US condemns China’s Xinjiang ‘genocide’ in human rights report

Ethnic Uighurs and activists protest against a visit to Turkey by China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on March 25, 2021.
Ethnic Uighurs and activists protest against a visit to Turkey by China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on March 25, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - A charge by the United States China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang amounted to “genocide and crimes against humanity”was rejected yesterday by Beijing, with foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying calling it “slander” based on “false information fabricated by anti-China extremists”.

The US’s determination came in an annual human rights report published on Tuesday (March 30) that reiterated one first made by the Trump administration.

“No national organisation or individual has the right to arbitrarily convict other countries as guilty of genocide,” Ms Hua said at a regular press conference.

“Based on the lies and false information of individual anti-China forces, the United States presumptuously asserted that there is genocide in Xinjiang, China. This is a ridiculous lie of the century, a big lie, a great insult and a violation of the Chinese people.”

The issue of human rights abuses in Xinjiang is one of the key points of contention between China and the US. Washington last week announced sanctions over Xinjiang in coordination with other Western nations, which were met with retaliatory sanctions from Beijing and boycotts from Chinese consumers.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that China’s abuses are part of a trend of worsening human rights across the world. He also highlighted attacks on political dissidents in Russia and other atrocities in Belarus, Yemen, Ethiopia and Syria.

He again condemned the February military coup in Myanmar and the military’s killing of protesters, including over 100 people in the bloodiest day of protests yet on Sunday, and called on the armed forces to return the country’s democratically-elected government to power.

“President Biden is committed to putting human rights back in the centre of the American foreign policy,” said Mr Blinken at the press event.

“We will bring to bear all the tools of our diplomacy to defend human rights and hold accountable perpetrators of abuse. The reports we’re releasing today are just one way to do that.”

Mr Blinken acknowledged America’s own faults, including systemic racism, but said that the way the US confronts its own challenges at home gives it “greater legitimacy in advocating for human rights abroad”.

China has increasingly taken to criticising America - and other Western nations - on its human rights records, in response to international disapproval of its own human rights abuses in Xinjiang and erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, say observers.

Countering preemptively on Tuesday, Mr Blinken said: “We will hear from some countries, as we do every year, that we have no right to criticise them because we have our own challenges to deal with. Well, we know we have work to do at home.”

He added: “We don’t pretend these problems don’t exist or try to sweep them under the rug. We don’t ignore them. We deal with them in the daylight, with full transparency. And in fact that’s exactly what separates our democracy from autocracies: our ability and willingness to confront our own shortcomings out in the opening, to pursue that more perfect union.”

Ms Hua argued in her lengthy rebuttal that China’s ethnic minority policies were fairer than those in America, which had conducted its own genocide on Native Americans and trafficked and enslaved Africans in the past, she said.

America also fabricated lies so it could launch military invasions of other sovereign countries, she added, citing Iraq as an example.

“The so-called genocide is a slander on China’s ethnic policies and on Xinjiang’s development achievements. China is a unified multi-ethnic country,” said Ms Hua.

The report, by the US State Department, is a yearly publication mandated by federal law that assesses the human rights situations in roughly 200 states and territories around the world.

This year’s edition highlighted the mass detention of more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims in China “in extrajudicial internment camps”, as well as another two million people going through daytime-only “re-education” training.

The Trump administration first made the assessment to label the policies as genocide in January this year, which then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a day before President Joe Biden took office.

Mr Blinken said during his confirmation hearing that he agreed with the declaration. But on Tuesday, he also signalled some ways the Biden administration would depart from its predecessor when it came to human rights, including a “repudiation” of Mr Trump’s elevation of religious rights over LGBTQ and abortion rights.

The Biden administration would also engage in multilateral institutions, “even flawed ones like the UN Human Rights Council,” said Mr Blinken.

The US withdrew from the human rights body under the Trump administration, which accused it of disproportionately criticising Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

Said Mr Blinken: “We can do much more to move them in the right direction when we have a seat at the table instead of staying outside of the room. And because, in our absence, we have seen how autocratic governments use these institutions to undercut human rights.”