China steps up defence of Xinjiang policies in government report

Uighur men dancing outside a mosque in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region, after prayers last month marking the end of Ramadan. The region is tightly controlled by the Chinese authorities.
Uighur men dancing outside a mosque in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region, after prayers last month marking the end of Ramadan. The region is tightly controlled by the Chinese authorities.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • China has issued a defence of its policies in the Xinjiang region where its detention of ethnic Uighurs has drawn criticism from the US and other Western nations.

Xinjiang is an "inseparable part" of China, and internal and external hostile forces including separatists, religious extremists and terrorists are distorting history and facts to split the country apart, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It cited a White Paper on the history of the north-western province published yesterday in Chinese.

At the United Nations earlier this month, the US and 21 other mostly Western nations urged China to end its mass detentions of as many as one million Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority.

The "transformation through education" camps in the far-western region of Xinjiang have prompted calls for sanctions from lawmakers, human rights advocates and religious groups.

While China contests the number detained, the government has defended the crackdown as necessary to fight terrorism and improve Uighurs' economic prospects after years of unrest and attacks.

Ethnic cultures in Xinjiang have historically reflected elements of Chinese culture, and the Arab civilisation had an influence only at the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, when Islam spread in the region, according to the paper called Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang.

"The Uighur conversion to Islam was not a voluntary choice made by the common people, but a result of religious wars and imposition by the ruling class," according to the paper. Buddhism was once the predominant religion in Xinjiang, it said, adding that now, a significant number of people in Xinjiang do not follow any religion, and many Uighurs practise other religions.

Xinjiang progressed in the past when there was more cultural diversity, Xinhua reported, citing a section of the White Paper.

 

"Having a stronger sense of identity with Chinese culture is essential to the prosperity and development of ethnic cultures in Xinjiang," according to the paper.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'China steps up defence of Xinjiang policies in government report'. Print Edition | Subscribe