Mr Johnson and the US President spoke on the phone to ‘express their concerns’ over Beijing’s move, which came after Britain and the United States imposed sanctions on China.
The Prime Minister said he ‘stands firmly’ with the MPs and other UK citizens hit by economic sanctions including travel bans after criticising China’s mistreatment of Uighur Muslims.
US president Joe Biden, left, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, condemned Beijing’s decision to place several MPs on a sanctions list over their criticism of human rights abuses against China’s Uighur Muslim population
Iain Duncan Smith, pictured, said that being on the sanction list for standing up for human rights was ‘a badge of honour’
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘On China, the Prime Minister and President reflected on the significant action taken by the UK, US and other international partners earlier this week to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Xinjiang and expressed their concern about retaliatory action by China.’
President Biden said: ‘Well, we talked a lot about climate change, we talked a lot about the need also for Britain and the United States to, to stand together and deal with the whole notion of whether or not NATO stands together, whether we stand united, and whether or not I’d be able to come, and I hope I can, to NATO meeting – I think it’s in late June. So we talked about scheduling and when I come over’
‘One of the things I suggested we do is – we talked about China and the competition they’re engaging in in the Belt and Road Initiative. And I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative coming from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world’
In a further exchange of hostilities, the UK and China summoned each other’s ambassadors.
Defiant former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said being sanctioned was ‘a badge of honour’, and fellow Conservative Tom Tugendhat, who was also targeted, accused China of a ‘direct assault on British democracy’.
Last week, Mr Johnson was accused of going soft on the Chinese after his Government’s Integrated Review of defence, security and foreign policy described Beijing as ‘an increasingly important partner’ rather than an adversary.
But yesterday, his line hardened as he tweeted: ‘The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims. Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘The [Chinese] ambassador here will be summoned and we will explain in very clear terms the position both in relation to the MPs and other figures who have spoken out, but also that we will not be silenced in terms of speaking out about these human rights abuses.’
China has faced international criticism over the internment camps used to hold Uihur Muslims, which Beijing insists are for vocational training
China’s charge d’affaires in London hit back, tweeting: ‘China was not first to shoot, nor will it be passive or submissive to threats from the outside.’ The Uighur are a mostly Muslim, non-Chinese ethnic group living in supposedly autonomous Xinjiang Province, north-west China.
According to the UK Government, survivor testimonies indicate that more than a million people have been detained without trial, with widespread claims of torture, rape and sterilisations in prison camps, where Uighurs are forced to denounce their cultural heritage, language and religion.
Tory MPs Neil O’Brien, Tim Loughton and Nus Ghani, peers Lord Alton and Baroness Kennedy, barrister Geoffrey Nice QC and Newcastle University academic Jo Smith Finley were also sanctioned.
They are now banned from travelling to China, including Hong Kong and Macau, while any property or assets they own in the country will be frozen. Chinese citizens and institutions are also banned from doing business with them.
Four UK institutions China accuses of ‘maliciously spreading lies and disinformation’ have been hit with the same sanctions: the China Research Group of Tory MPs, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the Uighur Tribunal and legal practice Essex Court Chambers.
The move has been interpreted as retaliation for the UK, US, Canada and the European Union imposing similar sanctions on Chinese officials they deem responsible for human rights abuses.
Beijing has also sanctioned a number of EU officials and European academics.
China expert Charles Parton, who spent more than 20 years as a UK diplomat in Beijing, warned: ‘The exchange of economic sanctions sends us into unexplored territory in the UK-China relationship.
‘We should prepare for further turbulence.’