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A Uyghur woman and children ride past a billboard showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Unity New Village in China's Xinjiang region on Sept. 20, 2018.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa says Canada has no right to lecture China – an irate response to the imposition of sanctions on Chinese officials accused of co-ordinating policies that have grossly violated human rights in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

“Canada is in no position to act as a ‘teacher’ on human rights issues, or to tell China what to do!” the embassy said in a statement.

The sanctions, issued by Canada in parallel with the United States, the European Union and Britain – the first such measures taken against China since the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 – were met with anger by Chinese leaders. The joint action marks a new attempt by Western democracies to act together against China, which has become increasingly bold in using its status as the world’s second-largest economy to compel other countries to constrain criticism of Beijing.

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned Canada’s chargé d’affaires and the EU ambassador in Beijing to register the country’s displeasure. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying pledged a firm response to any country that “interferes in China’s internal affairs based on rumours and lies and damages China’s interests and dignity.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi said the time when other countries “could interfere in China’s internal affairs recklessly by making up a story or a lie is long gone and won’t return.”

Authorities in Xinjiang have incarcerated large numbers of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, in addition to sterilizing women, destroying mosques and moving those deemed “surplus labour” to factories thousands of kilometres away.

China’s policies in the region have been documented and confirmed by government reports, satellite imagery, testimony from former detainees and ground-level reporting by international media, including The Globe and Mail. Government directives in Xinjiang, for example, have ordered officials to “contain illegal births and lower fertility levels.” Statistics show a 60-per-cent rise in the insertion of intrauterine devices between 2014 and 2018 and a sevenfold increase in sterilizations, with 60,000 such procedures conducted in 2018 alone.

Nonetheless, China’s embassy in Ottawa on Tuesday disputed what is taking place in Xinjiang, saying reports of detention camps, forced labour and forced abortions “are all baseless nonsense.”

It lashed out at what it called Canada’s “poor human rights record,” pointing to residential schools and racial discrimination – problems widely acknowledged and criticized by Canadian government and society. “Today, many Indigenous people are not even guaranteed safe drinking water,” the embassy said. “Systemic racial discrimination is rampant in Canada, and violence against Asians increased dramatically during the epidemic.”

The embassy’s statement was in response to the Canadian government’s decision to join allies in imposing sanctions on four Xinjiang officials – Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzheng, Wang Mingshan and Chen Mingguo – the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and the region’s Public Security Bureau for “their participation in gross and systematic human rights violations.”

Beijing immediately retaliated against the EU with sanctions against 10 people and four entities. They include Reinhard Butikofer, who chairs the EU’s delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China, and Adrian Zenz, whose research has uncovered detailed evidence of Chinese policies in Xinjiang, as well as the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark. The Chinese sanctions prohibit those people and their families from entering China or doing business with Chinese companies.

In response, Mr. Butikofer said on Twitter that the ratification of an EU-China investment agreement “is not becoming more probable,” since the Chinese sanctions affected five members of the European Parliament in what he called a bid “to ‘punish’ free speech that is critical of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] authoritarian regime.”

MERICS said it “rejects the allegations” and will continue to present its analysis “even in difficult times.”

In France, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said it “cannot accept” the Chinese measures. “Lashing out at academic freedom, the freedom of expression and fundamental democratic freedoms will not help China to respond to the EU’s legitimate concerns,” it said.

On Monday and Tuesday, foreign affairs ministers from China and Russia met in Guilin, where they called on the U.S. to “reflect on the damage it has done to global peace and development in recent years,” adding that Washington should “stop meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs and stop forming small circles to seek bloc confrontation.”

China’s Ms. Hua dismissed foreign critics Tuesday as members of a U.S.-led clique that has demonstrated “hegemony and hypocrisy.” Meanwhile, “China’s circle of friends is actually getting bigger and bigger,” she said.

She cited China’s response to the pandemic to argue that Western countries have no right to criticize the Chinese government. Beijing has successfully brought COVID-19 under control, she said, through strict measures and skillful co-ordination among authorities.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hua said, “the world’s most developed and the wealthiest countries, with the most advanced medical services, how could they stand by watching hundreds of thousands of their people dying from the epidemic? Is this democracy? Is their democracy serving the people?”

China did quickly bring the spread of the virus within its borders under control – after trying to cover up the initial outbreak in Wuhan – but since then, democratic governments in Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia have achieved similar success.

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