A Uighur family pray at the grave of a loved one in Turpan County, Xinjiang. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

If Ardern means what she said at the UN, she’ll stand up to China on Xinjiang

The prime minister must swiftly condemn China on its mass detention of minority groups if her UN speech talking up the virtues of kindness and justice is to hold credibility, writes Newshub’s Rebecca Watson

Latest estimates say China has put as many as one million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minority groups from the northwestern Xinjiang province into re-education camps. Uighurs living overseas say they have lost all contact with family members back home, or were told never to call again for fear it will arouse suspicion among the authorities.

Leaving your ID at home, visiting a mosque or being suspected of wanting to travel abroad is enough to get you sent away without trial, according to those who have been detained. Detainees’ children are put in state-run orphanages.

China says the camps teach detainees vocational skills and combat terrorism by educating those who might otherwise consider joining terror groups.

The region has been rocked by sporadic terror attacks by separatist Uighur groups in recent years. But those who have been in the camps describe cruel treatment. Former detainees have described being shackled to beds, beatings and endless brainwashing.

Despite reports of abuse in the camps coming thick and fast for months now, our government has stayed quiet on a crisis some are calling ethnic cleansing.

In a Stuff article published on Wednesday, Uighurs living in New Zealand talked about losing contact with family in Xinjiang. Neither Jacinda Ardern nor Foreign Minister Winston Peters commented on the issue.

Ardern and Peters have not yet responded to requests for comment from Newshub either.

National’s foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay was even more abysmal on the issue, parroting the Chinese government’s description of the camps as “vocational centres” and saying it was a “domestic matter”.

In September, Ardern told Newsroom she raised human rights concerns with visiting Guangdong Province Party Secretary Li Xi, with the plight of the Uighurs included under that banner.

But other countries are doing more than raising concerns. On Wednesday (NZT), Germany, France, Australia and the US called on China to close the camps.

The US said it was “alarmed” by the crackdown and called on China to “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention”.

Ardern told the world through her United Nations General Assembly speech it was more important than ever to remember “everyone is entitled to have their dignity and human rights respected”.

Her speech caught the attention of the world. Now she must show she’s prepared to act on her words.

Rebecca Watson is Newshub’s news editor and lived in Xinjiang for a year in 2013-2014.

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