UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States, Japan and many European Union nations joined a call on Tuesday (Oct 6) urging China to respect the human rights of minority Uighurs, and also expressing concern about the situation in Hong Kong.
"We call on China to respect human rights, particularly the rights of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet," said German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who led the initiative during of a meeting on human rights.
Among the 39 signatory countries were the United States, most of the EU member states, including Albania and Bosnia, as well as Canada, Haiti, Honduras, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
"We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong," the declaration said.
"We call on China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights," it added.
Immediately afterwards, the Chinese envoy for Pakistan stood up and read out a statement signed by 55 countries, including China, denouncing any use of the situation in Hong Kong as an excuse for interference in China's internal affairs.
Addressing Germany, the US and Britain, Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun criticised what he called their "hypocritical" attitude and demanded that the three countries "put away your arrogance and prejudice, and pull back from the brink, now".
The organisation Human Rights Watch praised the fact that so many countries had signed on to the declaration "despite China's persistent threats and intimidation tactics against those who speak out".
Last year, a similar text drafted by Britain garnered only 23 signatures.
Western diplomats have said that China is piling on more pressure each year to dissuade UN member states from signing such statements, threatening to block the renewal of peacekeeping missions for some countries or preventing others from building new embassy facilities in China.
On Monday, China led a group of 26 countries in a joint declaration calling for an end to US sanctions which they said violate human rights during the struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said it had identified more than 380 "suspected detention facilities" in the Xinjiang region, where China is believed to have held more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking residents.
In the US, the House of Representatives passed a Bill at the end of September that aims to ban imports from Xinjiang, contending that abuses of the Uighur people are so widespread that all goods from the region should be considered made with slave labour.