An official Communist Party newspaper said China’s campaign of pressure against its Uighur Muslim minority has prevented the Xinjiang region from becoming “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya”.
The Global Times editorial on Monday came after a United Nations anti-discrimination committee raised concerns on Friday over China’s treatment of Uighurs, citing reports of mass detentions that it said “resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.
More than one million Uighur Muslims are estimated to be in detention in “counter-extremism centres” in China’s far western region, said Gay McDougall vice chairperson of a UN anti-discrimination committee.
Following attacks by separatists, members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.
Global Times said the intense regulations in the region were merely “a phase that Xinjiang has to go through in rebuilding peace and prosperity”.
The editorial did not directly mention the existence of the internment camps.
Denouncing what it called “destructive Western public opinions”, the paper said, “peace and stability must come above all else”.
“Through the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the national strength of the country and the contribution of local officials, Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil,” the newspaper said. “It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya’.”
Xinjiang has been enveloped in a suffocating blanket of security for years, especially since a deadly anti-government riot broke out in the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009. Over recent months, monitoring groups and eyewitnesses say Uighurs have been summoned from abroad and across China and sent into detention and indoctrination centres.
The roughly 10 million Uighurs make up a tiny proportion of China’s almost 1.4 billion people and there has never been an uprising that could challenge the central government’s overwhelming might.
When the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination started reviewing China’s report in Geneva on Friday, Chinese delegation leader Yu Jianhua highlighted economic progress and rising living standards among other things.
McDougall also said there were estimates another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination.
She did not specify a source for that information in her remarks at the hearing.
The Geneva-based committee continued its hearing on Monday and China vehemently denied allegations that one million people were being held in internment camps while insisting all ethnic groups are treated equally.
McDougall said China “didn’t quite deny” that re-education programmes were taking place.
“You said that was false, the 1 million. Well, how many were there? Please tell me,” she said. “And what were the laws on which they were detained, the specific provisions?”
There was no direct response to that in Monday’s session.
A Chinese official told the committee tough security measures in Xinjiang were necessary to combat “extremism and terrorism”, but they did not target any specific ethnic group or restrict religious freedoms.
“Xinjiang citizens, including the Uighurs, enjoy equal freedom and rights,” Ma Youqing, director of China’s United Front Work Department, told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Another Chinese delegate, Hu Lianhe, said his country just “assisted those who are deceived by religious extremism through resettlement and education”.