China has lambasted as “rumors and slanders” comments by the UK Foreign Office that accused Beijing of committing “gross” human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The mostly Muslim-Turkic ethnic group of Uighurs, which makes up about 45 percent of the population in Xinjiang, has long accused the government in Beijing of cultural, religious, and economic discrimination.
China rejects the accusation and, in turn, accuses what it describes as exiled separatist groups of planning attacks in the resource-rich Xinjiang, which is strategically located on the borders of Central Asia.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday alleged in an interview with the BBC that it was “clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on... it is deeply, deeply troubling.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin hit back and denounced Raab’s remarks as “nothing but rumors and slander.”
“The Xinjiang issue is not about human rights, religious or ethnic groups at all, but about combating violence, terrorism and separatism,” he said at a regular press conference.
Elsewhere in his allegations, Raab had said that reports of purportedly forced sterilizations and mass detentions in Xinjiang required international attention, and that London “cannot see behavior like that and not call it out.”
His allegations, however, drew rejection from Wang, who said the forced-sterilization reports were “complete nonsense,” and that the Uighurs had more than doubled in the past forty years.
Last year, a UN human rights panel cited estimates that two million Uighurs and Muslim minorities had been forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the autonomous region, which is home to about 10 million Uighurs.
Beijing has denied that accusation as well as other reports that Uighurs are unfairly marginalized, saying it is addressing underdevelopment and lack of jobs in heavily Uighur areas such as Xinjiang.
Chinese officials have also characterized the camps as “vocational education and employment training centers” for “criminals involved in minor offenses.”
Tensions between Britain and China have recently intensified over a number of issues, ranging from the imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong to the phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from Britain’s 5G network.
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