US, China fight over claims of 'genocide' in Xinjiang

Uyghur protesters

Protesters hold signs as they gather during a rally for Uyghur Freedom in New York on March 22, 2021.

Photo credit: Timothy A. Clary | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The accusations followed earlier claims by the US, which went on to sanction some Chinese officials said to be leading the counter-terrorism programme in Xinjiang.

The US is labelling China’s treatment of the people in its north western region of Xinjiang as “genocide”, a title that has elicited an immediate angry reaction from Beijing.

On Wednesday, China described the US assertion as “the biggest lie of all that rides roughshod over international law” and suggested the report was based on testimonies from “trained” actors and actresses.

It was a reaction to the latest human rights report by the US on China.

In the 2020 Report on Human Rights Practices, the State Department repeated earlier accusations that China was engaging in genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, where Washington labeled China’s counter-terrorism programme as torture.

“Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” said a section of the report on China.

“These crimes were continuing and include the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilisation, coerced abortions and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies.”

The report, an annual assessment of rights statues of all members of the UN, also said China had engaged rape, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labour “and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement".

Forms of abuse

The accusations followed earlier claims by the US, which went on to sanction some Chinese officials said to be leading the counter-terrorism programme in Xinjiang.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the general human rights trend was headed in the “wrong direction” but used the Chinese example to describe how “genocide” was happening.

“We see it in the genocide being committed against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and the attacks on, and the imprisonment of opposition politicians, anti-corruption activists and independent journalists in places like Russia, Uganda, Venezuela,” he said on Tuesday.

“We see it in the arbitrary arrests, beatings, and other violence against protestors in Belarus, and in the violations and abuses inflicted on the people of Yemen by the parties in that country’s conflict. 

“We see it in the killings, sexual assaults, and other atrocities credibly reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and in the executions, forced disappearances and tortures committed by the Syrian regime, as well as its ongoing attacks on schools, on markets, on hospitals."

China's response

In Beijing, China refuted the claims in the report and said they were based on “lies".

Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Washington used the term without producing evidence to back it.

“No State, organisation, or individual is qualified and entitled to arbitrarily determine that another State has committed "genocide." In international relations, no country should use this accusation as a political label for rumor-mongering and malicious manipulation,” she told a virtual briefing, invoking the definition in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The US, based on lies and disinformation produced by anti-China forces, wantonly asserted that there is genocide in Xinjiang. This is the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people, and a gross breach of international law and basic norms governing international relations.”

China’s programme to tame violent extremism in Xinjiang has been seen by a number of Western countries as slavery and forced renunciation of Islam.

The US has said China’s training camps are in fact detention centres and that many minority Uighurs in Xinjiang have faced ethnic cleansing.

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