GENEVA – Detention centers for Muslims in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang are "campuses, not camps" and are set to be closed as a "training program" for the ethnic Uighurs is downsized, a top Chinese diplomat said Friday.
At the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng reiterated China's insistence that the centers are designed to provide training and fight terrorism that, he said, has infected the region for years. He also took aim at a U.S.-led "side event" in Geneva on Xinjiang — calling that "unacceptable" interference in Chinese sovereignty.
He said officials from around the world, including from the U.N., had visited the region and that the centers in Xinjiang are "actually boarding schools or campuses, not camps as claimed by the ill-intentioned few."
He didn't specify when the centers would be closed, other than telling reporters afterward that they would be "at the appropriate time."
Le also told reporters he had recently visited some centers in Xinjiang — and played ping pong and ate halal food there.
The centers have drawn condemnation from across the world, including from the United States, as well as from human rights groups.
The comments by Le came as China was responding to more than 200 recommendations by other countries on ways that Beijing could improve human rights as part of a Human Rights Council process known as the Universal Periodic Review, or UPR.
All U.N. member states undergo such screening, generally every four to five years. Le said China had accepted 82 percent of the recommendations presented during the review last November. The council formally adopted the review of China without a vote on Friday.
The U.S. State Department this week said China "significantly intensified" a campaign of mass detentions over the last year, with between 800,000 and 2 million people from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region interned in camps.
The United States, historically one of the few countries to confront China over its human rights records, pulled out of the 47-country Geneva-based U.N. body last year, alleging it has an anti-Israeli bias and other shortcomings.
Norway's ambassador in Geneva voiced the most criticism among diplomats at the council on Friday. Hans Brattskar said the Nordic country regretted that China did not accept any recommendations in the UPR process related to the situation in Xinjiang.