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The Chinese government has flatly denied rounding up large numbers of Muslims into internment centres for political indoctrination, telling a United Nations committee that such places do not exist.

The idea that “Xinjiang is a ‘no-rights zone’ is completely against the facts,” Hu Lianhe, deputy director-general of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, told members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva Monday. He acknowledged that some criminals were given what he called “vocational education and employment training.”

But, he said, “there are no such things as re-education centres.” He added: “the argument that one million Uyghurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue.” Uyghurs are a largely Muslim group of Turkic people who primarily live in Xinjiang, a region of western China that is slightly larger than Quebec.

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Former detainees and a former instructor have described a system of internment camps where Muslims, many of them Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs, are taken without charges and forced to study Mandarin and Chinese communist ideology. Their accounts have been further confirmed by Chinese government procurement documents and satellite imagery.

Now the Chinese government, which has come under growing scrutiny for its practices in Xinjiang, is pushing back. On Monday, the nationalist tabloid Global Times published an editorial that argued the Communist Party has promoted human rights in Xinjiang by achieving calm in the face of dangerous extremism. “Xinjiang is at a special stage of development where there is no room for destructive Western public opinions. Peace and stability must come above all else,” the paper declared in an editorial.

Unswerving Communist leadership, the paper said, had averted for Xinjiang “the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya.’”

The Chinese statements were dismissed by scholars and questioned by members of the United Nations committee, which is conducting a regular review of China.

“No one with any familiarity with Xinjiang will buy the line that Xinjiang was about to descend into a Syria-type situation. There’s simply no evidence for that at all,” said David Brophy, a lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, who has travelled extensively in Xinjiang.

“We have to have more than a denial of allegations,” said Gay McDougall, vice-chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. If China disputes that one-million people are in re-education centres, she said, “well, how many were there? Please tell me.”

But the Chinese delegates conducted a lengthy discussion of Xinjiang, drawing on the text of Chinese laws as proof that people of all ethnicities and beliefs receive equal treatment. At the same time, anti-extremism activities have “improved” the ability of the region’s religious believers “to identify and resist extremist ideology,” Mr. Hu said.

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“There is no de-Islamization,” he said, just a lawful and successful effort to contain the spread of extremism.

He did, however, acknowledge that criminals “involved only in minor offences” can be assigned “to vocational education and employment training centres to acquire and implement skills and legal knowledge, with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Instruction in Chinese law “is a major focus of the political re-education centres,” said Adrian Zenz, a scholar at the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, who has tracked the development of the security state in Xinjiang.

The Chinese statements suggest an effort “to navigate around this as much as possible,” he said, in hopes “that the international attention will eventually fade.”

China’s delegation to the United Nations committee also included Kaisaier Abudukeremu, the president of Xinjiang Medical University. An ethnic Uyghur, he defended Beijing’s polices as necessary.

“Without the unity of all ethnic groups, there is no social stability in Xinjiang, and without stability it’s impossible to do anything,” he said. “In recent years there is prosperity and stability in Xinjiang. Economic development is proceeding at a fast pace, and there is progress in all areas of social life. People’s contentment with life is improving," Mr. Abudukeremu said.

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He listed a series of statistics to buttress his argument, including numbers of university graduates who found employment, rising tourism numbers, declining death rates and a government program to expand free education through the final years of high school. The number of impoverished people has fallen by roughly 75 per cent since 1978, he said.

At the same time, government statistics show that spending on security has risen dramatically, with the installation of widespread surveillance and an extensive police presence.

But, Mr. Abudukeremu told the committee, “today’s Xinjiang enjoys social security. Its people live and work in peace and contentment. Its economic development is flourishing. All ethnic groups enjoy heart-to-heart solidarity. And the human rights of citizens of all ethnic groups are fully guaranteed.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Kaisaier Abudukeremu was an ethnic Tibetan. This article reflects the corrected version.
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