China hits back at 'prejudiced' U.S. with own rights criticism

BEIJING (Reuters) - Citing poor media freedoms, racism and “ideological prejudice”, China hit back on Thursday in unusually strong terms after the U.S. State Department slammed China’s rights record, including equating abuses on its Muslim minorities with the 1930s.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang answers questions about a major bus accident in North Korea, during a news conference in Beijing, China April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted abuses in Iran, South Sudan, Nicaragua and China in the department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” but told reporters that China was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations”.

Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, said mistreatment of China’s Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region was like hadn’t been seen “since the 1930s”, apparently referring to the policies of persecution of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the U.S. report was as usual filled with “ideological prejudice” and groundless accusations, and that China had lodged a complaint with Washington about it.

China fully safeguards human rights and China has made many achievements in this regard, he added.

“We also advise that the United States take a hard look at its own domestic human rights record, and first take care of its own affairs.”

China has roundly rejected concern about its policies in Xinjiang, where rights groups say the government is operating internment camps holding a million or more Muslims. China says they are vocational training centers aimed at de-radicalisation.

Adding to Beijing’s strong push-back, the Chinese government on Thursday issued its annual rebuttal to criticism from Washington about China’s human rights record.

China’s State Council, or Cabinet, said the United States was a self-styled “human rights defender,” that has a human rights record which is “flawed and lackluster”.

“The double standards of human rights it pursues are obvious,” it said.

The report pointed to the high rate of gun deaths, racial discrimination, and also lack of media freedom, despite China being ranked 176 last year on the world press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders, ahead of only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

“Press freedom has come under unprecedented attack,” it said, pointing to cases of reporters in the United States being arrested and prevented from doing their jobs.

“The U.S. government continues to publicly and fiercely accuse the media and journalists of creating ‘fake news’ and creating an atmosphere of intimidation and hostility,” the report said.

“Reporters’ legal right to report has been violated,” it added, pointing to cases of the White House stripping some reporters of press credentials.

There is no routine access to China’s presidential office and no presidential spokesman. President Xi Jinping only very rarely takes questions from any reporters, let alone foreign media.

China’s report cited reports by foreign news organizations, including Reuters, the BBC, Newsweek and the Washington Post, for evidence of rights abuses in the United States.

Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world’s two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

China routinely rejects criticism of its rights record and has pointed to its success at lifting millions out of poverty, and that nobody has the right to criticize its model of government.

But the ruling Communist Party brooks no political dissent and President Xi Jinping’s administration has overseen a sweeping crackdown on rights lawyers and activists.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez