China on Friday dismissed as a “farce” a news report saying it is separating ethnic Uighur children from their parents as part of social engineering policies in the western region of Xinjiang.
At a news briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also rejected the Economist magazine’s characterisation of China’s policies in Xinjiang, where most of China’s Muslim Uighur population lives, as a crime against humanity.
Activists say about one million Uighurs and other Turkic people have been imprisoned in “brainwashing” camps, mass detention that has been decried by rights groups and foreign government officials alike.
In September, nearly two dozen activist groups wrote a letter to the United Nations claiming a genocide was taking place against the Uighurs and should be investigated.
An investigation by The Associated Press news agency in June said China is imposing draconian measures to slash birth rates among ethnic Uighurs as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population.
Under international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread and systematic, whereas the burden of proof of genocide – the intent to destroy part of a population – is more difficult to prove.
Last month an Australian think-tank showed China’s network of detention centres in the Xinjiang region is much bigger than previously thought and is being expanded, even as Beijing says it is winding down its “re-education” programme.
China has faced intense criticism globally for its treatment of the Uighurs, with countries like the United States imposing sanctions on top Beijing political figures and importing food commodities.
The European Union has pressed China to let its independent observers into Xinjiang, binding human rights to future trade and investment deals with Beijing.
In September, some 160 rights groups have sent a joint letter to the chief of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), calling for it to reconsider its choice to award China the 2022 Winter Games in light of Beijing’s human rights record.