The foreign minister expected to reveal crackdown plans against China, which could include tougher laws on the export of goods or technology that could be used in the crackdown.
Britain is set to announce plans to ban the importation of goods suspected of using forced labor into China’s Xinjiang province, media reported on Monday, to an extent that would strain ties between London even further. and Beijing.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab is expected to reveal his plans, which should also include stricter laws on the export of goods or technology that could be used for law enforcement purposes, to lawmakers this week, according to The Sun newspapers and Guardian.
Relations between Britain and China have become increasingly frigid over the past two years, especially amid criticism from London of the crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and its offer of citizenship to its residents.
Britain has also criticized the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, with the government calling evidence that they are being forced to produce cotton “deeply disturbing.” Beijing has denied the allegations of forced labor.
The British government fears that the textile industry is not checking carefully enough whether products from Xinjiang, which supplies nearly a quarter of the world’s cotton, are made using forced labor.
The proposals could include fines if companies fail to exercise due diligence in auditing their supply chains, according to The Guardian.
But Raab’s plans should stop before sanctioning Chinese officials linked to “re-education” camps and forced sterilization programs, according to The Sun.
“Our approach to China is rooted in our values and interests,” said a foreign ministry official.
“However, where we have concerns, we raise them and hold China to account.”
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith – an outspoken critic of China – told The Sun he welcomed the plans, but said they were insufficient to “deal with the growing problem we face with China”.
Outgoing Chinese Ambassador to London Liu Xiaoming said last week that relations between the two countries “depend on whether the UK sees China as a partner or a rival,” adding that “the ball is in the camp on the British side ”.
China denies the use of forced labor in its cotton industry, claiming that the camps from which pickers come are “vocational schools” and that the factories are part of a poverty reduction program.
British retailer Marks and Spencer said last week it would not use cotton from Xinjiang, as the fashion industry is more concerned with supply chains.
Two years ago, the American company Badger Sportswear announced that it would stop sourcing clothes from the Chinese clothing company Hetian Taida, fearing the use of forced labor in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Separately, last month, French footballer Antoine Griezmann announced that he would “immediately end (his) partnership” with telecoms giant Huawei, citing “strong suspicions” that he was involved in the surveillance by the Chinese authorities of the Uyghur minority.
Uyghurs are the main ethnic group in Xinjiang, a huge region of China that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to experts and human rights groups, at least one million Uyghurs have been imprisoned in recent years in political re-education camps.
British MPs are increasingly focusing on China and a group of Conservative backbench MPs, including Duncan-Smith, back calls for Britain not to strike bilateral trade deals if a British court declares Beijing guilty of genocide.
The government has resisted appeals, arguing that international tribunals are the appropriate institutions to determine genocide.