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China’s embassy in Ottawa said the two incidents at Canadian campuses this week had “nothing to do with the Chinese embassy and Chinese consulate general”. Photo: EPA-EFE

Beijing backs ‘patriotic actions’ of Chinese students who reported Uygur activist in Canada

  • But embassy in Ottawa says the incident at McMaster University – as well as a separate case in Toronto – had nothing to do with Chinese officials
  • Students were infuriated Rukiye Turdush had been given a chance to deliver a speech on campus and sent video and photos to consulate

Beijing backed the “patriotic actions” of Chinese students who reported a Uygur activist’s talk at a Canadian university to the consulate, but said they were not told to do so by officials.

“We strongly support the just and patriotic actions of the Chinese students,” the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in a statement on Saturday.

“Safeguarding sovereignty and opposing separatism are the common position of the international community, and they are also the position that the Canadian government upholds,” it said.

“[But] what happened recently at the University of Toronto and McMaster University has nothing to do with the Chinese embassy and Chinese consulate general in Canada.”

Uygur activist Rukiye Turdush gave a talk at McMaster University in Ontario this week. Photo: Handout
Earlier this week, a group of Chinese students at McMaster University in Ontario were infuriated when they found out Rukiye Turdush – a Uygur woman they considered a separatist – had been given the opportunity to deliver a speech on campus about the mass internment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region, in China’s far west.

They took to Chinese social network WeChat to rally support, then attended the event, filming and taking photos, which were later sent to the Chinese consulate in Toronto.

Also this week, a Tibetan woman seeking to become student union president at the University of Toronto at Scarborough was targeted in a petition signed by nearly 10,000 people who were unhappy about her pro-Tibet stance.

Beijing is facing a growing outcry from the United Nations and Western governments over its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uygur minority in Xinjiang. The UN has said it received credible reports that as many as 1 million ethnic Uygurs were being held in mass internment camps there.

Turkey’s row with China over Uygurs unlikely to affect relations in long term, analysts say

At a regular UN review of the country’s human rights record last year, Beijing characterised the far west region as a former hotbed of extremism that had been stabilised through “training centres” that helped people to gain job skills.

The embassy statement repeated Beijing’s explanation of its treatment of Uygurs, saying there had been no human rights violations in Xinjiang and dismissing the Uygur activists’ movement in Canada.

It added that the training centres had been set up to protect China’s national security from the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism and separatism.

“The Chinese government protects the freedom of religious belief and all related rights of people of all ethnic groups in Tibet and Xinjiang in accordance with the law,” the statement said, adding that the authorities had taken “necessary measures to counter terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang”.

“Canada is a multicultural country advocating freedom of speech … People who oppose [separatism] should also be entitled to enjoy the freedom of speech,” it said. “We hope that the Canadian people could correctly view the relevant issues and will not be misled by the wrong information.”

China releases video of ‘dead’ Uygur poet Abdurehim Heyit but fails to silence critics

A large number of Chinese students are enrolled at Canadian universities. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were more than 140,000 students from China in Canada in 2017.

As the number of Chinese students at foreign universities has grown, the Washington Post reports that educators have expressed concern that student activism carried out with the support or direction of Chinese officials could corrode free speech by making students and scholars, particularly those with family ties to China, afraid to criticise the Communist Party line.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: ‘patriotic’ students in canada hailed