WASHINGTON D.C.: The United States said on Thursday (Friday in Manila) it raised concerns with China about human rights in the Xinjiang region after activists voiced outrage over a meeting between the two powers on counterterrorism.
US and Chinese officials met on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) in Washington on counterterrorism cooperation, amid Beijing’s widening crackdown on Uighur activists in the far western Xinjiang region following a string of deadly attacks.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US side highlighted to China a “comprehensive approach” on counterterrorism, including the need to respect minority rights.
“We will continue to urge Chinese officials to take steps to reduce tensions and uphold its international commitments to protect religious freedom,” Psaki told reporters.
Beijing has cast its fight against Uighur separatists as akin to the US-led “war on terror” following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
China has witnessed a rising number of attacks blamed on Uighur militants, including a knife assault on a train station that killed 29 people in March and an explosive and vehicle attack in a market that killed 39 in May.
Chinese state-run media quoted Vice Foreign Minister Chen Guoping, who took part in the talks, as describing the meeting as a way to build trust between the United States and China.
China voiced opposition to “double standards” on terrorism, he said, adding that the United States showed understanding over Beijing’s efforts to crack down on the militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Critics say that China has alienated Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim, through cultural and religious repression and that organized militants are a negligible force.
Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, estimated that Beijing in recent weeks has prosecuted at least 200 Uighurs on terror charges in trials “not within a nautical mile of international standards.”
Richardson said she was “baffled” why the United States would hold the dialogue, as China was seeking an “imprimatur of approval” and Washington could take up practical issues of cooperation elsewhere.
“If you’re a Uighur who has just been sentenced baselessly on terrorism charges and you see that the US is engaging in a counter-terrorism dialogue with the Chinese government, what’s your perception of where Washington’s interests are or what its priorities are?” she asked.
Richardson said that the United States, which agreed to resume the dialogue during a recent visit to Beijing by Secretary of State John Kerry, should have set conditions for the talks such as the release of Ilham Tohti, a prominent academic detained on charges that could carry the death penalty.