U.S. calls Xinjiang an ‘open-air prison,’ decries religious persecution by China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Chinese government has turned its western Xinjiang province into essentially an “open-air prison,” a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday as the department published a report that criticized China’s persecution of religious minorities.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January said that China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, a verdict his successor, Antony Blinken, has said he agrees with.

China rejects the claim and says it is countering extremism in Xinjiang.

Daniel Nadel, a senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Freedom, said the situation has shifted from the use of what China calls “vocational education and training centers” to detain ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims, to the use of surveillance “to essentially turn the entire region into an open-air prison”.

“People’s movements are closely tracked. You have minders who have been assigned to live with Uyghurs to keep tabs on them. You have people going to the market who have to check in every time they go to a different market stall,” he said at a press briefing.

The oppression of Muslims was “the culmination of decades of repression of religious adherents” in China, Nadel added.

The State Department report, an annual update on religious freedom around the world, also detailed China’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group.

Blinken announced that he was also imposing a visa ban on Chinese official Yu Hui and his family for Yu Hui’s involvement in arbitrary detentions of Falun Gong followers.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

EU imposes China sanctions over Xinjiang abuses; first in three decades

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first sanctions against Beijing since an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Accused of mass detentions of Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, those targeted with sanctions included Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The EU said Chen was responsible for “serious human rights violations.”

In its Official Journal, the EU accused Chen of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief”.

Others hit with travel bans and asset freezes were: senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, the former head of China’s Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

While mainly symbolic, the sanctions mark a significant hardening in the EU’s policy towards China, which Brussels long regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of basic rights and freedoms.

They are also likely to inflame tensions between Brussels and Beijing. The EU had not sanctioned China since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy crackdown. The arms embargo is still in place.

All 27 EU governments agreed to the punitive measures, but Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called them “harmful” and “pointless,” reflecting the bloc’s divisions on how to deal with China’s rise and to protect business interests.

China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States and Beijing is both a big market and a major investor which has courted poorer and central European states.

POSSIBLE RETALIATION

But the EU, which sees itself as a champion of human rights, is deeply worried about the fate of the Uighurs. Britain, Canada and the United States have also expressed serious concerns.

Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations.

The EU’s sanctions take aim at officials who are seen to have designed and enforced the detentions in Xinjiang and come after the Dutch parliament followed Canada and the United States in labelling China’s treatment of the Uighurs as genocide, which China rejects.

Last week, China’s ambassador to the bloc, Zhang Ming, said that sanctions would not change Beijing’s policies, decrying the measures as confrontational and warning of retaliation.

The EU has also called for the release of jailed ethnic Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014. He was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize in 2019.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean)

‘Something close’ to genocide in China’s Xinjiang, says U.S. security adviser

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. national security adviser said on Friday that China was perpetrating “something close to” a genocide with its treatment of Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

“If not a genocide, something close to it going on in Xinjiang,” Robert O’Brien told an online event hosted by the Aspen Institute, while highlighting other Chinese crackdowns including one on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The United States has denounced China’s treatment of Uighur and other minority Muslims in Xinjiang and imposed sanctions on officials it blames for abuses. It has not, though, so far termed Beijing’s actions genocide, a designation that would have significant legal implications and require stronger action against China.

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang and activists say crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place there. China has denied any abuses and says its camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

O’Brien referred to seizures by U.S. customs of “massive numbers” of hair products made with human hair from Xinjiang.

“The Chinese are literally shaving the heads of Uighur women and making hair products and sending them to the United States,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in June it had detained a shipment originating in Xinjiang of hair products and accessories suspected of being forced-labor products made with human hair.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled as “shocking” and “disturbing” reports that China was using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims in Xinjiang.

He said last month Washington was considering the language it would use to describe what is happening in the region but added: “When the United States speaks about crimes against humanity or genocide … we’ve got to be very careful and very precise because it carries an enormous weight.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

China’s Xi says ‘happiness’ in Xinjiang on the rise, will keep teaching ‘correct’ outlook

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said levels of happiness among all ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang are rising and that China plans to keep teaching its residents a “correct” outlook on China, Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.

China has come under scrutiny over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and claims of alleged forced-labor abuses in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying one million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

China has repeatedly denied mistreating Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centers that are needed to tackle extremism, accusing what it calls anti-China forces of smearing its Xinjiang policy.

“The sense of gain, happiness, and security among the people of all ethnic groups (in Xinjiang) has continued to increase,” Xi told a ruling Communist Party conference on Xinjiang held on Friday and Saturday, Xinhua said.

Xi said it was necessary to educate Xinjiang’s population on an understanding of the Chinese nation and guide “all ethnic groups on establishing a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality”.

“Practice has shown that the party’s strategy for governing Xinjiang in the new era is completely correct” and it should be a long-term approach, he added.

In July, Washington imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

(Reporting by Engen Tham; Editing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie)

U.S. warns firms of human rights abuse risks in China’s Xinjiang province

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday issued an advisory warning U.S. companies about the risks they face from maintaining supply chains associated with human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang province.

The advisory, issued by the U.S. State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security departments, seeks to add more U.S. pressure on China at a time of heightened tensions over China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang and Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong.

The advisory said that companies doing business in Xinjiang or with entities using Xinjiang labor face “reputational, economic, and legal risks” from human rights abuses, including forced labor, mass detention and forced sterilization.

“CEOs should read this notice closely and be aware of the reputational, economic and legal risks of supporting such assaults on human dignity,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday.

The action follows a U.S. Commerce Department move last month that added seven companies and two institutions to an economic blacklist for being “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs” and others.

China’s foreign ministry said in May it deplored and firmly opposed U.S. sanctions over Xinjiang, calling it a purely internal affair for China.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

U.S. leads condemnation of China for ‘horrific’ repression of Muslims

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States led more than 30 countries in condemning what it called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Muslims in Xinjiang at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that was denounced by China.

In highlighting abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said on Tuesday the United Nations and its member states had “a singular responsibility to speak up when survivor after survivor recounts the horrors of state repression.”

The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in what China describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.

Sullivan said it was incumbent on U.N. member states to ensure it was able to closely monitor human rights abuses by China and added that it must seek “immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored” access to the western region of Xinjiang for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sullivan said Tuesday’s event was co-sponsored by Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, and was joined by more than 30 U.N. states, representatives of the European Union and more than 20 nongovernmental organizations, as well as Uighur victims.

“We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression,” he said. “History will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the U.S. move.

The Xinjiang issue is not about human rights but about countering separatism and terrorism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“All the slander and defamation of the U.S. and other countries is futile.” said Geng. “Their lies will crumble in the face of facts and truth.”

“RELIGIOUS LIBERTY”

Paola Pampaloni, deputy managing director for Asia of the European External Action Service, said the EU was “alarmed” by the situation and also urged “meaningful” access to Xinjiang.

“We are concerned about … information about mistreatment and torture,” she said. “China is always inviting us to the camps under their conditions, we are in negotiations right now for terms and conditions for free access.”

On Monday U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to religious persecution at another event on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering. He reiterated his comments in a speech to the General Assembly gathering of world leaders on Tuesday.

“Americans will never … tire in our effort to promote freedom of worship and religion. We want and support religious liberty for all,” he said.

Trump, who has been cautious about upsetting China on human rights issues while making a major trade deal with Beijing a major priority, said religious freedom was under growing threat around the world but fell short of specifically mentioning the Uighur situation.

“Volume is coming up at a pace that we hope that the Beijing government recognizes not only U.S. but the global concern about this situation,” David Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs told reporters.

“We will see how that plays out and how Beijing reacts and take it from there.”

A representative for the Chinese delegation to the U.N. General Assembly accused Washington of violating the U.N. Charter by criticizing China.

Sullivan said the United States had received “credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” in the camps.

He said there were also many reports that the Chinese government forces detainees to renounce their ethnic identities as well as their culture and religion.

Though U.S. officials have ramped up criticism of China’s measures in Xinjiang, it has refrained from responding with sanctions, amid on-again, off-again talks to resolve a bitter, costly trade war.

At the same time, it has criticized other countries, including some Muslim states, for not doing enough or for backing China’s approach in Xinjiang.

Rishat Abbas, the brother of Uighur physician Gulshan Abbas, who was abducted from her home in Urumchi in September 2018, told Tuesday’s event that “millions of Uighurs are becoming collateral damage to international trade policies, enabling China to continue to threaten our freedoms around the world, enable it to continue its police state.”

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has repeatedly pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.

China’s envoy in Geneva said in June that he hoped Bachelet would visit China, including Xinjiang. Bachelet’s office said in June that it was discussing “full access” with China.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

China says most people in Xinjiang camps have ‘returned to society’

A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Pete

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – Most people sent to mass detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region have “returned to society”, a senior official from the region said on Tuesday, but he declined to give an estimate of for many have been held in recent years.

U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the western region.

China describes the camps as vocational training centers to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz, asked at a briefing in Beijing for an account of how many people had been put in the facilities, said the number was “dynamic”, and that most had “successfully achieved employment”.

“Currently, most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home,” Tuniaz said.

A transcript of the briefing emailed to reporters had been edited to read “most have already graduated”, using the word for students who finish a course or graduate from high school.

“Individual countries and news media have ulterior motives, have inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared (China)” over the centers, he said.

China has not issued any detailed figures for how many people have been sent to the camps and authorities limit access for independent investigators.

Researchers have made estimates through various methods such as analyzing government procurement documents and satellite imagery of the facilities.

Foreign journalists have reported personal accounts of some former internees and photographed sprawling prison-like facilities surrounded by razor wire and watchtowers.

As Western countries have mounted more strident criticism of the camps, China has not backed down on what it says is a highly successful de-radicalization program in a region that has been plagued with intermittent ethnic violence.

Officials have arranged highly choreographed visits for journalists and diplomats to some of the facilities, where the government says the rights of the “trainees” are fully guaranteed.

It has also suggested that fewer people would be sent through the centers over time.

The government rejects any suggestion that it abuses religious and human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month called China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang the “stain of the century”, and the Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies there.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)