- China’s ambassador to the UK was on Sunday confronted with damning drone footage which allegedly shows chained Uighur Muslims in China sitting blindfolded before being led onto trains.
- Human rights groups and international agencies say the Chinese government has imprisoned at least a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in “re-education” camps.
- China’s ambassador to the UK was unable to explain the footage but suggested it may show a normal “transfer” of prisoners.
- The ambassador denied that China was carrying out ethnic cleansing against Uighur Muslims.
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China’s ambassador to the UK was confronted on live television with leaked drone footage that appears to show shaven-headed and bound Uighur Muslims sitting blindfolded before being led onto trains.
Liu Xiaoming did not deny the veracity of the footage, which first emerged last year, to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, but insisted that it could simply show a normal “transfer of prisoners” in the country.
Pressing Liu Xiaoming on the footage, Marr asked: “Can I ask you why people are kneeling, blindfolded and shaven, and being led to trains in modern China? What is going on there?”
The ambassador replied: “I do not know where you get this videotape. Sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country.”
Human rights groups and international agencies including the UN say the Chinese government has imprisoned at least a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in Xianjing, a western region of China, in "re-education" camps.
The drone footage, which Marr said had been verified by intelligence agencies, has raised fresh concerns about the group's persecution.
The ambassador said that "so-called 'western intelligence' keep making false accusations against China" and denied suggestions that China is carrying out a program of ethnic cleansing against Uighur Muslims.
"They say 'one million Uighur has been persecuted, do you know how many population Xinjiang has? Forty years ago it was four or five million, now it is 11 million people," he said.
Marr countered that, according to local government statistics in China, the population growth in Uighur jurisdictions in the region had fallen by 84% between 2015 and 2018.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 19, 2020
The remarkable exchange comes amid dramatically rising tensions between London and Beijing. The Chinese government reacted furiously last week when Boris Johnson said the UK would ban Huawei, the tech giant which has links with the Chinese state, from its 5G networks.
Tensions have also risen since Britain offered visas to 3 million Hong Kong residents after China introduced a draconian new security law there which has seen hundreds of pro-democracy protestors detained.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, is set to escalate tensions further on Monday when he announces that Britain will scrap its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, a move which means pro-democracy protestors could not be repatriated to Hong Kong at the request of authorities there.
Chinese Communist Party officials have indicated that they could retaliate by placing economic sanctions on British firms which do business in China, including Jaguar Land Rover and GlaxoSmithKline.