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Chinese ambassador struggles to explain Xinjiang footage of blindfolded prisoners

China's ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, struggled on the BBC's "The Andrew Marr Show" Sunday to explain drone footage that appears to show prisoners with shaved heads shackled, blindfolded and being led to trains.

Why it matters: The video, which first appeared in October 2019 but resurfaced recently, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the human rights abuses China is carrying out against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang.


  • Since 2017, China's government has detained an estimated 1 million to 2 million Uighurs in "re-education camps" that it claims are being used to root out extremism.
  • Last month, the AP reported that China is engaging in a sweeping campaign of forced birth control and sterilization on Uighurs and other minorities that is "far more widespread and systematic" than was previously known — efforts that some experts have described as "demographic genocide."

What he's saying: Liu, who was confronted with the video by BBC host Andrew Marr, defended Xinjiang as the "most beautiful place" and said he did not know where the footage came from: "Sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners," he said.

  • Liu said there has been "no so-called restriction of the population" in the region, despite research that shows birth rates in Xinjiang fell by 24% last year alone, compared to 4.2% nationwide.
  • “Uighur people enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people,” he claimed.

The other side: U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said later on the show that while "genocide" is "such a specific definition you have to be very careful" with, it's clear there are "gross, egregious human rights abuses going on" in Xinjiang.

“The reports of the human aspects of it, from forced sterilization to the re-education camps, are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a long, long time. And this is from a leading member of the international community, who wants to be taken seriously, and whom we want a positive relationship. But we cannot see behavior like that and not call it out, albeit with our partners and in the right way.”
Foreign Secretary Raab

Go deeper: U.S. sanctions Chinese officials over Uighur human rights abuses

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