamentarians and scholars, and four EU organisations.

New Zealand lacks the legal mechanisms to unilaterally apply such sanctions outside the United Nations framework. But, in a statement of support issued on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta issued some of her firmest remarks yet on the “severe human rights abuses”.

A Uyghur detention or re-education camp in the Xinjiang province of China.

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A Uyghur detention or re-education camp in the Xinjiang province of China.

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Mahuta, along with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, said in the statement both countries welcomed the sanctions and “share these countries deep concerns, which are held across the New Zealand and Australian communities”.

“The New Zealand and Australian Governments today reiterate their grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” the statement from the foreign ministers read.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta joined a statement with her Australian counterpart on Tuesday responding to sanctions placed on Xinjiang officials over the abuse of the Uyghur minority.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta joined a statement with her Australian counterpart on Tuesday responding to sanctions placed on Xinjiang officials over the abuse of the Uyghur minority.

“In particular, there is clear evidence of severe human rights abuses that include restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, as well as forced labour and forced birth control, including sterilisation,” they continued.

“Today we underscore the importance of transparency and accountability, and reiterate our call on China to grant meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for United Nations experts, and other independent observers.”

Neither country committed to applying the sanctions. New Zealand cannot unilaterally apply sanctions because the Government in 2020 abandoned the Autonomous Sanctions Bill, which would have created such an independent regime for punishment outside the United Nations Security Council.

Mahuta said it was not a mistake to abandon the Autonomous Sanctions Bill, “because we do rely primarily on the United Nations as our guide to inform at the highest level what action can be taken”.

Asked if New Zealand been asked to join in the effort, Mahuta said: “Countries are really mindful of the domestic context and whether or not we do have a sanctions regime. We do not.”

Mahuta and her Cabinet colleagues have been facing questions about the Government’s handling of China’s abuse of Uyghur people. Stuff Circuit’s Deleted documentary last week revealed connections between some businesses which had received Government funding and a Chinese tech company, iFlytek, which provided voice recognition technology used in human rights violations against Uyghurs.

Beijing has detained more than a million people, most of them Muslim Uyghursin Xinjiang, asserting that the mass detention is vocational education and training aimed at curbing a terror threat.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Getty-Images

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

he US in January said China’s actions amounted to genocide, and New Zealand has joined statements at the United Nations about “an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations”.

Raab on Monday issued a statement saying the XPCC and four senior Xinjiang officials would be targeted by the joint sanctions. The officials were Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzheng, Wang Mingshan and Chen Mingguo, each holding legal affairs and security roles in the region.

The US Department of Treasury targeted both Wang Junzheng and Chen in its sanctions.

After the EU announced its sanctions, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson issued a condemnation: “This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, disregards and distorts facts, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, and severely undermines China-EU relations.”

An Uyghur child plays alone in the courtyard of a home at the Unity New Village in Hotan, in western China's Xinjiang region.

Andy Wong/AP

An Uyghur child plays alone in the courtyard of a home at the Unity New Village in Hotan, in western China’s Xinjiang region.

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