The U.S. and 38 allies including the U.K. and Germany stepped up criticism of China’s human rights record, denouncing Beijing at the United Nations for its treatment of ethnic minorities and for curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.
“Extensive and invasive surveillance continues to target Uighurs and other minorities, and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control including sterilization,” Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, said Tuesday in a statement on behalf of the group at the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee.
On Hong Kong, he expressed “deep concerns” over cases being transferred for prosecution in mainland China, citing questions “about standards of judicial independence and due process in the criminal justice system.”
The international community has piled pressure on China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the UN estimated hundreds of thousands of members of the ethnic minority may have been held in “re-education camps.” Beijing has defended the camps as “vocational education centers” intended to “purge ideological diseases,” including terrorism and religious extremism.
“The Xinjiang issue is not a human rights issue, it’s not a religious issue or an ethnic issue,” China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, said in a briefing on Monday. “The nature of the issue is counterterrorism.”
The Trump administration has already sanctioned several dozen companies and high-ranking officials over China’s forced detentions of Muslim Uighurs. Current and former suppliers to major international clothing brands including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike have been hit by sanctions, while the Walt Disney Co. has faced boycott calls for filming part of its live-action “Mulan” film in Xinjiang.
The participating nations called Tuesday for China to allow “immediate and meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office,” to refrain “from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities,” and to “uphold autonomy, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”
China is open to inviting independent observers so long as “they’re not there to prove China has done something wrong,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “It should not be prejudged that China has violated human rights.”
The criticism comes as China’s ties with the West are at their worst in decades, with U.S. President Donald Trump making a tough stance on Beijing a key element of his re-election campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden. China’s national security laws on Hong Kong have alsooutraged many in Europe for what they see as an attack on democracy.
Last year, after a similar Western statement at the UN, China shot back with a statement signed by more than 50 countries including Russia, Egypt, Bolivia and Pakistan, commending “China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” China is expected to respond again this year with a group of supporters.
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