BEIJING: EU observers are free to visit Xinjiang to “truly understand” the situation in the northwestern region where Beijing is accused of widespread rights abuses against the Uighur population, China said Tuesday.
Rights groups say over a million Uighurs languish in political reeducation camps, while a campaign of forced assimilation has targeted academics, religious leaders and activists from mostly Muslim minority groups.
International pressure is building on China’s ruling Communist Party over its actions in the resource-rich region, and on Monday the European Union pressed China to let its independent observers into Xinjiang, binding human rights to future trade and investment deals with Beijing.
In response a foreign ministry spokesman said the bloc was “welcome” to visit the area “to truly understand the real situation and not rely on hearsay.”
“The EU has raised their desire to visit Xinjiang, China has already agreed and is willing to make arrangements,” Wang Wenbin told reporters.
China has rebuffed past calls to grant independent access to Xinjiang, and the spokesman didn’t confirm that EU observers would be allowed to travel freely in the region.
Beijing describes its Xinjiang camps as vocational training centres where education is given to lift the population out of poverty and to chisel away at Islamic radicalism.
China says criticism of its handling of Xinjiang is politically motivated, and based on lies about what happens in the vast facilities it has built.
In December China also invited Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil to visit Xinjiang and see the situation for himself after he decried the treatment of the Uighurs and criticised Muslim countries for failing to speak up about the alleged abuses.
The EU joins the US in taking China to task over its treatment of minorities in Xinjiang.
On Monday US customs said it would bar a raft of Chinese products including cotton, garments and hair products, from Xinjiang over fears they were made using forced labour.
China on Tuesday slammed the US move as “bullying” and dismissed accusations of forced labour as “a complete fabrication.”