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Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch published its World Report on events during 2018. In its chapter on China it highlighted many ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Below is an extract setting out some of its concerns:

Human rights defenders continue to endure arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance. The government maintains tight control over the internet, mass media, and academia. Authorities stepped up their persecution of religious communities, including prohibitions on Islam in Xinjiang, suppression of Christians in Henan province, and increasing scrutiny of Hui Muslims in Ningxia.   

Authorities increasingly deploy mass surveillance systems to tighten control over society. In 2018, the government continued to collect, on a mass scale, biometrics including DNA and voice samples; use such biometrics for automated surveillance purposes; develop a nationwide reward and punishment system known as the “social credit system”; and develop and apply “big data” policing programs aimed at preventing dissent. All of these systems are being deployed without effective privacy protections in law or in practice, and often people are unaware that their data is being gathered, or how it is used or stored.

Highlighted in the report was “repression and systematic abuses against the 13 million Turkic Muslims, including Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.” Human rights groups have documented mass imprisonment there in so-called ‘re-education’ camps. Western governments, including the UK, have expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang in recent months.

Concerns about China’s human rights record extend beyond what it does to its own citizens to its efforts to prevent meaningful international scrutiny, including at the United Nations. Human Rights Watch recently said that Chinese officials are

working assiduously to weaken or block key human rights reviews at the United Nations, ease important standards, and ensure only praise for its rights record. Few, if any, senior U.N. officials broach the Chinese government’s human rights record when visiting China or meeting with Chinese leaders.

China remains a human rights ‘priority country’ for the UK. But critics argue that – with trade and investment becoming more important for a post-Brexit Britain – the UK’s performance on human rights in China has been “weak and pusillanimous” in practice.

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