U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the "awful abuses" of Muslim Uyghurs detained in Chinese reeducation camps and criticized what he said was a government crackdown on Christians in the country.
The comments on September 21 come after a recent UN report assailed China’s mass internment of Uyghurs under the pretext of preventing extremism in the western Xinjiang region.
"Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uyghurs are held against their will in so-called reeducation camps where they're forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses," Pompeo said in a speech on religious freedom.
Republican and Democratic members of Congress late last month called for sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in the internment of the minority.
Pompeo did not say whether the United States would move toward imposing such sanctions.
On September 10, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said China was carrying out a “mass, systematic campaign of human rights violations” against its mostly Muslim Uyghur minority population.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused HRW of being "full of prejudice" against China and of distorting facts. He said measures in Xinjiang aim to "promote stability, development, unity, and livelihoods," while also cracking down on "ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities."
In his speech, Pompeo also expressed concerns about the fate of Christians in China, who he said had been subject to a government crackdown.
He said Beijing has been "closing churches, burning Bibles, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith."