China pushed back against a damning Human Rights Watch report released on Tuesday, insisting instead that the country’s record on human rights has never been better. “The Chinese people are in the best position to judge China’s human rights condition, which is at its historical best,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Wednesday.
The World Report 2020, HRW’s annual survey of the global state of human rights, highlighted China’s detention and mass surveillance of 13 million Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province, the crackdown on Hong Kong‘s pro-democracy protesters, severe restrictions on religious freedom, speech and movement in Tibetan areas and the government’s stifling on freedom of expression online and in schools and universities. The report was originally to be launched in Hong Kong but the organization’s executive director was denied entry by authorities last weekend. “I had hoped to hold this press conference in Hong Kong but the Chinese authorities had a different idea and they blocked me at the airport,” Kenneth Roth said during a press conference held instead in New York.
Shuang accused Human Rights Watch of being biased against China, adding that he had not seen the report and had “no interest” in reading it. He said that Chinese citizens’ freedom of speech was a “fully protected” constitutional right.
Roth had said during Tuesday’s press conference that China stood out “for the reach and the influence of its anti rights efforts” both inside and outside the country. “Within China, President Xi Jinping is overseeing the most pervasive and brutal oppression in decades,” Roth said. He went on to single out the country’s treatment of Uighur and other Turkic Muslims, saying, “Beijing has built the most intrusive system of surveillance we’ve ever seen and coupled it with the largest case of mass arbitrary detention in decades.”
A Chinese diplomat attending the press conference voiced concerns about the report. Xing Jisheng, a representative of China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, told Roth and the audience, “We reject the contents” of the report, which he said was “full of prejudices.” “Hearing what you said, it’s clear to all why you have been barred such entry,” Xing said.
Roth responded to the diplomat, pressing him to identify any specific falsehoods and saying that HRW only reports facts. “Rather than blank empty rhetoric please show us what we get wrong,” he said. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, added that the organization regularly sends the Chinese government letters asking various questions. “In the 14 years I’ve been at Human Rights Watch, we’ve never gotten a single response,” Richardson said.
Roth later tweeted that Xing’s comments were nothing more than “blanket denials,” offering “no facts to refute the dangerous trends in Beijing’s conduct.”