UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses against its Muslim Uighur community and said sanctions against those responsible cannot be ruled out, the media reported on Monday.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Raab said that reports of forced sterilisation and wider persecution of the Muslim group were “reminiscent of something not seen for a long time”.
Asked whether the treatment of the Uighurs met the legal definition of genocide, Raab said the international community had to be “careful” before making such claims.
“Whatever the legal label, it is clear that gross, egregious human rights abuses are going on,” he told the BBC news.
“It is deeply, deeply troubling and the reports on the human aspect of this – from forced sterilisation to the education camps – are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a very long time.
“We want a positive relationship with China but we can’t see behaviour like that and not call it out,” Raab added.
There are growing calls for the UK to impose sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, on Chinese officials responsible for the persecution of the Uighurs.
A petition backing the move has amassed more than 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for debate in Parliament.
It is believed that up to a million Uighur people have been detained over the past few years in what the Chinese state defines as “re-education camps”.
China previously denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism, following separatist violence in the Xinjiang region.
Meanwhile, China’s UK Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said talk of concentration camps was “fake”.
He told the BBC that the Uighurs received the same treatment under the law as other ethnic groups in his country.
“There is no such concentration camps in Xinjiang,” he added.
“There’s a lot of fake accusations against China.”