The autonomous Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslims, accounting for 45 percent of the population. The Muslim minorities in China’s west have long accused Beijing of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
Beijing has been under fire since last August, when a UN human rights panel reported that numerous camps had been set up in Xinjiang, holding as many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, Press TV reported.
Chinese officials have dismissed the allegations of setting up “internment camps” in the region and instead characterized the sites as “vocational education and employment training centers” for “criminals involved in minor offenses.” They have long linked their measures in Xinjiang with counter-terrorism efforts, arguing that separatists there are bent on joining Takfiri terrorists such as al-Qaeda.
Last week, China invited Beijing-based European diplomats as well as journalists to visit the autonomous region on March 27-29.
Two groups, including a group of European diplomats, have paid visits to the region this year.
The other visiting group consisted diplomats from a broader mix of countries, including Greece, Hungary as well as North African and Southeast Asian states. A Reuters journalist also visited the region as part of a government-organized trip in January.
A US official, however, accused Beijing of trying to mislead the world and propagate false narratives over the situation in the region by organizing “highly choreographed” tours to Xinjiang.
China dismissed the criticism as “slander” on Monday, with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying such trips were aimed at raising the international community’s understanding about Xinjiang’s situation.
“The people who have been on the trips felt for themselves the real situation Xinjiang's calm and order and the happy lives and jobs of all the people's there, and all positively appraised China's policy governing Xinjiang," Geng said.
“At present Xinjiang is politically stable, the economy is developing and society is harmonious,” he added.
In another development on Monday, the European Union’s delegation in China said the bloc’s ambassadors in Beijing will not be visiting Xinjiang this month after receiving an invitation from the government for a March 27-29 trip.
“While the EU and EU member states in principle welcome the invitation, such a visit requires careful preparation in order to be meaningful,” a spokesperson said.
“Discussions to this end are ongoing, hence the proposed trip will not take place this week. The EU remains open to a future visit taking into account our expectations,” the spokesperson added.