54 nations praise China’s ‘remarkable Uighur rights record’ at UN

Uighur Muslims seen at a mosque in China’s Xinjiang province. (Reuters pic)

NEW YORK: China’s mass detention and surveillance of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang province came under fire at the United Nations Tuesday, with 23 nations, mostly western backing a British statement condemning Beijing’s human rights record.

But China’s allies countered with a statement of their own that won even broader support, with some 54 nations backing a Belarus text that heaped effusive praise on Beijing’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.”

They included Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Serbia, which have all been criticised for their own rights records.

The duelling statements at the UN General Assembly are non-binding, but highlight the global divide on China’s human rights record, particularly as Beijing moves to flex its diplomatic and economic clout abroad.

Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up in internment camps in Xinjiang.

After initially denying their existence, Beijing now defends the Xinjiang camps as “vocational education centres” that are necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism.

China has embarked on a global public relations campaign to win support for its Xinjiang policies, even convincing Muslim-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to voice support.

Britain’s UN statement Tuesday expressed concerns “regarding 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”.

“The Chinese government should urgently… (refrain) from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities,” it said.

Countries backing it included the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

But that statement was swiftly countered by the one from Belarus, where China is building a massive industrial park, which praised Beijing’s rights record.

“We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by adhering to the people-centred development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development,” the statement said.

“We also appreciate China’s contributions to the international human rights cause,” it added, while criticising the “politicisation” of the issue of human rights at the UN.

Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, make up largest portion of the population of Xinjiang, a vast region in northwestern China.