Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has rejected claims of genocide or oppression in the far western region of Xinjiang and said China would welcome the UN human rights chief to visit the region.
Wang’s statement comes as international pressure mounts over accusations of rights abuses in China.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
“There have never been anything like genocide, forced labour and religious oppression. These sensational claims are rooted in ignorance, prejudice and purely slanderous political hype,” he said.
Human rights groups and UN rights experts have maintained that there are at least 1 million Muslims of ethnic minority background being arbitrarily held in massive internment camps. China has denied the claims, saying it was instead taking measures to combat extremism and provide vocational training.
In January, the US accused China of “genocide and crimes against humanity” for the treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang, citing imprisonment, torture and forced labour.
Concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang were a major stumbling block for China and the European Union in reaching a preliminary Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.
During the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Wang said “Xinjiang-related issues” were all about “countering terrorism and separatism”, adding that there had not been one case of a terrorist attack being reported in Xinjiang in the past four years.
Citing official Chinese statistics, Wang said the Uygur population in Xinjiang had increased by about a quarter to 2.5 million between 2010 and 2018.
“This has far exceeded the growth of 13.99 per cent of the overall population in Xinjiang and 2 per cent growth of the Han population in the region,” he said.
He added that all workers in Xinjiang entered into the labour force voluntarily and had never been subjected to any personal restrictions.
Wang said the Chinese government prioritised human rights development with a “people-first” approach in its fight against Covid-19.
Without acknowledging Wang’s comments about being open to a UN visit, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on Tuesday for China to allow the global body’s high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, and other independent observers access to Xinjiang.
Such a delegation would be “key to enable an independent, impartial and transparent assessment of the grave concerns that the international community has”, Borrell said in an address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Meanwhile, Canada’s parliament unanimously passed a non-binding motion on Tuesday designating China’s treatment of Uygurs as genocide.
The motion also called on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and for the Canadian government to officially adopt this position if the abuses continued. China’s embassy in Canada issued a statement condemning the motion passed by the House of Commons of Canada as a “disgraceful move”.
“Genocide is clearly defined in international law which cannot be pinned to China,” the statement said. It questioned how genocide could be alleged at a time the Uygur population had grown by 2.5 million.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington would continue to stand up and work with international allies when human rights violations continued in Xinjiang, Tibet and other parts of China.
“I think his comments reflect the continued pattern of Beijing’s tendency to avert blame for its predatory economic practices, its lack of transparency, its failure to honour its international agreements and its repression of universal human rights,” Price said.
Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch China said she struggled to imagine Chinese authorities “opening the [Xinjiang] door” to an organisation such as Human Rights Watch, with visas, unfettered travel and interviews, “most importantly, not retaliating against interviewees”, she said.
“I look forward to [China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs] assuring me that this is not correct.”
William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at China Human Rights Defenders, said it was unlikely Wang’s speech could “quell any concerns that the outside world has regarding the well-documented human rights abuses” in Xinjiang.
“He cites impressive-sounding statistics but when journalists are essentially unable to travel to the region without encountering massive surveillance and with no way for the outside world to get reliable information about what is happening without putting ethnic minority interviewees at risk, his claims are highly unlikely to convince anyone of anything,” Nee said.
“Wang emphasised the role of human rights dialogues as the mechanism of international exchange but anyone following Chinese human rights issues knows that many of its ‘human rights dialogues’ have been either stalled, cancelled or have proven to be completely ineffective.”
More from South China Morning Post:
This article China would welcome UN Human Rights Council visit ‘because there is no genocide in Xinjiang’ first appeared on South China Morning Post