National flags fly outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The United States government has condemned China for what it called a "brutal campaign of repression" against its Muslim population and urged the United Nations to investigate the crackdown on the religious minority.
During a panel co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan listed accusations of abuse committed by the regime in Beijing against its Uighur and other Muslim minority groups -- and called on the world body to seek "immediate, unhindered and unmonitored access" to Uighur territory in Xinjiang.
Backed by over 30 nations and 20 nonprofit organizations, U.S. officials urged the United Nations to investigate.
"We urge the U.N. to investigate and closely monitor China's rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief," he said. "It is incumbent on every member state in this room to ensure that the U.N. is able to do its work."
Sullivan added that since April 2017, the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million people at northwest Xinjiang internment camps, where there have been reports of forced labor, torture and "other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Muslims in the camps are prohibited from practicing Islam while their hijabs are removed, beards are forcibly shaved and they're forced to eat pork and drink alcohol against their religious beliefs, he said.
"This is a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to stop its own citizens from exercising their unalienable right to religious freedom."
The deputy secretary of state said the United Nations and member states have a responsibility to voice opposition when survivors recount their stories of state suppression.
"We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China's horrific campaign of repression," he said. "History will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Sitwell told reporters that pressure is mounting on China, and he hopes Tuesday's panel will bring greater attention to religious persecution of Muslims as a global issue.
Asked if the United States was considering imposing sanctions against China, he said, "We'll see how [the panel] plays, see how Beijing reacts and take it from there."
Prior to the panel, titled "The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang," Beijing accused the United States of using "religion and human rights as a cover to slander and smear China's Xinjiang policies and interfere in China's internal affairs again and again."
Chinese officials have said the internment camps are part of a campaign to fight terrorism in the region, and have been successful -- as there has not been a single terror event in Xinjiang in three years.
"Facts speak louder than words and people can tell right from wrong," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday. "No matter what the U.S. says or does, we in China will continue to manage our affairs properly and implement our Xinjiang policies to ensure its sustained development. Xinjiang continues to enjoy stability, prosperity, ethnic unity and social harmony."
U.S. President Donald Trump said at a religious freedom event at the United Nations Monday religious persecution is one of the world's "highest priorities."