The United States has accused China of imprisoning more than a million Muslims in 'concentration camps' in some of Washington’s strongest condemnation of Beijing’s treatment of minorities.
The comments by Mr. Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the US defense department, are likely to increase tension with Beijing, which is sensitive to international criticism and describes the sites as vocational education training centres aimed at stemming the threat of Islamic extremism. Some of the sprawling facilities are ringed with razor wire and watch towers.
'The [Chinese] are using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,' Mr. Schriver told a Pentagon briefing, estimating that the number could be 'closer to three million citizens'. Mr. Schriver defended his use of a term normally associated with Nazi Germany as appropriate, under the circumstances.
When asked why he used the term, Mr. Schriver said that it was justified 'given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens out of a population of about 10 million'. 'So a very significant portion of the population, (given) what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description,' he said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately make any comment.The US secretary of state, Mr. Mike Pompeo, had used the term re-education camps to describe the sites and said Chinese activity was 'reminiscent of the 1930s'.
The US 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 ethnic minorities. China has warned that it would retaliate 'in proportion' against any US sanctions.The governor of Xinjiang in March directly dismissed comparisons to concentration camps, saying they were 'the same as boarding schools.'
US officials have said China has made criminal many aspects of religious practice and culture in Xinjiang, including punishment for teaching Muslim texts to children and bans on parents giving their children Uighur names.Academics and journalists have documented grid-style police checkpoints across Xinjiang and mass DNA collection, and human rights advocates have decried martial law-type conditions there.