We now move to a motion on human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim population and other minority groups in China.
Ireland-China Relations: Motion
"That Seanad Éireann: acknowledges that:
- Ireland has a proud history of supporting the protection of human rights across the world, particularly in developing countries;
- the free profession and practice of religion is a cornerstone of Irish society and is enshrined in our Constitution;
- Ireland has maintained good diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China since 1979;
- in 2019, Ireland imported some €5 billion worth of goods from China, and exported €8 billion to China;
- Ireland was elected to the United Nations Security Council in June 2020;
notes with concern the continuing reports of egregious human rights violations perpetrated by authorities of the People’s Republic of China against members of the Uyghur Muslim population and against other minority groups in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which include:
- the mass arrest and internment of at least one million people on arbitrary grounds without due process;
- physical and psychological abuse of those detained, including torture and forced labour;
- the forced separation of children from their families;
- forced re-education of children to compel them to abandon their language and culture;
- sustained surveillance and intimidation against the wider population;
- coercion of women to undergo abortions, sterilisations, and the insertion of intrauterine devices under threat of arrest and internment, as a means of controlling the population of the minority groups;
- sustained attacks upon the culture, language and religion of minority groups;
and calls on the Government to:
- condemn these practices unreservedly;
- call on the People’s Republic of China to bring to an immediate end to these practices and to allow United Nations human rights monitors to access detention centres in the region; and
- use all available trade and diplomatic channels, including the United Nations Security Council, to insist on the observance of basic human rights protections for the Uyghur Muslim population and for all citizens of the People’s Republic of China."
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Colm Brophy, to the House. The persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China has horrified the world. Many of the facts exposed in recent years by the leak of the so-called “China Cables” are already on the record of the House and the Dáil but some of the details are worth repeating.
Religious persecution began in Xinjiang in 2014 with petty laws banning the wearing of beards and headscarves and preventing parents from giving their children Muslim names, such as Mohammed. This quickly escalated into the destruction of mosques and Muslim cemeteries. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently produced a study of satellite imagery that shows thousands of mosques – some 30% of the total in the region - have been destroyed since 2017.
The construction of detention camps began in 2014 and was denied by China until 2018. China refers to the camps as vocational education and training centres. They are anything but. One million people are in these camps, which is 10% of the entire Uyghur population of Xinjiang. It is the greatest mass detention of human beings since the Holocaust. Detainees are forced to abandon their language and religion, and are routinely tortured. Children are separated from their parents. Outside the camps, citizens are subjected to widespread surveillance. Women are forced to undergo abortions, sterilisations, and other procedures. The aim of these policies is to reduce the Uyghur population and in that China has succeeded. The birth rate in Xinjiang dropped by one third in 2018 alone. China says that its activities in Xinjiang are a measured response to terrorist activity by Uyghur militants. The reality is that China is attempting to commit cultural genocide and to erase the Uyghur people and its culture from the region.
I acknowledge that the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, have said much more than most countries about this problem. In July 2019, Ireland was among 22 signatories of a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council, which condemned these practices in strong terms. China responded to the joint letter by leveraging its economic influence over 50 countries to get them to issue statements supporting its actions in Xinjiang. We see here a consistent pattern whereby China exerts its economic influence, appeals to authoritarian governments and stresses issues such as sovereignty to get countries to back up its denials of what it is doing and reject the expression of concern internationally.
We have all become familiar with the term “cancel culture” in recent years, where public figures or companies are brought to heel, usually on social media, for saying or doing something objectionable. The Chinese do cancel culture better than anybody else. It has been at the core of their diplomatic strategy for decades, to bend countries to their will on issues like Tibet or their treatment of Christians. I noted recently that Mercedes-Benz had linked at one point to a reference to the Dalai Lama on Instagram. This occurred in the United States. The company ended up apologising for this because of the pressure that was brought. This is happening all over the world. Companies are succumbing to Chinese bullying and to mass outrage expressed on Weibo and other platforms.
China's most successful efforts have been in relation to Taiwan, or “Taiwan, China” as China insists we refer to that place. China has successfully bullied the international community into marginalising Taiwan for decades. Despite being one of the most successful countries in fighting Covid-19, Taiwan is not a member of the World Health Organization for the sole reason that China has an informal veto in place, which the international community refuses to challenge. This is part of the reason the motion stresses that Ireland must use its trade as well as diplomatic channels in roundly condemning Chinese abuses in Xinjiang. The experience of Taiwan is instructive. I have great admiration for our Ceann Comhairle but about two years ago, he wrote to Deputies stressing that the "One China" policy was in place. Ireland has adhered to the One China policy since 1971. The Ceann Comhairle stressed that politicians who were visiting Taiwan should bear in mind Ireland's strengthening economic and cultural links with China. I do not know of any other country in the world that would put this kind of pressure on a Government, in this case the Irish Government and the Ceann Comhairle, to communicate a message like that to Deputies. This approach and the same tactics are now being used by China to silence the international community in relation to Uyghur Muslims and the other minorities in that area, and this campaign is likely to escalate.
Ireland has enjoyed reasonably good relations with China since 1979 and there has been steady growth in the value of our trade. In 2019, we imported some €5 billion worth of goods from China and exported €8 billion in goods to China. In proposing this motion, I anticipated concern or resistance from the Government to the idea of connecting our human rights policies with trade, as the motion does. I am glad the Government is not opposing the motion today, although I know it has particular concerns. The point is that there cannot be a Chinese wall between our trade agenda for China and our human rights agenda internationally. We cannot sacrifice human rights on the altar of trade with China or any other country.
Can our views on the protection of human rights and human life be qualified or be subject to caveat based on selfish economic interests?
They simply cannot. We must find other ways of dealing with the world.
Trade is a competence of the European Union, and it is correct that we have no power to place tariffs on Chinese imports, impose any kind of sanctions or do anything of that nature. The Government and its agencies retain the power, however, to influence EU policy in these matters and the power to decide to whom we market our goods and services, and we spend a great deal of money doing so. There have been several trade missions in recent years led by Ministers, including Deputy Humphreys, the former Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and Deputy Creed, the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine. The Government cannot push all of the responsibility onto Brussels. This is what we do.
We must ask, therefore, should we be satisfied with a situation where our Ministers and our State agencies wine and dine Chinese officials, paid for by taxpayers' money, while the Chinese regime engages in these unimaginable practices against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. I would like the Minister of State to address that point. Should we not instead find alternative sources of imports and alternative markets for our exports? We should, of course. This House has spent an inordinate amount of time debating imports from Israeli settlements, which total no more than €1.5 million per annum. We import 3,000 times as much from China, yet very little has ever been said about that.
We cannot pretend either that China's behaviour is not going to continue to get worse, so it simply has to be met head on. The Chinese Communist Party has made it clear that it worships at the altar of two false idols: international prestige and legitimacy on the one hand, and money on the other. With that in mind, should the international community begin to speak to China in language it understands? Should the European Union, together with the United States, begin working to lead an international effort to disengage from China for as long as human rights abuses on this scale continue? Should Ireland be leading the charge for those calls within the EU?
The EU currently has trade sanctions in place against various countries, including North Korea, Syria and Myanmar. These are all low-hanging fruit, easy targets, because the EU hardly exports to them, and they pose no threat to us. Are we to believe that the treatment of civilians in North Korea and Syria or the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is more abhorrent than the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and therefore more deserving of sanctions? Nobody could say such a thing with a straight face, and yet China remains untouched by the EU so far.
China’s stock response to this issue has been to deny, deny and to deny. Most of us in the House will have seen footage of the detention camps, of people being led away, blindfolded, from those camps, and the Chinese ambassador coming on television simply to deny what people's own eyes are telling them is true. Xi Jinping, the President of China, gave a pious lecture to the UN General Assembly on 22 September last, saying that:
... countries should not breach the moral standard and should comply with international norms. Major countries should act like major countries.
What hypocrisy and what cant that was.
The treatment of the Uyghur people tells us much about the mentality of the Chinese Communist Party. In a country of 1.4 billion people, life is cheap and human rights mean little or nothing. Edmund Burke said that the use of the penal laws to persecute Catholics in Ireland was "the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself". These sentiments apply exactly to the motivations of China and to the actions of that country. The aim is to dehumanise the Uyghurs and other minority groups, to rob them of their dignity and to extinguish their culture. Those, after all, are the end goals of communism and extreme left-wing politics in all its forms – to extinguish the human spirit, to demand conformity in all things and to suborn the personal, individual spirit to the overriding demands of the state and the identity of the state. This House and the Government need to send the strongest possible message that all of this is reprehensible, and we need to use every possible means at our disposal to try to bring all this to an end.
I was at a conference last year that was addressed by Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong and by Mr. Martin Lee, the father of democracy in Hong Kong, who has recently been arrested for his role in protests against what China has been doing in Hong Kong. Even at that relatively low-level, low-key conference-----
The Senator will have an opportunity to come back in later.
I finish by stating that there was tremendous pressure to withdraw the invitation to Mr. Zen, as the Chinese designated the cardinal, and Mr. Lee. I was struck by the thought that if this is what China is like now, what will it be like in 20 years?
I am sorry to interrupt Senator Mullen, but we want to keep to the time slots. I call Senator McDowell to second the motion.
I second the motion put forward by Senator Mullen. I agree with everything he said. Earlier this year, I was privileged to be invited by the Government of Taipei to witness the elections in that country, which were conducted in January. I visited Taipei for the first time then, even though I have always supported the people of Taiwan in their desire to be free and to be free from communist tyranny.
What I found in Taipei was a hard-working, free and democratic society of happy people who had freedom of speech, freedom of conviction, freedom of religion and freedom to go about their business every day as they wished within an orderly, democratic society. What is happening in the province of Xinjiang, as Senator Mullen has so vividly described, is shocking. An entire ethnic national component of greater China is being ground down to nothing in camps which are euphemistically called education and training camps. Not since Arbeit macht frei was cynically written on the gates of German concentration camps has any set of camps ever been so misdescribed. Every day, the Uyghur people face video surveillance of their streets, confiscation of their passports, complete interdiction of their capacity to communicate with anyone outside of China, arbitrary detention, and so-called re-education, which Dr. David O'Brien, a distinguished academic based at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, has described as totally fraudulent activity as far as its portrayal by official China is concerned.
Millions of people are brought into these camps, where their families are broken up. Children are sent to orphanages, where they are taught to speak Mandarin Chinese. People are re-educated so that their so-called bad tendencies, which usually means the adoption of Uyghur culture, giving their children Uyghur names and exercising their rights to practise their Muslim faith, are educated out of them. These people are shipped around China in trains. They are shipped to be cheap labour for enterprises, as determined by the Beijing Government. These people are subject, as Senator Mullen has said, to a regime which effectively deprives them of the capacity to determine the size of their own families, with some having been subjected to sterilisation, while others have been bullied into abortions.
As Senator Mullen has said, the result is that the birth rate in Xinjiang province is collapsing. This is a result of a deliberate policy of the Beijing Government. Senator Mullen was very kind in his reference to the Ceann Comhairle, who wrote not only to Deputies but to Members of both Houses. He laid it on fairly heavily that any association of any kind whatsoever with the Taiwan Government would, in some respects, amount to a serious endangerment of Ireland's policy goals with regard to its relationship with the People's Republic of China. I reject that advice. I believe Senator Mullen is correct. If wolf warrior Chinese diplomats can use economic power to threaten and cajole other people in the world into subjection and silence on these matters, we should be willing to take a stance regardless of any cold winds from Beijing with regard to exports of agricultural produce and the like to that country.
I will not divert too much but it is slightly ironic that people in this country are saying that the economy is not everything - and they are right, it is not everything although it is important - while the Government seems to regard the economy as everything when it comes to Beijing. That is very strange. I presume we sought a seat on the UN Security Council to project our values and to have a voice at the top table of international diplomacy. Having obtained the honour of being on the UN Security Council for a term, we should use our enhanced standing to make it very clear that we condemn outright what the People's Republic of China is doing to its Uyghur minority.
I will make the following point again publicly. When I was in Taiwan, I visited and had conversations with a number of diplomats. Nearly every major state in the European Union has a representative office in Taiwan. Ireland is afraid to establish one. The European Union itself has a representative office in Taipei. I am sorry to inform the House that I learned there that Ireland effectively fights shy of any engagement with that office. It does not use that office or associate with it. It is afraid to be seen to interact with it in the same way other member states feel free to.
If we are to be at all driven by our values in our external relations, we have to be conscious of the huge injustice involving not only cultural genocide, but racial elimination, that is going on in Xinjiang. Although there are not ovens and gas chambers there, there is everything short of them. These people are being deprived of every possible human right. It is therefore a great honour to be invited by Senator Mullen to second his motion. I commend the motion to the House.
I remind Members to be careful about referring to people who are not in the House. There are rules and regulations by which I have to go and I just want to point that provision out to Members. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House. He has 15 minutes.
I am pleased to join Members in the Upper House this afternoon and to contribute to this important debate. I thank Senators Mullen and McDowell for bringing this matter to the attention of the Seanad. The situation in Xinjiang is of great importance and it deserves attention in Ireland and in the Oireachtas.
The Senators are right in highlighting Ireland’s proud history of supporting the protection of human rights across the world. It remains a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy and in my contribution I will set out where Ireland has been active on this particular issue.
The motion notes that freedom of religious belief is enshrined in our Constitution. For many of our citizens, religious faith is a cornerstone of their lives and they could not imagine nor countenance this aspect of their lives being impinged upon by the State. Yet, we have seen reports of just such occurrences in Xinjiang. Additionally, there are very worrying reports of arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance, forced labour and even forced sterilisations and birth control in the region. The Senators have alluded to these matters in their contributions.
For many of us in Ireland, the reports from Xinjiang carry unsettling echoes from our own history and it is clear from the level of media reporting and public concern, including here in the Oireachtas, that the situation in Xinjiang has struck a chord and is of increasing concern to Irish people.
It is also disappointing that this issue is impacting negatively on the positive and growing relationship between Ireland and China. The motion already outlines the level of trade between the two countries but there is much more to the engagement between us. The 2016 population census found that nearly 20,000 Irish residents identified themselves as being of Chinese ethnicity. In 2018, Tourism Ireland estimated that 100,000 Chinese tourists visited Ireland. In the same year, there were more than 3,500 Chinese students attending third level education in Ireland. These are real, concrete, person-to-person ties that can serve as a foundation from which to address our concerns with China. We should not forget that in the depths of the Covid-19 crisis earlier this year, China became an important and reliable source of personal protective equipment and other essential equipment for Ireland.
Our relationship with China has been a positive one and holds great potential for Ireland. Nevertheless, given the parallels with our own history and the centrality of our values, it is unsurprising that the situation in Xinjiang has been viewed with great concern in Ireland. It is in the nature of Irish people that when we see an issue such as this, we make our feelings known. It is not simply a question of raising our voices in protest, however. We must make our views known in a manner that has the prospect of improving the situation of the people of Xinjiang. We must also ensure that, in seeking to challenge Chinese policy in Xinjiang, we make it clear that we do not, in any way, seek to undermine Chinese sovereignty. Our motivation is a positive one. We are pro-human rights, not anti-China.
The House will recall that China has in recent years faced the threat of Islamic extremism, including the horrendous attack on Kunming railway station in 2014, during which 31 civilians were brutally stabbed to death. When the Chinese Government states that its actions in Xinjiang are in response to this threat, there is something behind it. However, in recognising the reality of terrorist threats in China and of the very real need for the Chinese Government to protect its citizens, we must not lose sight of their obligation to respond appropriately, proportionately and in a manner that respects the human rights of the Uyghur people. The reports we have seen suggest that this is not the case.
The best way to argue for a change in Chinese policy in Xinjiang is to engage with Chinese authorities and convey our position on we understand to be happening. It is also important that we work in co-operation with like-minded states. Along with our EU partners, Ireland has been vocal about highlighting the issue of the deterioration of the human rights situation in Xinjiang. This was most recently raised by EU leaders with the Chinese leadership on 14 September. Ireland fully supports this EU position and we see the EU as an effective platform for engagement with China on human rights issues.
We must also note the existing engagement Ireland has had at the UN on the issue of Xinjiang. This week, Ireland was one of 39 countries, including 20 from the EU, that made a joint statement on Xinjiang in the UN Third Committee. The statement was delivered by Germany, which currently sits alongside China on the Security Council, and expresses grave concern about:
the existence of a large network of “political re-education” camps where credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained. We have seen an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations. There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uyghur culture. Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labour and forced birth control including sterilization.
The statement calls on China "to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office". This is the latest expression of our concern and builds on previous occasions where Ireland has spoken up on this issue. In our national statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September, Ireland reiterated our deep concern regarding the treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and urged China to allow unrestricted access to the region for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Prior to this, Ireland was also one of 27 states to issue a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 30 June, which also called on the High Commissioner to provide regular information about the situation in the region.
Ireland previously supported a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October 2019, and a joint letter at the UN Human Rights Council in July 2019, which called for the Chinese Government to implement urgently eight recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination related to Xinjiang and to uphold its international obligations and respect human rights in Xinjiang.
We have supported calls for immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers because we believe that such a development would be in the interests of all parties. It would allow us to better understand what is happening in Xinjiang through reporting by neutral and non-partisan observers. The reports from Xinjiang carried by RTÉ last week were a fair attempt to present unbiased information to the Irish public. However, it was clear from those reports that Xinjiang is a very difficult location to access information. A more co-operative approach from the Chinese authorities might have helped allay some of our concerns. In contrast, the closed attitude and clear surveillance of the reporter only served to underline them. Ireland and the many other countries that feel strongly about Xinjiang will continue to raise the matter with China and will seek further opportunities to improve the situation of the Uyghurs.
The motion before the House includes a call for the Government to use all available trade and diplomatic channels to insist on the observance of basic human rights protections for the Uyghur Muslim population. I believe I have shown that the Government is indeed using all available diplomatic channels to advance this issue. However as Senators will know, particularly given the recent extensive coverage of Brexit, external trade falls under the European Union's common commercial policy and is an exclusive competence of the European Commission, not member states. It is not within the Irish Government’s power to prohibit or sanction the importation of goods and services at member state level. To introduce such measures on an EU-wide basis would require consensus among EU member states and I do not believe the political will for such a policy currently exists.
Additionally, we must be realistic about what trade measures can achieve, even if introduced at an EU level. Accordingly, I must dissociate the Government from that element of the motion before us that calls upon the Government to use all available trade channels in this matter. I believe that continued engagement, constructive but frank, is the best approach to raising our concerns and effecting real change. We must build upon the considerable common ground in the growing relationship between Ireland and China, as I set out earlier.
The Government takes the plight of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang seriously. We are concerned and we regularly express this concern to our Chinese counterparts in both bilateral and multilateral fora. Ireland has a wide-ranging relationship with China, which covers political, economic, cultural and people-to-people links. We share strong links in a number of areas, but there are nevertheless a number of differences in our relationship. This is clearly one. The protection and promotion of human rights remains a core pillar of Ireland’s foreign policy. In our bilateral relations with China and through our participation in multilateral organisations, Ireland will continue to pursue this matter and seek better protection of their human rights for the Uyghur people.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to address this issue. The Fianna Fáil Seanad group strongly supports the motion tabled by Senator Mullen. I certainly agree with the sentiment of the Minister of State that our foreign policy is pro-human rights and not anti-China and we want to develop strong and positive relations with China but the approach of the Chinese Communist Party, particularly to human rights and how it has treated the Uyghur people and minorities is nothing new. This is not something that has arrived and suddenly we have discovered that China is abusing human rights. If we look at China's record on other minority groups and take Tibet as an example, these re-education camps have existed in Tibet for a long time. The Tibetan language is banned and Tibetan culture is not allowed to be taught in Tibet. Approximately 500,000 Tibetans, mostly from rural areas, have been moved so the land can be cleared for lithium mining purposes. The Chinese Government is doing this. We have seen this for a long period. We have seen what is happening in Hong Kong where, as we know ever since Britain left, slowly but surely Chinese power has been asserted. We have seen freedom of the press and democracy constantly undermined and we have seen the arrest of activists such as Joshua Wong. This is a continuous record, and the approach to the Uyghur people and Kazakhs based in Xinjiang follows a long-standing Chinese Government policy that does not have an understanding of human rights.
I was particularly alarmed when Senator McDowell and I were on RTÉ radio and, as Senator McDowell will recall, the Chinese ambassador came on before us. His words were chilling. He was not even trying to make any excuses. He basically just denied that any of these activities were happening.
One of the things that motivated my interest in politics was seeing as a teenager in the late 1980s and into the 1990s the wonderful opening up in central and eastern Europe. However, we also saw what happened in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese Government still does not believe that forms part of its history. There is a continual record on the part of the Chinese Government of not recognising abuses of human rights and denying they ever happened.
I accept the approach of the Minister of State that it is better to engage and talk to China to try to convince it of the importance of respect for minorities but there comes a time, and I agree with the Minister of State's point that it has to come at multilateral level, including the European and global levels, when we need to say to China that its continued behaviour is not acceptable. In this regard, one of the reasons I am such a passionate European, as I know the Minister of State is also, is in a world that will be increasingly dominated by a G2 comprising the US and China, the only other powerful seat at the table will be the European Union. We have to use our soft power and our economic power to ensure human rights are respected.
A cause of serious concern is the fact that China sits on the UN Human Rights Council. I certainly hope that when it comes to the election of the members of the council in future Ireland will be insistent that the only countries that should sit on that body, and the only countries that should be involved in overseeing human rights at a global level, are those that are committed to protecting and defending human rights. I ask the Minister of State to take a strong line in this regard.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I thank Senators Mullen and McDowell for tabling this very important motion. A very realistic and grim picture of human rights abuses has been painted. When we think about families and communities and how they are impacted it is absolutely horrific. We cannot be silent in the face of this elaborate campaign of oppression and repression, religious discrimination and worse.
Ireland has very important cultural and trading links with the People's Republic of China.
Last year, in fact, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations. China is now our fifth-largest trading partner. In 2018, bilateral trade hit €17 billion in goods and services. That figure doubled during the preceding five years. We were the first major EU beef exporter to be granted access to the Chinese market and we sell dairy, seafood and Irish infant formula to China. It is interesting that there are 37 Chinese companies in Ireland employing more than 3,200 people. Pre-covid, Tourism Ireland aimed to increase the number of Chinese visitors to Ireland by 200,000 by 2025. The Irish Embassy estimates that there are 9,000 Irish citizens living in greater China.
So far, so good on the Sino-Irish relationship. Since there is a strong positive relationship, we have to use our voice where it is needed and where we can. This is absolutely one of those times. There has, rightly, been rising international disquiet about the mass internment of religious minorities in China, including the Muslim Uyghur minority. An estimated 1.5 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims are being subjected to mass arbitrary detention, forced political indoctrination, restrictions on movement and religious oppression, according to Human Rights Watch. Alleged attacks on women with a view to controlling the population are horrific in the extreme, as are allegations of forced labour and forced separation of children from their families. This is the largest mass incarceration since the Second World War and it is unthinkable in 2020. We must absolutely condemn what is happening to these people. We must call on the Chinese authorities to allow United Nations human rights monitors to access detention centres in the region. We must call on the People's Republic of China to bring an immediate end to these practices and we must use all of our trade and diplomatic channels to insist on the observance of basic human rights protections in China. We now have a seat on the UN Security Council. We have an opportunity to influence that organisation and the EU. We have a proud history of standing up to power and defending the vulnerable and we absolutely must use our voice now.
Now we move to Fine Gael. The spokesperson this week is Senator O'Reilly. You have eight minutes, Senator.
Thank you, Acting Chairman, for giving us advance notice so we know where we stand in terms of times, etc.
At the outset I welcome my good friend, the Minister of State. I know him personally and I know he is seriously and personally engaged with these issues and is genuinely attempting to deal with them.
I congratulate Senators Mullen and McDowell on the important motion and on raising this serious issue and on their excellent exposition of it. It is such a serious issue. They deserve the commendation and thanks of the House for that.
In essence, what we are talking about is 1 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang held in extra-legal detention camps. We have stories of torture, sterilisation and abortion, etc. It is shocking that these are euphemistically described as vocational training centres. People are held there against their will. This is resonant of what happened in the Second World War. It is shocking. Basically the only symptoms - to use that terrible terminology - or the only criminal dimension of the people held there is that they have certain personal cultural habits and they want to live freely with them.
Advanced technology is used to subdue the general Uyghur population in the province outside the detention centres as well as inside. We have all read about that.
Those of us who read about these things - all of us - are aware that we had a kind of gradualism in the Holocaust. It began with racism or anti-Semitism on the streets. It progressed to detention and then progressed horrifically and tragically to the actual holocaust or final solution. This is similar in the way it is unfolding. As Senator McDowell correctly said, there is no evidence of the horrific final product of the Second World War. At the same time, there is evidence of everything that led up to it. This is when international opinion needs to intervene strongly.
There are various sources of information, including the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, various journals and journalists and experts on China. There is unquestionable evidence that in fact the centres of detention are expanding in number and that there are sweeping charges and a range of trumped-up charges used against the people. Eager relatives abroad testify to their cousins and family in the province being held for ten to 15 years on trumped-up or ludicrous charges associated with their personal culture and dignity. Two thirds of mosques have been demolished in the province. As alluded to earlier by Senator Mullen and others, we have evidence of sterilisation and abortions. There is evidence of tragedy and obscene and vile happenings there. The case is unanswerable.
That begs the question of what we do. First of all, we must be an extraordinarily strong voice in Europe. I believe we must be very strong in Europe. If it came to it, and if we were not succeeding on a diplomatic level, then there should be a stronger multilateral approach from Europe in the area of trade and cultural exchanges, etc.
I put it to the Minister of State that we must be out in Europe calling for action and calling on the Chinese to reform and to undo this practice. While all of that must be the case with our European allies, we must be prepared to have the ultimate warning that we are prepared to go further, even at a level of economic cost.
It is important to read into the record quickly some of the initiatives we have taken as a state. I welcome them. I put it to the Minister of State that they are welcome but, at a minimum, we want them to continue and we want more to be done. Ireland was one of 39 states to sign a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee on 6 October. We also signed a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September. Ireland was one of 27 states to issue a joint statement of the UN Human Rights Council on 30 June. Ireland was one of 23 states to sign up to a joint statement on the UN General Assembly Third Committee in New York in October 2019. Ireland was one of 22 states to sign up to a joint letter at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in July 2019. Given the hyper-sensitivity of the Chinese regime to international opinion and to projecting, erroneously and tragically in the light of what we have discussed, a positive image, it is important that these exercises have something of a cautionary effect and show that there is a horror in the economic community.
I take and accept the point made by the Minister of State that with regard to the trade dimension, we must operate multilaterally in the context of the EU, and then we must take all the other initiatives we have done. I am happy we have been part of every international initiative but we must remain strong. I call on the Minister of State to ensure we are strong within Europe and threaten the nuclear option should it be needed, because this is intolerable. This also extends to Tibet and to thousands of Tibetans held illegally and wrongly in what are, effectively, slave labour camps, dislocated from their communities and moved around China. It is a collective horror. It is a great blemish on modern society and, as Senator O'Loughlin said, we all revel in and welcome our links with China. We are an outgoing people and obviously value trade with other countries. We value cultural exchange, reaching out and making the world smaller in that regard. It is our nature as a people but it cannot be at any price.
I commend the two Senators on the motion which I believe is extraordinarily important. If there were not enough depressing things in our contemporary society at the moment, it is depressing that we are here in the national Parliament in Ireland discussing a matter like this in 2020. It is very sad and it should not be the case. We must stand strongly against it.
Ar dtús báire, gabhaim leithscéal le moltóirí an rúin, an Seanadóir Mullen agus an Seanadóir McDowell. Bhí mé gafa ag vóta thíos staighre sa Choiste um Fhorfheidhmiú Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta. Tá ábhar agam os comhair an choiste sin. Cé go bhfuil mé ag fágáil roimh an gcuid eile den phlé, beidh Ball eile den ghrúpa seo againn anseo i m'áit.
The Minister of State is welcome for this debate on this important motion. I will begin by saying that Sinn Féin is deeply concerned about reports of the treatment of the Uyghur minority in China. The reports emanating from the Xinjiang region in China are deeply concerning and warrant urgent address. There are believed to be something like 1 million Uyghurs incarcerated currently. We will all have read or heard reports from organisations such as Amnesty International of the much more shocking treatments of this minority, and the UN has expressed its alarm at the situation. Like all minorities and all people, they should be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live their lives free from intimidation, discrimination or repression. That is the clear message from the Seanad today.
On our part, Sinn Féin will continue the campaign to highlight the plight of those who face persecution, who are subject to coercion in any form, and who continue to be denied basic human rights. Human rights are at the centre of Sinn Féin's political mission and are what republicanism should be all about. We have direct experience of what happens when a community is dominated by a political class which seeks to subjugate a people through discrimination, persecution and murder for economic, political, cultural and sectarian reasons. That is never acceptable and must never be tolerated no matter where it is. The principle that Ireland stands as a beacon light for justice, that we stand against oppression and intolerance and that we stand for human rights, dignity, freedom and diversity must be at the centre of this State's diplomatic efforts. Is féidir linn in Éirinn a bheith bródúil as an stair seo againn ag seasamh i ndlúthpháirtíocht le daoine ar fud an domhain atá ag streachailt ar son cearta, saoirse agus comhionannas.
The State's seat on the UN Security Council will only mean something if it is used to stand fully in support of repressed peoples around the world, including those in China but also in places like Palestine and anywhere else where injustice and human rights abuses prevail. That means taking action. It means using the diplomatic avenues available to us but it also means leading by example. With the greatest respect to the proposers of the motion, who I fully accept can only do so much in not having their hands on the levers of Government, it means doing more than just debating these issues. It means taking practical steps to support oppressed peoples. It means enacting legislation such as Senator Black's occupied territories Bill which I am proud was initiated in this House in the last term and stands in defence of people being subjected to apartheid and horrific injustices.
I thank the proposers of this motion, who I know feel incredibly passionate about this issue, and I commend colleagues who come into this Chamber in an effort to promote international solidarity, justice and human rights for all. Tá dualgas orainn go léir sin a dhéanamh agus a bheith mar ghlórtha ar son ceart agus córa fud fad na cruinne.
I thank the proposers again. I wish them every success and, again, my apologies for having to return to the committee for the rest of the debate.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House and thank him for taking this motion. I commend Senators Mullen and McDowell on initiating the motion. I am glad to support it on behalf of the Labour Party Senators and, indeed, we co-signed the motion along with other colleagues across the House. It is important that we do so to show solidarity with the Uyghur people and make these calls on the Government both to condemn unreservedly the oppression of the Uyghur population and to call on China to bring to an immediate end the practices we have been reading and hearing about and to allow UN human rights monitors to access detention centres in the region.
I acknowledge that in his speech the Minister of State made extensive reference to what the Irish Government has done. It would be useful to get a copy of the speech. I was scribbling away so I want to try to ensure I have taken it all down. We need to do more as a nation, particularly as we now have a seat on the Security Council, which means we have a responsibility to speak up and seek to put pressure on China insofar as we can as a small nation but also within the EU where we have a significant voice.
I also pay tribute to the reporting we have seen, as other colleagues have mentioned, particularly that of Yvonne Murray, whose reports for RTÉ from inside the region and on how she was treated by authorities in China have been absolutely chilling.
I express my thanks to Chloe Manahan in my office who did a lot of research for this when we were looking at this motion and the debate. I am aware there has been a recent focus and I have spoken about Yvonne Murray's reporting and recent reports, but of course there is a long legacy or history to the treatment of the Uyghur people. Colleagues will be aware that in 2014, six years ago, the Chinese Government created a comprehensive so-called national security legal architecture to begin or continue an oppression of Uyghur Muslims who comprise approximately 45% of the population in the Xinjiang autonomous region in China. I have visited China a couple of times and I am aware of the human rights abuses, as we all are. It is, however, quite visible when one is in China to see the sort of treatment that goes on, particularly in areas that are more remote from the big cities of Beijing and Shanghai on the coast.
We know since 2014 that the process of the abuse of rights of the Uyghur population has intensified. A set of discriminatory regulations on de-extremification were adopted in 2017 which had a serious effect on the Uyghur population, and of course, since 2014 as far as we know, there has been the beginning of the mass detention camps that others have spoken about and that were the focus of the recent reports on RTÉ. The misnomer, which Senator McDowell spoke about, that in China they are called centres for transformation through education and various other titles really does not hide or camouflage that these are really concentration camps and detention camps. Again, we have little clear information.
As others have said, there is a denial by the Chinese Government that the camps even exist and a denial as to the numbers of persons detained in them. Certainly, estimates I have seen suggest huge numbers of up to one million detainees. As far as we can establish there is no legal basis for the detention facilities and certainly no substantial legal basis that would stand up in international law. Those detained have no access, it seems, to legal advice. We understand that periods of detention are open-ended and can last for years. Release dates are at the discretion of the authorities. We have had testimonies and Amnesty International, for example, heard from one individual who was sent to a detention camp following a visit to Kazakhstan. He told Amnesty International he was hooded, shackled and forced to stand in a fixed position for hours when first detained, and he reported that thousands of others were held in the same camp as he was.
The significance of this motion is to shine a light on a very dark and murky region that is deliberately being kept in the dark, as China has been so reluctant to allow any sort of international scrutiny by the media or non-governmental organisations of what is being perpetrated upon the Uyghur people.
As I have said, it is very important that motions like this are debated in parliaments across the democratic world and the behaviour of the Chinese is condemned. Detaining people for indeterminate amounts of time without trial, apparently on the basis of ethnic or religious identity and where no crime or recognisable offence has been committed, as well as exposure to torture we have heard about from testimonies, constitute multiple human rights violations. Those who are suspected of violations should be brought to trial and there should be major pressure put on the Chinese Government to ensure the practices of oppression of the Uyghur population are discontinued.
As I have also said, the Irish Government must play a very strong role in ensuring this can happen. We all ask the Minister of State to convey the strong wishes across the floor of the Seanad that this be done, particularly given that we now have a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Ireland has a proud history, which has been mentioned by others, of using our status as a neutral country and our "soft power" to stand in solidarity with oppressed peoples. We did it against apartheid in the 1980s and I remember well partaking in that action as a student. We also have a strong tradition of advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people. Like others, I was proud to support Senator Frances Black's Bill in that regard and I ask the Minister of State to see that the Bill is progressed in the lifetime of this Government. That Bill would ban imports from the occupied territories and defend the rights of Palestinians. The Labour Party was proud to stand up with solidarity on those matters and we continue to do it with this matter.
I have always called for a separation of church and state and secularism is an important principle in a democracy and republic. Those who use it as a weapon through which to deny others the exercise of basic human rights, such as freedom of expression, religion and association, as well as freedom from persecution, must be condemned outright. They use secularism as a weapon, which I condemn.
The Green Party is delighted to support this Private Members' motion and we commend Senators Mullen and McDowell on bringing it before us. The grotesque scale of the breaches of human rights in China has been well documented. As Senator Malcolm Byrne noted, this did not just happen a few days ago and there is a track record of abuse. As previous speakers have noted, there are over 1 million Uyghurs in concentration camps, suffering assaults, surveillance, destruction of mosques, force-feeding of pork, abuse of the Koran and the subjecting of women to pregnancy tests and sterilisation. This could be out of a history copybook detailing events from the Second World War and other war abuses.
This is a very proportionately worded motion and I support it unequivocally and unreservedly. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, has noted, there is a 20,000-strong Chinese community in Ireland that has no hand, act or part in these actions. Many of them have escaped this tyranny in China. That very vibrant community enriches this country. As a global organisation, green parties have done well to attract many of these people. It was an easy fit for some of them and we are proud to have such Chinese involvement in support of our party.
We have 100,000 Chinese visitors every year and they are always very welcome here. As the Minister of State also notes, we also have an active education tourism element. I know Senators will not be deaf to what I am saying but although we condemn the actions outlined in the motion outright, China has taken amazing strides in public transport and renewable energy. The country plans to be carbon-neutral by 2060. China is recognised as a leader in solar and wind power, as well as electric and high-speed trains. All that could be for nought as there is a more fundamental issue at stake, which takes in basic human rights and respect for life.
As a Green Party member, I say that China's wonderful strides in green industries are not good enough. Its actions with the Uyghurs mean it is a disgrace to the world. It is so important that all democratic parliaments exercise their rights and voices. This country has a proud tradition in standing up to and calling out such abuses.
Where do we go from here and can we take any positives from this? First, it is a positive to shine a light on this matter and Senator Mullen has done that today. Could we invite the Chinese ambassador to address us in the House? Could we seek to have a delegation visit these mass detention camps and report to the democratic and free world? What else can we do? Could we agitate to a greater extent at EU level? Senator Mullen mentioned the involvement of Mercedes-Benz, which does not surprise me at all, as the Chinese and German Governments have at times been far too close. Germany, of all countries, should know better. Ireland boxes way above its diplomatic weight. Should our Taoiseach mention this to the person we might refer to as the president of the free world on St. Patrick's Day, when he has that privileged audience?
I am around long enough to know that Governments of yesteryear might have watered down this motion and I am so glad that did not happen. We discussed the matter at a Green Party Parliamentary Party meeting. I give some credit where it is due but we have not gone far enough today. We had a disassociation of wording, if not a full-blown amendment. I understand the realities of being in government and the balance that must be struck. Strides have been made and, like Senator Bacik, I look forward to reading the Minister of State's speech in greater detail. I go along with the vast majority of it, although that may be difficult. I know the Government has a diplomatic balance to strike.
The greatest challenge facing humanity is climate justice but the Government's efforts to strike a diplomatic balance will be for nought if our fellow human beings are losing freedom while their culture is being eradicated. I thank the Minister of State for the general thrust of his comments in saying we should keep an active eye on this. We must go from strength to strength and redouble our efforts in the coming weeks and months. We can do more and Ireland can be a force of positive good and change in getting the truth out there, shaming and calling out barbaric acts. I hope we will hear much more of this in the Upper House in the weeks, months and years to come.
Senator Black will begin our group's contribution and then we will share the remaining time.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I apologise as I missed the Minister of State's speech. I thank Senator Mullen for introducing this wonderful motion. What is happening to the Uyghur people of China is horrendous and Ireland has an obligation to highlight human rights abuses wherever they occur. As a member of the UN Security Council, we have a forum to raise the issue of the denial of human rights of the Uyghur population in China.
The mass incarceration and reported abuse of these detainees must be condemned. According to Amnesty International, up to 1 million predominantly Muslim ethnic minority people are being arbitrarily detained in "transformation through education" camps in China's north-western Xinjiang.
Among the detained are Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minority groups whose religious and cultural practices are central to their identity. The detentions appear to be part of an effort by the Chinese Government to wipe out religious beliefs and aspects of cultural identity to enforce political loyalty. Friends and relatives are cut off from information and do not know where their loved ones are. Now, they do not even feel safe outside China.
The Uyghurs living overseas are suffering from harassment and intimidation by the Chinese authorities. Around 400 people have told Amnesty International their stories recounting intrusive surveillance, intimidating phone calls and even death threats. Their family members in China are targeted to suppress their activism abroad.
This unfolding tragedy is well known by the United Nations, as well as influential governments such as the United States. Thus far, little has been done to prevent the Chinese Government from carrying out its concerted efforts in imprisoning and politically indoctrinating its Muslim populations. The Chinese Government is spending huge amounts of money in Xinjiang province where these ethnocidal horrors are taking place. These so-called re-education camps have been analysed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, ASPI. The ASPI examined 28 camps in Xinjiang but stated there may be as many as 1,200 across the entire region. Since 2016, the ASPI found an increase in growth of these camps by almost 470%.
In 1981, the Chinese signed on to and ratified the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but these camps clearly violate that law. Chinese officials heavily police the region, using surveillance cameras and security checkpoints, voice recordings and requiring identification cards of its mostly Uyghur population in Xinjiang. According to the most recent estimates, there are most likely 11 million Uyghurs and 1.6 million Kazakhs living in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
From the Human Rights Watch report we learn that the Chinese Government has arbitrarily detained its Muslim minority population, and not only this, these Turkic-Chinese Muslims have been abused, tortured and deprived of fair trials. The Chinese want to eliminate basic freedoms to practice religion among this population of Muslims who practice Islam. The re-education of these Turkic Muslims is meant to Sino-assimilate them with Chinese identities, scrubbing them of their religious identity.
The families of Uyghurs who have died while in detention were not allowed to bury their dead with Islamic blessings or ceremonies and were forced to bury their loved ones under military watch. How many more Muslim Chinese minorities need to be imprisoned before we say, "No more"? When should the UN Security Council act against China? When should the world begin imposing economic sanctions on China for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang?
I believe that the condemnation of abuses is futile. It is only when there are real consequences for human rights abuses that there will be any change in the Chinese treatment of these minorities. I agree with Senator Bacik that Ireland led the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. We can show solidarity for the Palestinian people by passing the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill. It is never too late.
I call on the Government to use Ireland's position on the UN Security Council to condemn China for these human rights abuses and to call on the Chinese Government to cease the inhumane treatment of these ethnic minorities.
As others have said, this issue is not new but it has intensified with very serious evidence of hundreds of new detention camps being built over the last two years. I commend the Senators on tabling the motion because it is exceptionally important, at a time when we have the coronavirus and other crises, that we do not lose sight of fundamental human rights principles and the importance of human rights in how we view our international diplomacy. When we talk about diplomacy, it is important to note the kind of diplomacy. Ireland has always been a champion of multilateral diplomacy, human rights, peace building as a neutral country, and the international politics of principle, as opposed to a politics of big powers and patronage. It is more vital than ever that we have international politics based on principles and human rights, rather than simply on big powers and patronage, some of which have become too big to question. It is very important that we would press and would have constructive conversations while retaining our championship of human rights principles.
Let us be very cautious in our use of language when stating this is a response to terrorism and so forth. We know, fundamentally, that there is no justification for mass incarceration and forced work or labour. The Geneva Conventions talk about collective punishment. There are huge UN principles that we need to champion at the UN Security Council, as well as in other spaces. There are conventions, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the associated Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD. There is the UN Convention Against Torture, given this hugely credible evidence of extraordinary torture that is taking place and targeted at the Uyghur population and other minority populations, including Kazakhs, in the Xinjiang region.
In terms of trade, the motion is well worded as it refers to "all available trade and diplomatic channels". There are channels in the European Union's trade policy. There are conventions and requirements in terms of human rights and trade policy. Those are the same possibilities, within EU trade law, that we spoke about when we championed the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill. We have very strong European Union legal opinion to the effect that measures can be taken around human rights violations. Of course, we would hope that Ireland will seek and encourage others across Europe to act together but let us use all that is available to us in that regard to move this issue forward.
I am glad to see that the Government is engaging with this matter constructively. Our tenure on the Security Council must be as a champion for human rights principles and multilateralism.
Reproductive rights is another core issue that I am passionate about and have advocated for. We have seen the very concerning reports from the Associated Press, The Guardian and others on forced sterilisation. Sexual and reproductive rights are a crucial part of our human rights infrastructure. Persons must have the right and bodily autonomy to determine and shape their families, as well as the freedom to practice religion or, indeed, for those without religion the freedom not to practice religion. It is vital that we protect those core principles and that Ireland champions them.
I hope that we continue to have cross-party engagement and that Members from all parties and none in both Houses work together on this issue.
As noted by one of the previous speakers, the motion refers to concerns about the Chinese Government. There are exceptional human rights advocates who are Chinese such as Ai Weiwei and others.
I commend the comment made about surveillance because we must examine it further. Surveillance is one of the reasons that we have raised general data protection regulation, GDPR, concerns in these Houses, as we wanted to ensure that wider policy around human rights and surveillance is addressed. I am glad to see that surveillance was included in the motion.
Finally, I commend the proposer of the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad and congratulate him on is appointment. I know that he will discharge his duties with great competence and professionalism.
I found myself in the most unexpected position, as a new Senator, of completely concurring with the motion proposed by Senator Mullen. I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity to put my name to the motion, for which I am grateful.
The motion has been sensitively crafted, addresses this serious matter and accurately reflects the appropriate responses on the part of our nation. When I watch programmes and read about the Holocaust and Shoah, I often wonder what I would have done. Would I have spoken up? What cost would I have been prepared to pay for the defence of human rights and dignity of fellow human beings? I like to think that I would have had the courage to speak up, regardless of consequences, be they trade or otherwise.
I have had the honour of visiting Rwanda and taught counselling skills to community leaders there to assist them in supporting their communities in the aftermath of genocide. I have seen at first hand the consequences when human life and rights are reduced so savagely that people are denied their very right to life, and their very way of life is despised and disposable.
The plight of the Uyghur Muslims is horrific. The accounts that we have heard are harrowing. I acknowledge the relatives of the Uyghur people here in Ireland, and their anxiety and mourning for the plight of their loved ones within China.
I note too that the EU has stated that if such appalling practices are confirmed, which would constitute serious human rights violations, they must be stopped immediately and those responsible held accountable. At the same time, I note the reports by the China scholar Adrian Zenz that there was a near-zero population growth in a Uyghur region of China, that growth rates fell by 84% between 2015 and 2018, and further in 2019, in the two largest Uyghur Muslim prefectures. In 2018, some 80% of all new IUD placements in China were performed in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the region only makes up 1.8% of the nation's population.
The EU added the word "if" and stopped short of calling this a genocide but I will not. We are observers of a genocide. What are we to do in the face of this horrific injustice and attempted racial obliteration? Let us be clear, this is the wiping out of men, women and children just because they happen to be born within a particular culture and religion.
The interview with the Chinese ambassador was chilling. In counselling we have a concept called gaslighting, which is defined as a cynical tactic in which a person or entity manipulates another in the hope of acquiring power to lead them to question reality. Gaslighting has five factors: lies, denial in the face of proof, manipulation of feelings towards a group of people against them, wearing down one's resolve and, suggesting that people's actions do not match their words. Irish people have a noble history of defending and speaking out for human rights. We are a people for whom genocide strikes a sensitive resonance. The denial of language, culture, religion and identity is within our collective memory. We now have an opportunity to call that out on the national and international stage. We must stand with the Uyghur people in China and with their relatives living among us in this country and signal our empathy in tangible terms in condemning the actions of China. I commend the proposer and the motion to the House.
I again thank the Minister of State. I am grateful to all of the Seanadóirí who took part in the debate today. Having listened to the Minister of State, I am very concerned. I worry that the Government's approach to this debate today and to the issue generally is one of a nod to Geneva but a wink to Beijing at the same time. There is no sign of a copy of the speech from the Minister of State today and I wonder if that is part of a Government desire not to have its words of response reported and to keep this issue as invisible as possible. I am really concerned, notwithstanding the protestations of support and the fact that the Government did not table an amending motion today. How would it have looked if the Government had sought to amend this motion today? I am concerned that the Irish approach does frankly involve fumbling in the greasy till on this question.
I will stress three points from the Minister of State's speech that gave rise to concern. The first is that he talked about letting the human rights monitors in and encouraging that. He said it might help allay some of our concerns. What does that say except signal to the Chinese that there may be something in what they say; that perhaps this is not as bad as has been said. There is no question of our concerns being allayed at this stage given that we know what is happening. Unless the Government starts from an acceptance of exposed reality, it cannot claim to be taking these human rights abuses seriously.
The Minister of State stressed China's sovereignty. Nobody is putting China's sovereignty in issue. When it comes to challenging human rights abuses in any country in the world, it goes without saying that what is being challenged is not the sovereignty of the country but the failure of the country to comply with international norms of human rights and human dignity. The fact, as was eloquently brought out by Senator Higgins, that the Minister of State instanced Islamic terrorism and that it somehow must be factored into the thinking here is all playing from China's playbook. China takes advantage of that kind of weakness. It is hard not to believe that China has already made its views known to the Minister of State, even on this motion. There is form here.
I am most indebted to Senator McDowell for his excellent seconding speech, but in a way he blew the gaff on the whole Irish approach by instancing our attitude to the EU office in Taipei. This is not a debate today about Taiwan, Tibet, the oppression of Christians, Falun Gong or any other group, but what happened regarding Ireland's approach to Taiwan is deeply instructive about the fears that we have and the need to act now. In 2012, Ireland signed a strategic partnership agreement with China. The joint statement issued at the time is still on the Government websites, and it has some extraordinary and chilling sections. It states:
Ireland does not support Taiwan's bid to join any international organisation of sovereign states. Ireland supports the peaceful development of the relationship across the Taiwan Straits and expresses its support for China’s peaceful reunification. The Chinese side appreciates this position.
That outrageous statement was clearly written in Beijing. It sounds more like something one would hear in a hostage video or one made by somebody with a gun to his or her head. That highlights the urgency of this situation, that we would start to take human rights seriously and that we would become a player at EU level and that trade must be in issue. It is not an argument to say that we cannot control EU competence on trade. We are in a position to push to the extent of our leverage within the EU for a particular attitude by the EU on all our behalf, and of course we make our own trade deals.
The Minister of State referenced the 39 nations demanding that China respects human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong in recent days. The sad part is that while one might have 39 nations demanding that China respects human rights, the envoy for Pakistan immediately read a statement by 55 countries, including China, denouncing it. What one sees here is China using its leverage with African countries that are economically dependent and with Islamic states. Sadly, even the Palestinian Authority signed up a couple of years ago to China's side of the argument. What does that show? It shows that Islamic countries, sometimes under authoritarian leadership, are succumbing to Chinese economic pressure and not even speaking up for their own co-religionists in China. That tells us something about the heavy hand of China.
Addressing Germany, the United States and Britain in recent days, the Chinese ambassador criticised their hypocritical attitude and said they should put away their arrogance and prejudice and pull back from the brink now. This is threatening language. China is threatening to block the renewal of peacekeeping missions for some countries or preventing others from building new embassy facilities in the country.
Last month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute stated that it had identified more than 380 suspected detention facilities in Xinjiang. I have spoken about that already. In the US, the House of Representatives passed a Bill at the end of September that aims to ban imports from Xinjiang, contending that abuses of the Uyghur people are so widespread that all goods from the region should be considered made with slave labour. That is the kind of serious thinking we need.
Senator Mullen must conclude.
I will conclude on this point. I thank you for your indulgence, a Leas Chathaoirligh. We know how important trade is. I come from a farming background myself. I do not ever want to do anything to damage Ireland's trade interests. However, sometimes other issues must take precedence. As I stated, we cannot have a Chinese wall between our trading aspirations with China and the serious human rights abuses perpetrated by it against its people. That Chinese wall is in evidence today from the Minister of State's speech. The problem is only going to get worse as China grows in power. Countries that believe in human rights must act now. That means there needs to be a change of direction by the Government. It cannot be a nod to human rights in Geneva and a wink to Beijing. It has to be a serious, purposeful approach to tackling China, even by us as a small country, but one that has a big reputation over the years in standing up for authentic human rights. I urge the Minister of State to bring the message to the Government that there must be a change of direction. I do not want congratulations for bringing this motion today.
I am only doing what any responsible person or parliamentarian would do in a democratic society. Something has to change in the way the Irish Government is doing its business, and the message from this motion to the Government is being agreed by the House and not challenged.
In accordance with the order of the Seanad of Wednesday, 7 October 2020, the House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 October 2020.