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At the United Nations on Monday, China issued a categorical reply to accusations it is mistreating its Uyghur ethnic minority: “completely untrue."

Its denial flew in the face of reports from international human-rights organizations, and a Germany-based Uyghur advocacy group, that as many as a million Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang province — where Turkic-speaking Uyghurs form a majority — are being detained extrajudicially in political internment centres.

It was also difficult to square with a July report in China’s state-controlled Global Times that Beijing “relocated” 461,000 in Xinjiang in the first quarter of 2018 so they could be “lifted from poverty” and “improve social stability.”

How could a Chinese official tell the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that all citizens of Xinjiang “enjoy equal freedoms”? The same official’s insistence that “there is no arbitrary detention” — in particular the word “arbitrary” — may be revealing.

China views the Uyghurs as separatists who pose an urgent security threat. On Monday, a Global Times editorial credited Beijing with sparing Xinjiang “becoming ‘China’s Syria’” by prioritizing “peace and stability” above all else. It’s on this basis that China seems to justify a crackdown that, according to Human Rights Watch, also includes forcibly collecting millions of fingerprints, DNA samples and retinal scans.

If China is so confident in its proportionality, it should open Xinjiang to journalists, NGOs and international observers. Instead, it is downplaying and obscuring.

That should not stop Canada and its allies from pressing China to respect the Uyghurs' human rights and to allow more outside scrutiny of their treatment. If those calls are ignored, it should serve as reminder — amid efforts to build a stronger economic relationship — of what sort of regime we are dealing with.

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