Diplomats from 12 countries with large Muslim populations and some foreign media have visited Xinjiang, following months of silence by governments across the Muslim world in the face of China’s crackdown on minority Muslim Uighurs in its far western region.
Envoys from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Thailand and Kuwait visited the region from Dec. 28 to Sunday last week, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said on Monday.
Reuters reported that it was among a small group of foreign media outlets that went on a separate trip organized by the government.
The visit came as increasing skepticism over Beijing’s human rights record — namely its campaign against the Uighurs — threatens its global ambitions.
Calls have grown in the West to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government to stop alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs.
US politicians have proposed freezing the travel and assets of top Chinese officials, including the Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang chief Chen Quanguo (陳全國).
However, China has so far escaped serious criticism from officials in the Muslim world, leading US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to blast Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for not speaking out.
“The dire human rights situation inside China and the continued downward trajectory, by virtually every measure,” have continued since Xi came to power, a US congressional report said in October last year.
The UN has requested direct access to the camps, CNN reported, citing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Xinhua’s report came days after China passed a five-year work plan to Sinicize Islam at a summit with Chinese Muslim associations.
“They agreed to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to Sinicize the religion,” the state-run Global Times said.
In Xinjiang’s Hetian District last month, the diplomats visited one of what the Chinese government calls vocational skills centers — but which the UN and rights groups have said are “re-education camps” interning as many as 1 million Muslims.
At the Moyu County Vocational Skills Education and Training Center, “students are studying the national language, national musical instruments, calligraphy and painting, legal knowledge and various employment skills in the classroom,” Xinhua said. “The envoys asked the students about their study and life in detail, and watched the performances of the students.”
“Xinjiang is an open place,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) told a media briefing in Beijing on Monday.
However, he cautioned those who would visit to “abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and refrain from interfering in others’ internal affairs or undermining others’ sovereignty.”
“They should adopt an objective and unbiased attitude and avoid buying one-sided stories or making preconceptions. We would like to remain in contact with the relevant UN agencies and meet each other halfway,” he said.
Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) also hit back against 15 ambassadors to China who expressed concerns over Xinjiang in a letter in November last year, calling their actions “rude and unacceptable.”
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