French claims about the imprisonment of ethnic and religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang region were unacceptable, China said Wednesday, criticising the accusations as “false”.
China’s response came a day after Paris demanded it let independent human rights observers visit the northwestern region, where rights groups and experts estimate over one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps.
France’s foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, said China’s actions were “unacceptable” and said they “condemn them firmly”.
Beijing has defended its strategy in Xinjiang as necessary to avoid extremism.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing on Wednesday that “China has repeatedly responded to and clarified false reports and accusations on Xinjiang-related issues”.
He added that Xinjiang issues were not about human rights, religion or ethnicity but about “countering violent terrorism and separatism”.
“About so-called lies that Xinjiang restricts religious freedom and suppresses Muslims… the truth is that recently, some politicians and media in the US and the west have stigmatised Xinjiang’s lawful fight against terrorism and extremism,” Wang said.
“We firmly oppose the politicisation of religious issues and the use of religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” he added.
Asked if the training programmes he referred to were still ongoing in Xinjiang, Wang said that those in the centres had “completed their courses” — in line with officials’ announcement late last year.
The latest exchange comes as tensions have been rising between the West and China on multiple fronts, including over a new draconian security law in Hong Kong and mounting opposition to the use of products made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei.