BEIJING (Reuters) – Booming tourism in China’s far western Xinjiang shows that all is good there, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, amid growing international concern for human rights in the heavily Muslim region.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in recent years in unrest between the Uighur minority which calls the region home and members of the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of Uighurs have sparked a growing international outcry.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called on China to allow in monitors, while the United States is considering sanctions against Chinese officials and companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.
China has rejected all accusations of mistreatment in Xinjiang, but also says it has to crack down on separatism and militancy.
Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Xinjiang was stable, its economy developing well, its people living in harmony and enjoying religious freedom.
In 2017, Xinjiang received more than 100 million domestic and overseas tourists, up a third on the previous year, Geng said.
For the first seven months of this year, it received more than 78 million visits, up almost 40 percent on the same period a year earlier, he added.
“If Xinjiang were not safe, stable and harmonious, then there would not be so many Chinese and foreign tourists going to Xinjiang for sight-seeing,” Geng said. “I think that this aspect proves Xinjiang’s current good situation.”
While Xinjiang has been keen to promote itself as a tourist destination, foreign reporters who visit tend to be kept under close surveillance by security forces.
Beijing says Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists. Officials deny mistreating Muslims there, instead saying they are putting some people through “vocational” style courses to prevent militancy spreading.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)