China’s ambassador to the UK has refused to explain drone footage of people handcuffed and blindfolded in China.
When pressed on the video, which has circulated widely online in recent weeks and was played on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Liu Xiaoming described Xinjiang – where the video is believed to have been filmed – as “the most beautiful place.”
Human rights groups have increasingly called attention to the persecution of Uighur people, a Muslim minority, in China’s western region, with the footage of chained prisoners forced onto trains once again raising urgent questions about persecution.
According to reports, backed by Western intelligence agencies, Uighur people face detainment in “re-education camps” and mass sterilisation.
Questioning the ambassador, who sought to avoid explaining the footage, Marr asked: “Can I ask you why people are kneeling, blindfolded and shaven, and being led to trains in modern China? What is going on there?”
Liu replied: “I do not know where you get this video tape. Sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country.”
Pressed further, Liu repeated: “I do not know, where did you get this video clip?”
Told by Marr that they had been circulated worldwide and verified by Western intelligence agencies and Australian experts, he added: “The so-called ‘western intelligence’ keep making false accusations against China.”
He added: “They say ’one million Uighur has been persecuted, do you know how many [sic] population Xinjiang has? Forty years ago it was four or five million, now it is 11m people.
“People say we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled in forty years.”
Marr intervened, adding: “According to your own local government statistics, the population growth in Uighur jurisdictions in that area has fallen by 84% between 2015 and 2018.”
But Liu denied the statistics, saying: “That’s not right. I gave you the official figure as a Chinese ambassador. This is a very authoritative figure.
“In the past 40 years the Uighur population increased in Xinjiang to double. There is no so-called restriction of the population, no so-called forced abortion, and so on.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has accused Chinese officials of committing “gross, egregious” abuses in the northwestern Xinjiang province.
The Chinese were already furious at the Government’s decision last week to ban tech giant Huawei from the UK’s 5G network – reversing a previous decision to allow it a limited role.
Liu said it would be “totally wrong” for Britain now to impose sanctions on Chinese officials and said Beijing was ready to respond in kind.
“If the UK goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make a resolute response to it,” he said.
“You have seen what happened between China (and) the United States. They sanctioned Chinese officials, we sanctioned their senators, their officials. I do not want to see this tit-for-tat between China-US happen in China-UK relations.
“I think the UK should have its own independent foreign policy rather than dance to the tune of the Americans like what happened to Huawei.”
Raab insisted that Britain wanted good relations with China but said it could not stand by while abuses such as forced sterilisations and mass re-education camps took place.
“It is clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on. We are working with our international partners on this. It is deeply, deeply troubling,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“The reports of the human aspect of it – from forced sterilisation to the education camps – are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a long, long time.
“This from a leading member of the international community that wants to be taken seriously and in fact who we want a positive relationship with. But we cannot see behaviour like that and not call it out.”