People’s Republic of China Ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
Particular countries, driven by ideology and acting like a moral lecturer, were using human rights as a political tool to intentionally attack developing countries and brutally interfere with their internal affairs.

This is according to Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian, who addressed the media at the Chinese Embassy’s International Women’s Day celebration in Pretoria earlier this week.

Lin was responding to articles in Western media which have attacked China’s policy in Xinjiang.

Articles have accused it of hampering religious freedom in Xinjiang, and some countries have accused its vocational training programmes of racial segregation, religious persecution, and of being re-education camps.

Lin has called such criticism baseless. He said the region had received more than 100million tourists in 2017 from within and abroad.

“The minority ethnic population in Xinjiang enjoy full religious freedom as evidenced by the 24400 mosques, which is more than double the combined number of mosques in the US, UK, Germany and France.

Lin claims the Chinese government is concerned about ethnic separatist activities and violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, and its intention is to safeguard social stability in the area.

According to Lin, this necessitates facilitating local development and improving peoples’ living standards as part of a new model of preventing terrorism.

“We have established vocational technical training schools to offer free training programmes for local youths, including those who have committed minor offences.”

Youths who have committed minor offences are given the option of either going to jail or to school in order to prepare them for the working world.

The UN has requested direct access to “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has said she wants to verify “worrying reports” the UN had received.

The German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy said she was refused permission to visit the camps during a trip to China.

“China believes that the most important human rights is to guarantee people’s rights to subsistence and development; to secure people’s fundamental rights to food, shelter, work, school and healthcare,” Lin said.

China claims that by 2020, poverty will be eliminated across the 1.4billion population.

This is the first time the Chinese ambassador has commented on the Xinjiang issue to the media after criticism on the issue appeared in a number of newspapers.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.