The West’s Belated Reckoning with China’s Crimes against Humanity
Jimmy Quinn·4 min read More content below Justin Trudeau
What will it take to get the world to recognize and account for the Chinese Communist Party’s mass atrocities?
America’s example, it seems.
Eight days ago, Canada became the second country to recognize the CCP’s repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples as genocide following a vote of its parliament. On Thursday, just three days later, the Netherlands became the third after a vote in its parliament. Perhaps the political support for those votes would have been there without the Trump administration’s eleventh-hour designation of Beijing’s anti-Uyghur campaign as a genocide in January. But it’s increasingly clear that that decision — reportedly made by then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo over the objections of the career officials on his legal team, and later endorsed by his successor Antony Blinken — has made all the difference in spurring more international action.
At least, that’s what Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, the Dutch member of parliament who authored the resolution that passed on Thursday, told National Review. His party had been following the developments out of China’s Western Xinjiang region for months, proposing legislation to call for various sanctions on those responsible. “When the U.S. and Canada moved, it made sense to follow suit,” Sjoerdsma said in a message the night of the vote.
If we are to take a lesson from last week’s votes, what stands out is that their condemnation of the CCP’s atrocities cut broadly across ideological lines. Although the U.S. determination was made by the executive branch with backing from both major parties, in both Ottawa and the Hague, political forces in the opposition made it a point to highlight their governments’ failures to hold China to account.
“It is shameful that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government refuse to call the horrific conduct by the Chinese Communist Party what it is, a genocide,” said Erin O’Toole, the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, during a news conference following the Canadian vote. (Trudeau and most of his government declined to show up for the vote.)
Sjoerdsma, who belongs to the center-left D66 party, had similar criticism of the ruling conservative VVD party, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “The VVD has always been slow to recognize that countries mistreating their citizens is not only a threat to the human rights we hold dear, but ultimately to the international order that provides us with the stability to flourish,” he told me.
Just as the list of political parties with an apparent interest in sweeping China’s mass atrocities under the rug crosses ideological boundaries, so too does the list of parties with a burning desire to acknowledge them.
Of course, it would be ideal if Trudeau and Rutte had led the way on these motions, bringing together cross-party coalitions determined to punish Beijing for its crimes. But the successful efforts of their respective parliamentary opponents are the next best thing, and suggest that more-concrete victories — e.g., enacting sanctions and boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are slated to take place in Beijing — could be won in the future.
It’s been a bit over a month since the U.S. became the first country in the world to officially call the CCP’s targeting of the Uyghurs genocide, and its related targeting of all of Xinjiang’s Turkic minorities crimes against humanity. Other countries might now take that initial signal, as well as the Canadian and Dutch votes, as reason to finally do the same.
For weeks now, the British parliament has been considering a “genocide amendment,” which would allow British courts to make a determination that genocide is taking place. That fight has pitted rebel Tory MPs against Boris Johnson’s government, which worries that such a determination could legally prohibit the ratification of new trade deals with China. Johnson, who has a long record of promoting strong trade ties with Beijing, recently faced criticism for calling himself “fervently Sinophile.” And though his government condemned China’s Uyghur atrocities at the U.N. Human Rights Council last week, it has proposed a milder alternative to the rebel MPs’ proposal in an effort to protect those ties.
“It’s not like the Cold War where you could simply say, ‘Well, Russia [is] bad [so] we don’t need to deal with Russia,’” Charles Parton, a former British diplomat and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told National Review. But, he added that the U.S., Canadian, and Dutch moves could increase the pressure on Johnson to act more forcefully. “I don’t think our government wants to be seen to be too far out on a limb when it comes to something as nasty as genocide.”
With similar discussions taking place in the Belgian and Australian parliaments, neglecting to call Beijing’s perfidies genocide and act accordingly might soon make a developed country an outlier amongst its peers. Better late than never.