U.S., Germany slam China at U.N. Security Council over Xinjiang: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and Germany slammed China during a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday for detaining more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, accusing Beijing of depriving them of their rights, diplomats said.

FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

China has been widely condemned for setting up detention complexes in remote Xinjiang. It describes them as “education training centers” helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen accused China of suppressing and mistreating the Uighurs, according to several diplomats who attended the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In response, China’s U.N. Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu told diplomats the United States and Germany had no right to raise the issue in the Security Council as it was an internal matter for his country.

When asked about the U.N. meeting, a U.S. State Department official said: “The United States is alarmed by China’s highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang, and efforts to coerce members of its Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, speaking in Beijing, said the meeting was supposed to be held behind closed-doors and he did not know how the contents had been leaked to the media.

The meeting was about Central Asia, but Germany and the United States made “unwarranted criticisms” about China’s Xinjiang policies and China’s United Nations ambassador sternly rebuffed their remarks, he added.

“Xinjiang matters are purely an internal affair for China, and have nothing to do with the Security Council’s agenda,” he said.

Germany’s mission to the United Nations declined to comment.

The exchange, described by some diplomats as “heated,” occurred during a closed-door discussion by the 15-member Security Council on the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.

Last month the United States, Britain and other western countries objected to a visit by the United Nations counterterrorism chief to Xinjiang, concerned the visit would validate China’s argument that it was tackling terrorism.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres ahead of the trip to convey Washington’s concerns because “Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Chris Reese