EU urges China to 'change situation' in Xinjiang

Beijing (AFP) –


The European Union has urged China to "change" the situation in Xinjiang, an EU diplomat said Thursday, as the bloc seeks to visit the northwest region where an estimated one million mostly Muslim minorities are held in internment camps.

China has come under increasing global scrutiny over its treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities in Xinjiang, with the EU and the United Nations requesting access to the region.

Beijing has defended its security crackdown, describing the camps as voluntary "vocational education centres" aimed at steering people away from religious extremism, terrorism and separatism.

"We have made clear to the Chinese side our evaluation and our expectations. We are calling for a change in the situation in Xinjiang," the EU ambassador to Beijing, Nicolas Chapuis, told reporters.

"We are willing to engage into a dialogue with China to show that there are different ways to deal with de-radicalisation," Chapuis said.

Issues of concern in Xinjiang include freedom of religion and expression, the rights of minorities and racial discrimination, he said.

China announced in March that it was inviting EU ambassadors to visit Xinjiang but the two sides have yet to agree on an itinerary.

"We need a programme and this programme should be deemed meaningful by" the EU ambassadors, Chapuis said.

"The dates will be set by the Chinese authorities when a programme will have been approved," he said.

He said the EU also wants independent observers to be allowed to visit the region, including the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

China has said it would welcome UN officials to the restive region with the condition that they stay out of the country's internal affairs.