NUR-SULTAN -- Pressed for information about what relatives and activists say is a crackdown on indigenous, mostly Muslim ethnic groups in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang, the Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan angrily denied any wrongdoing by Beijing.
In a heated exchange with journalists in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, on May 28, Ambassador Zhang Xiao rejected the allegation as "false information."
China has come under intense criticism for putting more than 1 million of them in "reeducation centers," which rights activists say are mass internment camps -- an accusation Beijing has consistently denied.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Kazakhstan, which borders Xinjiang, because ethnic Kazakhs are among the groups said to be targeted by the crackdown.
"The situation there is stable and normal. Measures conducted in Xinjiang are exclusively about fighting against radicalism and extremism and have nothing to do with Kazakhstan," Zhang told reporters.
'Shrouded In Secrecy'
As journalists raised concerns over the fate of naturalized Kazakh citizens’ relatives in Xinjiang, Zhang became irritated and interrupted the reporters.
"Where did you get that information from, can you tell me?... I just want to state here that all those [reports] are disinformation! Did I answer all your questions?" Zhang said before putting an end to the briefing.
In August last year, a UN human rights panel cited "credible reports" that more than 1 million people were being held in counterextremism centers in Xinjiang and another 2 million had been forced into "reeducation camps," raising concerns that the region had turned into a "massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy."
The mass detention targeted Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim groups such as Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.
In recent months, several demonstrations protesting against China’s policies in Xinjiang were held in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.
China is a major trading partner for neighboring Kazakhstan, where authorities and state-controlled media have generally avoided the issue.
During a visit to Beijing in March, Kazakh Foreign Minister Beibut Atamkulov said his country "understands and supports the measures” taken in Xinjiang to tackle terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
The same month, Kazakh police detained a naturalized Kazakh citizen born in Xinjiang who has campaigned on behalf of ethnic Kazakhs in China, and charged him with inciting ethnic hatred.