‘If the Tokyo Olympics could be postponed for a pandemic, the Beijing Olympics can be postponed for a genocide
In response to mounting concerns about genocide and slave labour, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban all imports from China’s Xinjiang province. Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, is the homeland of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group that China is currently eradicating through concentration camps, torture and mass surveillance . China recently began using the Uyghurs as slaves to produce exports for the international market.
In a phone interview, Housakos said, “I hope my bill is the first clear and unequivocal message from a G7 country that asserts that we will no longer tolerate China’s egregious human rights abuses. We will use the leverage we have, which is access to our wealthy consumer markets.” Canada’s current legislation to ban goods produced through slave labour is ineffective, a sentiment echoed by MPs across all political parties.
Brunelle-Duceppe intends to put forward a bill in December that will ask Canada to make these demands as well, noting that his parliamentary contacts in the United States and United Kingdom have been applying similar pressure in their respective countries. “If the Tokyo Olympics could be postponed for a pandemic, the Beijing Olympics can be postponed for a genocide,” he said in an interview.
Momentum to boycott the Olympics has grown since Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai disappeared after accusing a former high-ranking Communist party politico of sexual coercion. While it’s depressing that a genocide incited less of a response than a tennis star, at least Peng’s disappearance is prompting people to now pay attention to China’s human rights abuses.
This is a welcome but long overdue development, given that Trudeau and most of his cabinet refused to even acknowledge the existence of the Uyghur genocide in a parliamentary vote last February .
It is sad, though, that much of the burden of opposing an obvious and egregious injustice has fallen on the shoulders of opposition politicians — but this is what happens when a government prioritizes the aesthetic of social justice over real advocacy. Perhaps the Uyghurs would find more support if Trudeau could find a way to be photographed crying over their bones.
The Trudeau government’s passivity in the face of genocide is not only morally contemptible, it is also legally questionable.
Sarah Teich, an international human rights lawyer and legal advisor to the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project (URAP), says, “Canada has ratified several treaties that impose international legal obligations to suppress and eliminate forced labour. Canada is also a state party to the UN Genocide Convention, which means that it is obligated not just to not commit genocide, but also to prevent genocide.”
When it comes to standing up for the Uyghurs, Teich says, “This isn’t something nice that we should do; it’s something that we must do.”
Since then, he has pushed parliamentarians to understand the crisis by making them listen to witnesses, experts and survivor testimony . Though awareness of the genocide has been increasing over time, Tohti says that he is tired of verbal expressions of concern and argues that awareness must be followed by action. “The Canadian government hasn’t taken any serious steps to address or fulfill its international legal obligations,” Tohti says.
The Senator’s approach to China creatively inverts the status quo. Typically, China uses threats of economic retaliation to punish countries that disobey it, because the underlying assumption is that no one wants to be cut off from the world’s second largest economy. However, Housakos notes that China has as much, if not more, to lose by alienating wealthy markets that drive its export-based economy.
This reinterpretation of trade politics is evidently workable. For example, after Australia consistently stood up to China’s bellicose foreign policy, China retaliated with punitive export restrictions that cost Australia’s economy billions of dollars. Australia simply absorbed the cost, losing only 0.5 per cent of its GDP.
Though Australia resisted China’s coercion, it was unable to meaningfully punish China for its misbehaviour, aside from the incident being highly embarrassing to Beijing. Yet it showed that when it comes to trade politics, conflict with China is not as one-sided as many once thought.
Though Canada cannot, by itself, impose significant costs on China, it can signal to other countries that targeted trade restrictions are possible and useful. If enough countries come together to cut off East Turkestan’s exports, withering the market for Uyghur slave goods, then that, in conjunction with boycotts of the Olympics, may finally send a message to China that ethnic cleansing has consequences.