China slams U.S. criticism of Muslim treatment as "absurd"
China on Thursday hit back at criticism from the United States' top diplomat who called its treatment of Muslims "shameful hypocrisy" after speaking with a former prisoner from a Chinese detention camp.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the comment after meeting with Mihrigul Tursun, a member of the Uighur ethnic group who has spoken publicly in the U.S. about what she said was widespread torture in China's prisons for the minority group.
Beijing claims the camps are "vocational training centres" that provide language classes and employment, steering locals away from extremism.
Pompeo's comments are "extremely absurd and grossly interfere in China's internal affairs", said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing. "Currently, the overall situation in Xinjiang society is stable ... and all ethnic groups get along harmoniously," he said.
"We urge the U.S. to respect the facts ... and stop the malicious smearing and groundless accusations against the Chinese side," Geng added.
As many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang, according to a group of experts cited last year by the United Nations.
Former detainees say they were detained for simply following Islamic traditions, such as having a long beard or wearing a veil.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
"China must release all those arbitrarily detained and end its repression," tweeted Pompeo, who had also met with relatives of those detained in Xinjiang.
After months denying the existence of the internment camps, Beijing last year launched a public relations campaign to defend its "training centres", organising visits for diplomats and media from friendly countries.
However, a delegation of three EU officials who visited Xinjiang in January as part of a carefully organised visit said they had the impression that the people they had spoken to in a "training centre" were reciting a dictated speech.
On Wednesday, Pompeo also criticised Beijing's trillion-dollar Belt and Road project after Italy decided to join China's "Silk Road" infrastructure initiative. He accused China of practising "debt-trap diplomacy" with its state-owned or state-controlled enterprises only looking after their own interests.
"The U.S. side's statement is inconsistent with the facts," dismissed Geng. "No country sinks into a so-called debt trap because of their co-operation with China." (AFP)