Xinjiang: China defends 'education' camps

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A suspected re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in Xinjiang regionImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
China says the camps are a necessary measure against terrorism following separatist violence in Xinjiang

China has defended its controversial policies in the Xinjiang region, just days after the US government announced import restrictions on products coming out of the area.

Beijing has come under fire for a network of detention centres which mostly house Muslim minorities.

But a new document says millions of workers have benefited from "education and vocational training".

The US has likened the centres to concentration camps.

It has placed sanctions on Chinese politicians allegedly involved and earlier this week blocked some exports it said had been made with "forced labour".

A new Chinese government white paper, however, says "vocational training" is increasing job opportunities and combating poverty.

"Xinjiang has built a large knowledge-based, skilled and innovative workforce that meets the requirements of the new era," the report reads.

It says the training provided includes written and spoken Mandarin, labour skills and "knowledge of urban life". The report says people from rural areas have started their own businesses or got jobs in factories after receiving state support.

China has long insisted that mass "vocational education and training" is necessary in far-western Xinjiang to counter terrorism and alleviate poverty.

But human rights groups have said at least one million people have been incarcerated in camps which they describe as "re-education" centres.

The Chinese report said that 1.3 million people had been through Xinjiang's "vocational training" scheme annually for six years. It's not clear how many of those "retrained" were sent to the specially built camps or if any of them went through the programme twice.

But in total nearly eight million people out of a population of 22 million could have been through the programme, the new figures suggest.

Media caption,

The BBC visits the camps where China’s Muslims have their "thoughts transformed"

On Wednesday, Swedish clothing giant H&M said it was severing ties with a Chinese yarn producer amid accusations that the company was using "slave labour" from Xinjiang.

The US measures announced on Monday target four companies and one manufacturing site.

They fall short of the region-wide ban that had been considered, officials said. However, they were still exploring that possibility.

"These extraordinary human rights violations demand an extraordinary response," Kenneth Cuccinelli, the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary told reporters at the time. "This is modern-day slavery."

China hit back at the US over the block on exports. A foreign ministry spokesperson said accusations of forced labour had been fabricated by Western countries.

Media caption,

The video Uighur model Merdan Ghappar filmed inside China's detention system, published two weeks ago by the BBC