China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, has threatened retaliation against the United States if the Trump administration goes ahead with with possible sanctions against Beijing over human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
At least one million Muslim majority Uyghur have been imprisoned in enormous “re-education centers” in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, according to a report to the US Congress.
The Trump administration has been increasingly vocal on the plight of the Uyghurs and a bipartisan group of US lawmakers has called for sanctions to be placed on Beijing over its treatment of the minority group.
But speaking to Reuters Tuesday, Cui claimed the Chinese government was trying to “re-educate” terrorists and complained that Beijing was being held to a double standard.
“Can you imagine (if) some American officials in charge of the fight against ISIS would be sanctioned?” Cui said.
The ambassador compared the US military fighting Islamist extremists in the Middle East with the Chinese response in Xinjiang, saying while Washington was killing terrorists, Beijing was trying to help them.
“We are trying to re-educate most of them, trying to turn them into normal persons (who) can go back to normal life,” he said.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the US imprisoned more than 20 Uyghur men without trial at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, following their capture in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The last three Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo were not freed until December 2013, almost 12 years after they were first detained.
Cui said if any sanctions were placed on Chinese officials there would be a proportionate response from Beijing.
“If such actions are taken, we have to retaliate,” Cui was quoted as saying. The ambassador did not offer details on specific actions China might take.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied it is detaining Uyghurs in camps in Xinjiang, instead claiming they are voluntary “vocational education training” centers.
But former Uyghur inmates tell a different story, saying they were forced to repeat Communist Party propaganda daily, thanking and praising Chinese President Xi Jinping, while others claimed they were tortured in the camps.
On Monday a group of 270 concerned academics across the world released a statement fiercely condemning Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang, saying detainees were forced to endure “malnourishment and severe psychological distress.”
“Those who do not fully participate in political reeducation are often subjected to beatings, solitary confinement, and forms of religious and psychological violation. There have been numerous reports of deaths in the centers, particularly among the elderly and infirm,” the statement said.