“Highly choreographed” tours to Xinjiang organized by the Chinese government are misleading and propagate false narratives about the troubled region, a US official said, after China announced plans to invite European envoys to visit.
China has been stepping up a push to counter growing criticism in the West and among rights groups about a “deradicalization” program in heavily Muslim Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.
Critics say China is operating internment camps for Uighurs and other Muslim people who live in Xinjiang, although the Chinese government calls them vocational training centers and says it has a genuine need to prevent “extremist thinking” and violence.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would invite Beijing-based European diplomats to visit soon.
Diplomatic sources said the so-far informal invitation had gone specifically to ambassadors.
A US government official, asked if US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad had been invited to visit Xinjiang, said there were no meetings or visits to announce.
“Highly choreographed and chaperoned government-led tours in Xinjiang have propagated false narratives and obfuscated the realities of China’s ongoing human rights abuses in the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The visit this month would be the first by a large group of Western diplomats to the region since international concern about Xinjiang’s security clampdown began intensifying last year. Hundreds have died in unrest in Xinjiang in recent years.
Several groups of diplomats from other countries have already been brought to Xinjiang on tightly scripted trips since late December last year to visit the facilities.
There have been two visits by groups including European diplomats to Xinjiang this year. One was a small group of EU diplomats, and the other by a group of diplomats from a broader mix of countries, including missions from Greece, Hungary and north African and Southeast Asian states.
The US official described what was happening in Xinjiang as “a highly repressive campaign” and said claims that the facilities were “humane job-training centers” were not credible.
“We will continue to call on China to end these counterproductive policies, free all those who have been arbitrarily detained and cease efforts to coerce members of its Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate,” the official said.
The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China has rejected all foreign criticism of its policies in Xinjiang and says it invites foreigners to visit to help them better understand the region.
Earlier this month, the US Department of State said that China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang marked the worst human rights abuses “since the 1930s.”
Late last year, more than a dozen ambassadors from Western countries, including France, Britain, Germany and the EU’s top envoy in Beijing, wrote to the Chinese government to seek a meeting with Xinjiang’s top official, Xinjiang Chinese Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo (陳全國), to discuss their concerns about the rights situation.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, including Chen.
Two diplomatic sources told reporters on Saturday that government officials had said a meeting with Chen was not being offered to the European ambassadors and that the trip was not to discuss human rights, but to talk about China-Europe cooperation on President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) signature Belt and Road Initiative.
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