China denounces U.S. 'concentration camps' remarks

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denounced the United States on Monday for accusing it of operating concentration camps for Muslims in its far western region of Xinjiang, saying the accusations were divorced from reality.

FILE PHOTO: A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre under construction in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Defense Department, said last week that China had put more than a million minority Muslims in “concentration camps”, in some of the strongest U.S. condemnation of what it calls China’s mass detention of mostly Muslim Uighur people and members of other Muslim groups.

Some former detainees have described to Reuters being tortured during interrogation at the camps, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide.

Some of the sprawling facilities are ringed with razor wire and watch towers.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Schriver’s remarks “absolutely did not accord with the facts”, and that Xinjiang was stable and its people were living in harmony in peace.

Geng reiterated the government’s stance that what it is operating in Xinjiang is vocational training centers, which are measures to help prevent terror.

“The relevant measures are carried out completely in line with the law, have won the wholehearted support and embrace of the people, and have had a good social effect,” he said.

“The relevant words and actions of the relevant person in the United States are a gross interference in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition,” Geng said.

“We also once again urge the relevant person in the United States to respect the facts, abandon prejudice, speak and act cautiously, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs through the issue of Xinjiang.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday used the term re-education camps to describe the sites and said Chinese activity was “reminiscent of the 1930s”.

The U.S. government has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, a vast region bordering central Asia that is home to millions of Uighurs and other Muslim minority people.

China has warned that it would retaliate “in proportion” against any U.S. sanctions.

The governor of Xinjiang in March directly dismissed comparisons to concentration camps, saying the facilities being operated were “the same as boarding schools”.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel