China hits back at 'hypocritical' US over religious freedom

Beijing has hit back at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence after they criticised the state of religious freedom in China (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

Beijing (AFP) - Beijing on Friday criticised US Vice President Mike Pence and top diplomat Mike Pompeo as "hideous" and "hypocritical" after they called for religious freedom in China at a major meeting in Washington.

Secretary of State Pompeo said Thursday that Washington will create a new international body to campaign for religious freedom, speaking after a conference where he called China's mass incarceration of mostly Muslim Uighurs "the stain of the century".

At a press briefing in Beijing on Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang rebuffed the criticism.

"The so-called conference on promoting religious freedom has slandered China's religious policies and the situation of religious belief in China and interfered with China's internal affairs," he said.

"The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with this and resolutely opposes it."

China has rounded up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities into re-education camps in tightly controlled Xinjiang region, in the country's northwest.

Beijing has defended its policy, describing the sites as vocational training centres and saying it is trying to root out extremism.

Geng said that the comments from Pompeo and Vice President Pence -- who also criticised China's record on human rights at the meeting -- had "completely confused right and wrong and reversed black and white".

"They even mixed and colluded with cultists, which again exposed their hideous face and hypocritical features," added Geng.

"We demand that the US abide by objective facts, abandon prejudice, correctly look at China's religious policies and the state of freedom of religious belief, and stop using religious issues to interfere in other countries' internal affairs."

Pompeo said that details of the group, dubbed the International Religious Freedom Alliance, were still being worked out but that it would "bring like-minded countries together" to make the issue a priority.

The Trump administration has generally played down human rights other than with adversaries. But it has put a high priority on religious freedom, an important issue for Trump's evangelical Christian base.

Pence also pledged to support religious freedom in North Korea this week, which advocacy groups say is perhaps the world's most repressive state, where even possession of the Bible is banned.