Britain finance chief slammed over visit to restive China region

Osborne is seeking to promote closer business and economic ties between Britain and China

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Campaign groups on Wednesday condemned Britain’s finance minister for touting business opportunities ahead of human rights on a visit to China’s violence-wracked Xinjiang region.

George Osborne pledged Britain would “support the growth” of the area, the homeland of the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.

China blames Islamist separatists for the violence and has imposed tough security measures, including restrictions on religious practice, mass trials, and multiple executions.

Its policies have drawn condemnation from rights advocates and Uighurs, who complain of cultural repression and discrimination.

Osborne’s visit -- highly unusual for a senior Western politician -- came exactly one year after a Xinjiang court imprisoned Uighur intellectual and government critic Ilham Tohti for life on charges of “inciting separatism”.

Osborne is seeking to promote closer business and economic ties between Britain and China.

In the regional capital Urumqi, where Tohti was jailed and where ethnic riots in 2009 left around 200 dead, Osborne said Xinjiang had “enormous potential”.

He also described “Britain’s absolute commitment to support the growth of Urumqi together with the whole of the Xinjiang region.”

China’s ruling Communist party denies allegations of cultural and religious repression, and says economic growth will help bring stability to the region.

A lengthy report on Osborne’s public comments released by Britain’s Treasury did not mention any human rights concerns.

Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen said failing to raise Tohti’s case would “send the signal that the UK is willing to compromise its human rights values”.

Osborne told the BBC he had raised the issue of human rights in the context of “economic development, how we help kids from poor areas of China”.

Uighur groups condemned his visit.

“It is very disappointing that there was no public condemnation of China’s repression of Uighurs,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress.

“Britain cannot acquiesce in China’s repression of the Uighur people because of economic interests,” he added in a statement.

Britain’s governing Conservative party has sought to improve relations with China after its leader David Cameron angered Beijing by meeting the Dalai Lama.

Osborne said the Xinjiang visit was intended to highlight business opportunities created by a Chinese plan to build transport and trade infrastructure in Asia known as “One Belt One Road”.

The scheme is widely seen as an effort to export China’s excess industrial capacity in sectors such as steel and cement abroad, amid slowing domestic growth.

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