Xinjiang governor cancels Europe trip after outcry from politicians and activists

Erkin Tuniyaz is widely seen by activists as a Uyghur puppet of Beijing
By Nawar Nemeh for RFA English
2023.02.14
Xinjiang governor cancels Europe trip after outcry from politicians and activists Uyghur activist and artist Rahima Mahmut attends a vigil outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, protesting the planned visit to the United Kingdom of Erkin Tuniyaz, governor of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Credit: AFP

The chairman of China’s far-western Xinjiang region, Erkin Tuniyaz, has canceled a trip to the United Kingdom and the European Union after an outcry from politicians and Uyghur activists who said welcoming him would tacitly condone China’s human rights abuses of Uyghurs.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a coalition of international legislators that seek to coordinate and reform how democratic countries approach Beijing, tweeted that sources in the UK government said that the meeting between Tuniyaz and UK officials was canceled. 

Among Uyghur activist and exile groups, Tuniyaz  –  a Chinese Communist Party politician of Uyghur origin –  is widely despised as a traitor and puppet of Beijing.

“We are delighted to hear that Erkin Tuniyaz will no longer be meeting with the FCDO or officials across the EU,” said Rahima Mahnut, the UK director for the World Uyghur Congress. “We believe this decision was made thanks to the remarkable efforts of campaigners, lawyers and human rights organizations who've vehemently opposed this proposed meeting.”

“This is a huge victory for the Uyghur community and all those who are invested in the UK’s commitment to human rights,” Mahmut added.

Numerous Western nations, including the UK, have condemned China for grave human rights abuses involving Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang under a government crackdown to prevent terrorism and religious extremism in the restive region.

The trip’s cancellation was also reported by Politico, which cited three people with knowledge of the plan.

Defending China

Tuniyaz  has defended China’s policies in Xinjiang in the past, including in a video address to the United Nations in February 2021, during which he said the vast network of "re-education" camps in the region where Uyghurs were interned “educated and rehabilitated people influenced by religious extremism.”

The Guardian newspaper reported earlier this month that Tuniyaz would visit London and meet with high-level officials to discuss the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, followed by a visit to Brussels.

But numerous politicians and activists expressed alarm and opposition to his planned visit, protesting that allowing him to meet with senior UK and EU officials would be seen as turning a blind eye to China’s mistreatment of Uygurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where Tuniyaz is governor. 

ENG_UYG_ErkinTuniyazCanceled_02142023.2.JPG
Erkin Tuniyaz [left], governor of China’s Xinjiang region, attends the Human Rights Council meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2019. Credit: Reuters

There is “no legitimate reason to allow Erkin Tuniyaz into our country — the only meetings with him should be in a courtroom,” British parliamentarian Alicia Kearns, who chairs the China Research Group set up by a group of Conservative MPs in the UK to promote new ideas on how Britain should respond to China’s rise, said last week.

China’s Foreign Ministry has not confirmed the trip cancellation. When asked about Tuniyaz’s plans, ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said she was not aware of any specifics.

Wang went on to say that “the so-called ‘violation’ or ‘repression’ of human rights {in Xinjiang] is the lie of the century propagated by anti-China forces, and has long been debunked by facts. We once again urge parties concerned to look at Xinjiang’s strong socioeconomic development in an objective light, stop using Xinjiang-related issues for political manipulation and stop meddling in China’s internal affairs.” 

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