Over 20 countries urge China to halt detention but fears of potential backlash prevented a formal statement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on countries around the world to resist China‘s demands to repatriate ethnic Uighurs, saying Beijing’s campaign in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang was an “attempt to erase its own citizens”.
“I want to make clear that China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism,” Pompeo told reporters on Sunday. “It’s about China’s attempt to erase its own citizens. We call on all countries to resist China’s demands to repatriate the Uighurs.”
Pompeo made the comments after a meeting in New York with the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries – Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan – ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this week, during which Washington is expected to confront China over the issue.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will host an event on Tuesday on the “human rights crisis in Xinjiang” in China, diplomats said on Friday.
In recent years, Beijing has been putting pressure on countries to which Uighurs have fled, to send them back to China.
Rights groups said the refugees were likely to be sent straight to prison upon their return.
China has accused Uighurs of separatism and “terrorism” in Xinjiang, where ethnic violence has left hundreds of people dead over the past few years. It says those who have left have done so illegally.
At least one million Uighurs, and members of other largely-Muslim minority groups, have been held in camps in Xinjiang, according to the UN and human rights groups.
Beijing describes the complexes in Xinjiang as “vocational training centres” that are helping stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
US President Donald Trump‘s administration has been considering sanctions against Chinese officials, including Xinjiang’s Communist Party Chief Chen Quanguo, a member of the Chinese leadership’s powerful Politburo, since last year, but has held off amid Beijing’s threats of retaliation.