BEIJING: China said on Wednesday that it would defend itself against a British government demand that companies ensure their supply chains are free from forced labour linked to the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang or face punishing fines.
The comment came after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said officials have issued guidance to British firms with ties to Xinjiang on how to carry out due diligence checks.
The government intends to exclude suppliers and review export controls to prevent the shipping of any goods that could contribute to such violations in Xinjiang, where China is accused of widespread rights violations against Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.
China denies allegations of rights abuses and forced labour, saying it aims only to raise incomes among minorities and stamp out radicalism.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China would “take all necessary measures to defend national interests and dignity and firmly safeguard its sovereign, security and development interests.”
“Individual countries including the UK have funded, concocted and deliberately spread lies and rumours to smear and discredit China on the pretext of so-called human rights issues,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing. “It fully exposes their hypocrisy and sinister intentions to curb the development and progress of Xinjiang and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
In his announcement, Raab said Britain sought to ensure that “no company that profits from forced labour in Xinjiang can do business in the UK, and that no UK business is involved in their supply chains.”
He said mounting evidence, including first-hand testimony and reports from nonprofit groups, supports claims of unlawful mass detention in internment camps in Xinjiang, widespread forced labour and forced sterilisation of women on an “industrial scale.”
The evidence “paints a harrowing picture” and showed the practice of “barbarism we had hoped lost to another era,” Raab said.
China has denied mass internments of Uighurs, saying it merely operated voluntary centres for de-radicalisation and job training and that all participants have since “graduated”.
China says its policies in the vast, resource-rich region abutting several Central Asian countries have put an end to anti-government violence that claimed thousands of lives over recent years.