China and the West on Tuesday clashed at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee over claims that Beijing systematically oppresses ethnic minority Muslims in Xinjiang.
Belarus read a statement on behalf of 54 countries commending “China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” and taking note “that terrorism, separatism and religious extremism has caused enormous damage to people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which has seriously infringed upon human rights, including right to life, health and development.”
Britain read a statement on behalf of 23 countries that shared concerns with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about “credible reports” of mass detention, “efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”
The clash continued afterward at separate press briefings by the opposing sides.
The Belarus statement — the supporters of which include Egypt, Pakistan and Russia — backed China’s “counterterrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers.”
It said that there has not been a single “terrorist attack” in Xinjiang in the past three years “and people there enjoy a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security.”
The Western statement — the supporters of which include the US, France and Germany — called on the Chinese government to respect human rights, including freedom of religion in Xinjiang and throughout China, and to urgently implement the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s recommendations “including by refraining from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities.”
“No country is perfect on human rights. It’s natural that we have different understanding, we have differences,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a group of reporters shortly after the meeting.
However, differences should be discussed and hopefully narrowed through dialogue, Zhang said.
“What’s certain is that a confrontational approach leads to nowhere,” he said. “Nobody will win through such confrontational practices.”
Zhang said that the Uighur issue could also affect US-China trade talks, where there has been progress.
“It’s hard to imagine that on the one hand you are trying to seek to have a trade deal and on the other hand you are making use of any issues, especially human rights issues, to blame the other,” he said.
“I do not think it’s helpful for having a good solution to the issue of the trade talks,” Zhang added.
Asked about the possible effect on trade talks, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said: “Well I would be standing here regardless if it was China, wherever it is. Wherever there are human rights abuses, we would be here in defense of those that are suffering.”
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