China has attacked a statement by 22 Western countries, including Switzerland, at the United Nations urging it to stop holding members of its Muslim population in detention centres, calling the measure necessary for national security and accusing the countries of trampling on its sovereignty.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing on Thursday that the letter “disregarded the facts, slandered and attacked China with unwarranted accusations, flagrantly politicised human rights issues and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs”.
“The Chinese side expressed strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition,” Geng said, adding that China had registered “solemn complaints” with the countries involved.
The signatories include Switzerland, France, Australia, Britain, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and the Netherlands. The letter was addressed to Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Coly Seck, president of the UN Human Rights Council.
“We urge these countries to respect the facts, discard prejudice, abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and stop politicising human rights issues and intervening in China’s internal affairs with the Xinjiang issue,” he said.
The signatories issued the statement as a “letter” at the council and stopped short of seeking a council resolution – a testament to the challenges of building support against increasingly influential China.
In addition to travel restrictions and a massive surveillance network, China is estimated to have arbitrarily detained up to one million Muslims in prison-like detention centres in Xinjiang, with reports of harsh treatment and poor living conditions inside.
China denies committing abuses in the centres and calls them training schools aimed at providing employable skills and combating extremism.
Geng said Xinjiang had not suffered any new violent incidents for more than two years, proving the effectiveness of the government's approach.
“The happiness ... and sense of security of the people of all ethnic groups have substantially improved, and they sincerely support the government’s policies,” he said.
While China restricts access and reporting in Xinjiang, Geng said it would welcome a visit by Michelle Bachelet.
“We welcome those who truly uphold the objective and fair principle to go to Xinjiang and look around, but we resolutely oppose any external forces using the Xinjiang issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Geng said.