WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on all countries to reject Beijing's demands to repatriate ethnic Uyghurs to China, where they face repression.
Pompeo said on September 22 that Beijing's detention of Uyghur Muslims in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has nothing to do with terrorism, as China claims, but is an attempt 'to erase' minority cultures and religions.
'I want to make clear that China's repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism. It's about China's attempt to erase its own citizens.... We call on all countries to resist China's demands to repatriate the Uighurs,' Pompeo said.
He made the comments at a meeting in New York with the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan --on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly.
Xinjiang borders Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan -- in addition to five other countries -- while many Uyghurs live in Central Asia.
UN experts and activists say at least 1 million Uyghurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the remote Xinjiang region.
Beijing insists the detention sites are 'vocational' centers aimed at training and skills development.
Pompeo also took a swipe at China's growing investments in Central Asia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. China is bankrolling infrastructure projects -- such as energy pipelines, railway networks, and roads -- throughout Central Asia as it seeks to increases its influence in the energy-rich region and expand trade.
Some U.S. officials and analysts have criticized China for encouraging nations to take on debt loads they can't afford to pay back, potentially giving Beijing greater control over its internal affairs or natural resources.
Pompeo told his Central Asian counterparts to consider U.S. companies when carrying out such projects and that the United States is ready to help them analyze foreign investment deals.
"We, of course, respect your right to do business with whomever you wish. But when you do, consider how America does business -- openly and fairly and on mutually beneficial terms. The United States, too, can offer independent experts to review and assess foreign infrastructure investments in your countries if you're interested in that assistance as well," he told them.
Pompeo also discussed greater cooperation on terrorism and drug trafficking with the Central Asian officials. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan border Afghanistan, where the United States has been waging a war against militants for 18 years.
"The Trump administration also takes your border security concerns very seriously. We don't want terrorists or drug traffickers to be able to cross your borders with impunity," he said.
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