Chinese Diplomat to U.S.: Stop Using Xinjiang as a 'Pretext to Interfere'

A senior Chinese diplomat has urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to end U.S. criticism of China's mass internment camps for minority Muslim communities, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy and meddling in Beijing's domestic affairs.

Yang Jiechi, a Communist Party Politburo member and considered a key architect of Chinese foreign policy, spoke with Pompeo by phone on Wednesday about multiple hot topic issues that have undermined U.S.-Chinese relations in recent months and years.

Among them was China's oppression of Muslim minority groups in the restive far western province of Xinjiang. China is believed to have sent more than a million people from Uyghur and other minority communities to re-education camps in Xinjiang, forcing them to undergo ideological indoctrination to try and expunge long-held beliefs and traditions.

Critics have described the program as a cultural genocide, and former inmates have described inhumane conditions and rampant human rights abuses in the camps.

Outside, Chinese authorities have turned Xinjiang into a fearsome surveillance state where residents are constantly under scrutiny for any perceived sign of disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. Mosques, cemeteries and other cultural sites have been bulldozed to erase local identity and make it easier for authorities to watch locals.

China maintains that the camps are needed to fight terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang. Separatist and Islamist militants from the province have launched multiple attacks in China, though Beijing critics say the regime's reaction is disproportionate.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters Thursday that Yang and Pompeo had discussed Xinjiang and American condemnation of Beijing's program there.

Yang claimed that the security situation in the province "has been turned around and the rights to life, health and development of all ethnic groups there have been effectively safeguarded," Zhao said.

This was achieved, Yang said, "thanks to the counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures taken by the Chinese government in accordance with law."

On Wednesday. President Donald Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 into law. The bill condemns Chinese policy in Xinjiang and allows the U.S. to sanction individuals abusing human rights there.

Yang said China "strongly deplores" the legislation and urged the U.S. "to respect China's counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts, stop applying double standards on counter-terrorism issues, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues as a pretext to interfere in China's internal affairs."

Trump signed the Uyghur bill on the same day former National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed that the president had expressed support for the Xinjiang camps in conversations with President Xi Jinping.

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book—The Room Where it Happened, releasing on June 23—Trump told Xi through an interpreter "that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do."

In the excerpt, published by The Wall Street Journal, Bolton then recalled a conversation with the National Security Council's top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, who "told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China."

The State Department released its own acknowledgement of the call, though did not detail discussions about Xinjiang. In the statement, spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Yang and Pompeo "stressed important American interests and the need for fully-reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security, and diplomatic interactions."

China, US, Xinjiang, camps, Uighurs, Mike Pompeo
This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows people walking past a screen showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images/Getty