China on Monday rejected a US official's accusation that three million people are held in "concentration camps" in Xinjiang, a northwest region home to most of the country's ethnic Uighur minority. The comments are "totally inconsistent with the facts", said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing in Beijing.
"The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition," he said. "We also once again urge the relevant parties in the US to... stop interfering with China's internal affairs through the Xinjiang issue." According to estimates cited by a UN panel, upwards of one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities are being held in detention centres in Xinjiang.
Randall Schriver, US assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, called the centres "concentration camps" at a press briefing last week and estimated that the figure was "likely closer to three million". Schriver also voiced concerns over China's internal security forces, which he said are used for "mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims".
While Beijing previously denied the existence of the camps, it has moved towards acknowledging them, though it describes them as "vocational training centres" that are vital in the fight against separatist sentiments and religious extremism. It has also gone on a public relations blitz since last October in a bid to counter a global outcry against the camps by inviting diplomats and journalists to tour the centres.
(With inputs from agencies.)