China says confident of Central Asia support before Pompeo visit

BEIJING (Reuters) - Attempts to sow discord over Chinese policies in its Xinjiang region will fail, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to neighboring central Asia.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks ahead of a meeting with the foreign ministers of the Central Asian states on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich/File Photo

Many Western countries have expressed deep concern at reports China has interned Muslims in its far western region of Xinjiang in harsh conditions, with Pompeo particularly critical. Beijing says it is running a vocational training program to fight extremism.

Next week Pompeo visits Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, close friends of China which have not criticized its policies in Xinjiang although their citizens have close cultural and religious connections to the people of Xinjiang.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Central Asian countries were better placed to assess the situation than Washington.

“On the real situation in Xinjiang, the five Central Asian countries have an even better understanding than the United States and greater right to speak about it,” Geng said.

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained. China strongly denies any mistreatment.

The United States had already tried and failed to “throw dirty water” at China during a meeting earlier in the year with Central Asia foreign ministers, Geng said.

“If the United States once again tries to get up to its old tricks, it will certainly still be futile for them. On the Xinjiang issue the Central Asia countries understand and support China’s position, and positively appraise China’s counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures.”

China strongly believes that Central Asian countries are firm in their joint fight with China against terror and extremism, and attempts to sow discord will fail, Geng said.

Pompeo is due to meet the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan while he is in Tashkent.

China was infuriated earlier this month when the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the Trump administration to toughen its response to China’s crackdown in Xinjiang.

Hundreds of people have died in Xinjiang in recent years in violence blamed by Beijing on separatists and Islamists.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Philippa Fletcher