By K J M Varma
Beijing, Jul 11 (PTI) In a rare move, China on Thursday lodged a diplomatic protest with 22 countries, labelling as "slander" a letter sent by them to top United Nations officials condemning Beijing's mass detention of ethnic Uighur Muslims and other minorities in its restive Xinjiang region.
China is facing severe criticism from western countries over persistent reports of mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to tackle violent attacks by the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
More than 20 countries, including Japan and the United Kingdom, have issued a joint statement condemning China's mass detention of Uighur and other minorities in the country's Xinjiang region.
In a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the group of 22 nations urged China to end its "mass arbitrary detentions and related violations" and called on Beijing to allow UN experts to access the region.
The letter marks the first major collective international challenge to China's ongoing policy in the resource-rich western region.
China has defended the camps saying that they are re-education camps aimed at de-radicalise sections of the Uighur Muslim population.
Reacting to their criticism on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here that Beijing has lodged diplomatic protests with all the 22 countries asking them to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.
China simultaneously protesting to 22 countries is a rare diplomatic event.
China strongly opposes the 22 countries that politicise human rights issues and urges these countries to abandon their biases and cease interference with China's domestic affairs on the pretext of Xinjiang-related issues, he said.
The UN letter "attacks, slanders, and has unwarranted accusations against China," he said.
"As to the western countries' view at the Human Rights Council, they are disregarding facts and made groundless accusation against China. We firmly oppose it and deplore that. We have made stern representations to the relevant countries and urged them to respect the facts and abandon the practice of criticising China on human rights issues," he said.
"Don’t interfere in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang Human rights issue. Xinjiang is China’s internal affair and China’s government is in the best position to say anything about this," he said.
He defended the camps, saying "those measures taken by Xinjiang administration in accordance with law. It is a preventive measure to guard against terrorism”.
"As a result of the measures the safety and security has greatly improved. There has not been any terrorist attack in Xinjiang in recent years. People are feeling safer and satisfied with what the government has done," the spokesman said. PTI KJV NSA