WASHINGTON • The US has accused China of putting well over more than a million minority Muslims in "concentration camps", in one of its strongest condemnations of what it calls Beijing's mass detention of mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups.
Friday's comments by Mr Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the United States Defence Department, will likely increase tension with Beijing, which is sensitive to international criticism and describes the sites as vocational education training centres aimed at stemming the threat of Islamic extremism.
Former detainees have described to Reuters about being tortured during interrogation at the camps, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide. Some of the sprawling facilities are ringed with razor wire and watch towers.
"The (Chinese) Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps," Mr Schriver told a Pentagon briefing during a broader discussion about China's military, saying the number of detained Muslims could be "closer to three million".
Mr Schriver, an assistant secretary of defence, defended his use of a term normally associated with Nazi Germany as appropriate, under the circumstances. When asked by a reporter why he used the term (concentration camps), he said it was justified, "given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens out of a population of about 10 million."
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Thursday used the term re-education camps to describe the sites and said Chinese activity was "reminiscent of the 1930s".
The US government has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, a vast region bordering central Asia that is home to millions of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities.\
When asked by a reporter why he used the term (concentration camps), Mr Randall Schriver said that it was justified, "given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens out of a population of about 10 million".
China has warned it would retaliate "in proportion" against any US sanction.
US officials have said China has made criminal many aspects of religious practice and culture in Xinjiang, including punishment for teaching Muslim texts to children and bans on parents giving their children Uighur names.