Can denouncing the genocide of the Uyghurs change the situation?

“Chinese propaganda is losing its force”

André Gattolin, senator La République en Marche (LREM) from Hauts-de-Seine

From a legal point of view, the value of this resolution is limited, without binding scope: it is not a text of law. As the communist group that abstained said, it is up to a court of justice to rule on a possible crime of genocide against the Uyghurs committed by the Beijing regime, and not to the deputies.

However, at the political level, the National Assembly not only “officially recognizes the violence perpetrated by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide”, but she ” sentenced “.

→ THE FACTS. The National Assembly denounces the “genocide” of the Uyghurs by China

This is an extremely strong position. Especially since it was supported by an opposition group, the PS, and almost everyone rallied behind this text, even the majority party. The government will not be able to ignore this near-unanimity, and in the first place the mobilization of LREM. We can expect a change of gear from the executive in its relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In the Senate, we are preparing to adopt a similar text. The awareness of French political leaders about the nature of the regime in Beijing and the nature of the crime it is committing against the Uyghurs is general. It marks the end of our naivety about China, its actions and its ambition.

From now on, our diplomatic, economic and academic relations with her will be made knowingly. Admittedly, this will not deter large French companies or universities from trading, working, collaborating with Beijing, but it will no longer be as if nothing had happened.

For China, it will now be less easy to settle in France, in our territories. She will encounter more resistance because her interlocutors will be less naive. Besides, his reaction is quite moderate, less violent than before. It is held by the Winter Olympics: this is not the time for Beijing to get angry with foreigners who risk boycotting it and tarnishing the influence of its Olympics.

If the resolution of the National Assembly will not concretely change the fate of the Uyghurs, they score points in the battle of images, stories: they are gaining in popularity and benevolence, even in the least Islamophile circles in France and in West. Chinese propaganda which presents them as “terrorists”, from “Islamic radicals” loses its strength.

Finally, the gesture of the National Assembly has an echo beyond our borders: it strengthens the position of the States which have recognized the genocide perpetrated against the Uyghurs, in particular within the European Union. Belgium is at the forefront in this fight and could soon be joined by Germany. The conditions for a possible domino effect are in place.

“This is a worrying message for the Chinese”

Antoine Bondaz, researcher specializing in China at the Foundation for Strategic Research

This resolution adopted by the deputies is certainly a symbolic text. It is nonetheless a worrying message for China. First of all because the text was adopted almost unanimously, including therefore by the majority, which makes it a significant vote on the political level.

That a country like France, not aligned with the United States, votes for such a text, could encourage other democratic states less close to Washington than the United Kingdom or Canada, for example, to do so. This possible ripple effect would be problematic for China. Beijing has also reacted sharply, anxious that the situation in its regard does not escalate.

→ DEBATE. Uyghurs: should we boycott the Olympics in a country suspected of genocide?

However, this resolution could strengthen the mobilization of civil society – which had pushed elected officials to take up the subject – and ultimately force the executive to speak out more openly, and at the highest level, on the crimes that the Uyghurs suffer, even if the latter will not use the qualifier of genocide, which is not its fate. There should not, however, be a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, a boycott which the President had described as “very small and symbolic”. The question of France’s level of representation nevertheless remains open.

Finally, this resolution accelerates and reinforces certain French objectives, in particular concerning the fight against forced labour. The aim is to have companies adopt the famous duty of vigilance – which must ensure that they do not resort to forced labor – at European or international level in order to prevent large countries from becoming complicit or benefit directly or indirectly from the situation in Xinjiang.

The fate reserved for the Uyghurs will not be changed for all that. We have no leverage to stop human rights violations and close the camps in Xinjiang. No referral to the International Criminal Court or any other step can be taken at the UN level; China, a permanent member of the Security Council, would oppose it.

→ ANALYSIS. Uyghurs: Amnesty denounces “crimes against humanity”

The measures therefore remain limited and partly hypocritical. In March 2020, the EU imposed sanctions on four Xinjiang leaders. But the region’s party secretary has not been sanctioned, let alone the leaders at the highest central level. The United States has adopted the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act”, which notably blocks exports from Xinjiang. But the impact on the Chinese economy remains weak and trade “as usual” continues with China.

Given the level of dependence with China, no state is ready for heavy sanctions. But the question arises, from the moment you denounce crimes against humanity and genocide, is it possible to pursue normal relations with the incriminated State?


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