China condemned a French parliament resolution on Friday that accuses Beijing of carrying out a genocide against its Uyghur Muslim population, a move that has strained ties two weeks before the Winter Olympics.
The resolution adds to a chorus of western nations that have criticised Beijing for placing around one million Uyghurs in forced labour camps, terming “the violence perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide”.
France’s National Assembly joins Canada, the Netherlands, Britain and Belgium in having parliaments where lawmakers have passed similar motions. The United States government has formally accused China of genocide in western Xinjiang.
But China rejected such accusations and hit out at French lawmakers on Friday.
“The French National Assembly’s resolution on Xinjiang ignores facts and legal knowledge and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing. “China firmly opposes it.”
The French motion was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament but also backed by President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party.
The non-binding resolution by France’s National Assembly was adopted with 169 votes in favour and just one against on Thursday.
It calls on the French government to undertake “the necessary measures within the international community and its foreign policy towards the People’s Republic of China” to protect the minority group in the Xinjiang region.
“China is a great power. We love the Chinese people. But we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight,” Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said.
He recounted testimony to parliament from Uyghur survivors who told of conditions inside internment camps where men and women were unable to lie down in cells, subjected to rape and torture, as well as forced organ transplants.
The French government has declined to term China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority a “genocide”, arguing that it is a legal term that can only be proven with a judicial investigation.
Beijing has turned down repeated requests from the UN High Commission for Human Rights to visit the region to investigate.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to avoid being dragged into increasingly confrontational ties between China and the United States, was asked about the Uyghurs during an appearance before the European Parliament on Wednesday.
“France raises this in a very clear fashion in all of our bilateral talks (with Beijing),” he told campaigning MEP Raphael Glucksmann.
He said he was in favour of an EU regulation that would “ban the import of goods that result from forced labour” and supported increasing requirements on European companies operating in China to check supply chains.
Human rights groups say they have found evidence of mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.
Beijing denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps in Xinjiang and has accused Uyghurs testifying overseas about conditions inside the northwestern region of being paid liars.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps altogether, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The United States has slapped sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies over the treatment of the Uyghurs, leading to tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.
China has sanctioned European, British and US lawmakers, as well as academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.