China Bashes NYT’s Xinjiang Story as Warren, Buttigieg Criticize

Bloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- China lashed out at a New York Times story on its incarceration of Muslims in its far western region of Xinjiang as its policies drew fresh criticism from U.S. presidential candidates.

The newspaper’s Sunday report, which drew on more than 400 pages of leaked official documents, was part of an attempt to “smear” China and “disregarded the facts,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press briefing in Beijing Monday. The piece included classified speeches directing policy in Xinjiang made by President Xi Jinping and Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who oversees the region.

China’s response came as the Times’ story drew attention from leading U.S. Democratic presidential candidates. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts shared the story on Twitter, describing China’s treatment of Muslims as “bigoted” and “horrifying.” Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, wrote on Twitter that “China is waging a shocking, merciless campaign to erase the religious and ethnic identity of millions.”

The candidates are the latest voices to criticize China’s policy in the region, which has long been called out by activists and rights groups. China, which is facing anti-government unrest in Hong Kong and growing economic headwinds in the mainland, has sought to defend its detention of Muslims to the world -- bringing reporters on guided tours of Xinjiang and the so-called re-education camps where hundreds of thousands are thought to be held.

Their comments indicate that China’s human rights record is becoming an increasingly prominent issue in the 2020 U.S. presidential race, as the world’s two largest economies continue to struggle for a solution to their trade battle. The Times’s story is also particularly sensitive for China given it involves the rare leak of official materials in a country whose government goes to great lengths to stress unity among its leadership and silence dissent.

The Trump administration previously slapped visa bans on some Chinese officials linked to Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang, which Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has described as “the stain of the century.” And former Vice President Joe Biden, himself a Democratic frontrunner, said last month that he would consider penalizing China because of “what they’re doing to Uighurs.”

‘Re-Education Camps’

The United Nations has estimated that as many as one million Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority group, may be held in so-called “transformation through education” camps in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities call them “voluntary education centers” to purge “ideological diseases,” but Uighur citizens in the camps have been forced to disavow their Islamic beliefs and praise the ruling Communist Party, the Associated Press has reported.

QuickTake: The Uighurs

China contests the number detained, but the number and size of the camps has expanded rapidly since 2016, with estimates as high as 1,200. Xi’s government has defended the crackdown as necessary to fight terrorism and improve Uighurs’ economic prospects after years of unrest and terrorist attacks.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Peter Martin in Beijing at pmartin138@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Karen Leigh

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