Asia-Pacific

Australia among 23 countries at UN to condemn China's detention of Uighurs

Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun speaks during a Security Council meeting Source: AAP

Australia and 22 other countries at the United Nations have pushed China to stop detaining Uyghurs.

China's mass detention and surveillance of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang province came under fire at the United Nations Tuesday, with 23 nations, including Australia, backing a British statement condemning the country's human rights record.

But China's allies countered with a statement of their own that won even broader support, with some 54 nations backing a Belarus text that heaped effusive praise on China's "remarkable achievements in the field of human rights."

They included Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Serbia - which have all been criticised for their own rights records.

The dueling statements at the UN General Assembly are non-binding, but highlight the global divide on China's human rights record - particularly as the country moves to flex its diplomatic and economic clout abroad.

Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up in internment camps in Xinjiang.

After initially denying their existence, China now defends the camps as "vocational education centers" that are necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism.

China has embarked on a global public relations campaign to win support for its Xinjiang policies - even convincing Muslim-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to voice support.

Britain's UN statement Tuesday expressed concerns "regarding credible reports of mass detention; efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices; mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs; and other human rights violations and abuses".

"The Chinese government should urgently... (refrain) from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities," it said.

Countries backing it included the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

But that statement was swiftly countered by the one from Belarus - where China is building a massive industrial park.

"We commend China's remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by adhering to the people-centered development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development," the statement said.

"We also appreciate China's contributions to the international human rights cause," it added, while criticising the "politicisation" of the issue of human rights at the UN.

China on Wednesday blasted the British statement on its human rights record, saying that the "anti-China performance by a small number of Western countries ended in humiliating failure."

"China's actions in Xinjiang have effectively safeguarded the basic human rights of all ethnic groups and protected the security and stability of the region," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

Mr Geng urged the UK and the US in particular to "stop using human rights as an excuse to meddle in other countries' internal affairs."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch