Senior Chinese diplomats hit out at western ambassadors and critics from nearly 40 nations after they slammed Beijing’s record on human rights at the United Nations.
“A small group of countries - led by the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom - abused the UN platform, politicized the issues of human rights and provoked confrontation,” China’s ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun said in a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, calling the accusations “groundless.”
The pushback came a day after a heated UN General Assembly session in which Zhang lashed out at diplomats from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the UK when they and dozens of other countries stepped up criticism of Beijing for its ongoing persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
“Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and other minorities, and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control including sterilization,” said Germany’s UN ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who chaired the high-profile meeting and read out the statement for the group at the assembly’s human rights committee.
“We call on China to respect human rights, particularly the rights of those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities especially in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
Responding in the session, Zhang Jun directly addressed American diplomats present, accusing them of dishonorable practices that are “completely at odds with the trend of history.”
“Before hurling accusations, you are better off taking a good look at yourself in the mirror.”
The UN statement on China, backed by 39 nations, also addressed the ongoing crackdowns on dissidents in Hong Kong and Tibet.
“The attempt [by] the U.S., Germany and other countries to smear China’s human rights records is doomed to fail,” tweeted the Chinese Mission to UN, which also issued a strongly-worded public statement following the meeting. Cuba and Pakistan, long-time allies of China, also led a rival statement in defence of Beijing, condemning criticism of policies in Xinjiang as interference in Chinese internal affairs.
But research continues to emerge challenging China’s official narrative over what’s happening in Xinjiang, including a new U.S. government labor department report titled detailing additional products produced by forced labor schemes.
The U.K. has also raised the possibility of a Winter Olympics boycott, a huge but symbolic blow to the prestige of the host of the 2022 games in Beijing.
According to the United Nations, an estimated one million Uighurs are being held in Chinese camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, though estimates by rights groups suggest that number may be as high as three million.
While the Chinese government strongly denies allegations of human rights abuses in the region and has defended the detention of Uighurs in what it calls vocational re-education schools, investigations have revealed the existence of massive prison facilities and the use of forced sterilization campaigns to lower Uighur birth rates.
Jewher Ilham, Uighur Human Rights Fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and daughter of famed Uighur economist and academic Ilham Tohti who is currently serving out a life sentence in China, supported calls for more international pressure to be placed on Beijing.
“Members of the Uighur community have been crying for help for years, it’s only been fairly recent that the international community took notice,” she told VICE News in a phone interview.
“I hope to see more countries standing up to China and applying stronger measures. China needs to see that what they are doing constitutes an international humanitarian crisis.”
“Monetary gain plays a huge part and certain countries back China but the level of abuse being committed by Chinese authorities, forced labor and repression of people like my father is atrocious and ridiculous and cannot be balanced out with money,” Ilham said.