Asia-Pacific

'Happy, secure': China defends treatment of Uighurs

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China has labelled as "slander" a letter sent to top United Nations officials by more than 20 countries condemning Beijing's treatment of ethnic minorities.

China says its treatment of ethnic Muslims in "happy" and "secure" Xinjiang region was a model for other nations to follow, despite a bombardment of Western criticism.

Nearly two dozen nations at the UN Human Rights Council this week urged China to halt persecution of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, where UN experts and activists say at least 1 million are held in detention centres.

Chinese diplomat Jiang Duan told the council on Thursday a few hypocritical Western nations were distorting facts to smear Beijing over what it describes as vocational training centers in Xinjiang intended to combat extremism and provide new skills.

“Actually the experience in Xinjiang in this field can be introduced to other countries,” Jiang added, saying the centers help reintegrate people indoctrinated by radicalism.

“Now the situation in Xinjiang is stable, and the people are united, and their rights are fully respected ... During the past three years, there has not been a single incident of a terrorist attack, and people in Xinjiang feel much better and much more happy and secure.”

Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region.
Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region.

Xinjiang, three times the size of France, is a largely desert region in China’s northwest.

Hundreds of people have been killed there in the past few years in violence between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, and ethnic majority Han Chinese, especially in the heavily Uighur south of Xinjiang.

China has blamed the violence on Islamist extremists and separatists, while Uighur exiles and activists point to frustration at Chinese controls on their culture and religion.

Letter backed by 22 countries is 'slander', China says

The letter criticising China was signed by the ambassadors of 22 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland, but not the United States which quit the UN body a year ago.

They urged China to allow international independent experts, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, proper access to Xinjiang.

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China suggests controversial Uighur camps are not permanent
China suggests controversial Uighur camps are not permanent

The UN letter "attacks, slanders, and has unwarranted accusations against China," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

"It is a public politicisation of human rights issues and wantonly interferes in China's internal affairs," he added.

The text included concern about "credible reports of arbitrary detention... as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang."

It also called on China to stop arbitrary detention and allow "freedom of movement of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang."

Public relations blitz

After initially denying their existence, Beijing has gone on a public relations blitz in a bid to counter the global outcry against what it calls "vocational education centres".

Since last October, the local government has also organised tours of the camps for diplomats and media outlets.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has requested a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang and China has extended an open invitation for her to visit the region.

But the international official typically only undertakes such national visits provided the host government offers guarantees on certain conditions -- including unfettered access to key sites.

Beijing was also forced Thursday to defend its human rights record from criticism by Slovakia and Britain.

Slovak president Zuzana Caputova warned of a "deteriorating human rights situation" to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, while British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt took aim at the jailing of activists and said countries that abuse journalists should pay a "diplomatic price."

Geng warned that Hunt, who is hoping to become prime minister, should not "use China" as a way to campaign for votes and noted Wang had outlined China's "tremendous progress" in human rights, ethnic minority, and religious policies during his meeting with Caputova.

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