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European and British officials plan to meet the governor of China’s Xinjiang region this month, prompting angry reactions from lawmakers and Uyghur dissidents.
EU diplomats were this week mulling an invitation from the Chinese mission to the EU for a February 21 meeting with Erkin Tuniyaz, according to two officials with knowledge of his visit.
According to an official, Tuniyaz, who has been personally authorized by the US, is also seeking a meeting with the EU’s diplomatic service.
Tuniyaz has held senior positions in the Xinjiang government for nearly 15 years.
His plans to visit Europe come less than half a year after the United Nations human rights body found that China had committed “serious human rights violations” against the Uyghur Muslim community, adding that such acts were potential crimes against humanity. In 2018, the United Nations said 1 million Uighurs had been sent to “massive internment camps” for political persuasion.
Beijing has dismissed claims of genocide as a “delusion”, saying its Xinjiang policy is based on counter-terrorism imperatives, as well as promotion of the local economy.
“While engagement with the People’s Republic of China is generally necessary, we strongly question the wisdom of formally meeting with someone personally involved in the persecution of Uyghurs,” said Reinhard Buttikofer and Miriam Lexmann, European Parliament lawmakers and co-chairs of Inter. China’s Parliamentary Alliance said this in a statement.
“Governor Tuniaz bears responsibility for building and implementing an architecture of repression in the region, which amounts to a crime against humanity,” the MEPs added. “It would send a wrong signal to engage with Governor Tuniaz during his official visit to Brussels.”
Uighur dissidents echoed those comments.
“I was horrified to learn that we were invited to the meeting before Erkin Tuniyaz’s trip to Europe,” said Jumrete Erkin, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a dissident group. “It is despicable that any respectable government would invite a perpetrator of genocide to a meeting. It is disrespectful to the Uyghur community worldwide.”
The Chinese foreign ministry and the EU did not respond to requests for comment.
Tuniyaz is expected to arrive in London next week, followed by a visit to Brussels between February 19 and 21.
British and Belgian activists are threatening to take legal action against Tuniaz if he lands on European soil.
“If his visit still goes ahead as planned in the coming days, I will formally request a public trial for his role. [the] Very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang,” said Samuel Kogolati, a Belgian lawmaker, adding that he would urge Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib to “withdraw any possible official invitation”. Belgium’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Belgium’s parliament has passed a resolution warning of a “serious risk of genocide” in Xinjiang in 2021.
Details of Tuniyaz’s trip are known in the form of a leaked email sent from the British Foreign Office to local staff, seeking their views ahead of a formal meeting with the Xinjiang official.
“The governor of Xinjiang plans to visit the UK next week, followed by other European countries. We’re told he wants to meet with various stakeholders to discuss the situation in Xinjiang. We have agreed to meet with him at a senior official level, and would like to use the opportunity to press for a change in China’s approach and to request specific issues, including individual cases,” said the email, seen by POLITICO and first reported by The Guardian.
“We are really keen to make the most of this opportunity to push for real change on the ground,” the Foreign Office email added.