BEIJING – China blamed "anti-China forces" on Tuesday for the growing criticism of Beijing's policies in a far western region where large groups of ethnic Uighurs are being detained in internment camps.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said anti-China forces had made "false accusations against China for political purposes" after a U.N. human rights committee raised concern over reported mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs. He also said a few foreign media outlets misrepresented the committee's discussions and were smearing China's anti-terror and crime-fighting measures in Xinjiang.
In Xinjiang, authorities responding to sporadic violent attacks by Muslim separatists have imposed a heavy security crackdown and detained an estimated hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities in indoctrination camps. Former detainees have provided The Associated Press among the first accounts of life inside these camps in which they were forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party .
In recent weeks, China has come under pressure from some Western governments and rights groups to release people held in such centers or account for the whereabouts of people whose overseas relatives say have gone missing.
A U.N. committee member last week cited estimates that over 1 million people in China from the country's Uighur and other Muslim minorities are being held in "counter-extremism centers" and another 2 million have been forced into "re-education camps."
China's delegation told the U.N. panel on Monday that "there is no arbitrary detention ... there are no such things as re-education centers." It said authorities in Xinjiang have cracked down on "violent terrorist activities," while convicted criminals are provided with skills to reintegrate themselves into society at "vocational education and employment training centers."
"The argument that 1 million Uighurs are detained in re-education centers is completely untrue," Chinese delegate Hu Lianhe said through an interpreter. It was a rare public comment by a Chinese official about the camps.
He added "there is no suppression of ethnic minorities or violations of their freedom of religious belief in the name of counter-terrorism." But he also said "those who are deceived by religious extremism ... shall be assisted through resettlement and education."
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.
Gay McDougall, the committee vice-chairwoman who raised the detentions last week, said she wasn't convinced by China's "flat denial" of the detention figures. She said China "didn't quite deny" that re-education programs are 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, which addressed a broad range of issues that went well beyond the Uighurs.
But delegation leader Yu Jianhua said some panel members had treated "some of the unsubstantiated materials as credible information." He contended that some of that information came from groups which "seek to split China" and have links to terrorist organizations.