Last week, during China’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Japan expressed “concern about the human rights situation in China” and recommended that Beijing “protect the rights of the minorities, including Tibetans and Uyghurs … guarantee the fundamental rights and freedom under the Hong Kong basic law and improve the one-country two systems.”
Japan’s public criticism of the Chinese government’s violations of basic human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong echoes its previous expression of concern “about recent tendency towards clampdown on human rights defenders, intellectuals, and others” during China’s UPR in 2018.
Domestically, too, the Japanese government has been increasingly outspoken about China’s deteriorating human rights situation. In February 2022, just days before the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Japan’s lower house passed a resolution highlighting human rights issues in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia. Specifically, the resolution calls for the “monitoring of serious human rights situations in cooperation with the international community,” and “implementation of comprehensive relief measures.” Ten months later, Japan’s upper house passed a nearly identical resolution.
To this day, the Chinese government continues its repressive policies against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, which amount to crimes against humanity. These include mass arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, mass surveillance, cultural and religious persecution, separation of families, forced labor, sexual violence, and violations of reproductive rights.
In Tibet, authorities still forcibly assimilate Tibetans, and extreme information controls make it very difficult to obtain and verify information from the region. In Hong Kong, the Chinese government has erased the city’s liberties and freedoms, arbitrarily arrested people for national security offenses, offered bounties for 13 exiled democracy activists and former legislators, and expanded its political intimidation campaign to Hong Kong activists beyond China’s borders.
While Japan’s public messaging on the Chinese government’s rights abuses demonstrates genuine concern for the situation, Tokyo can do more. Domestically, Tokyo should enact a Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions law and impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for serious human rights abuses. Internationally, it should work towards the successful adoption of a UN resolution to set up an investigative mechanism, with a mandate to investigate violations in Xinjiang, identify those responsible, and make recommendations to advance accountability.