China’s President Xi says Xinjiang policies ‘completely correct’ amid growing international criticism

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 05: Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the opening of the 3rd Session of the 12th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People on March 5, 2015 in Beijing, China. The government work report presented: the main targets of economic and social development; a projected 2015 GDP growth of about 7 percent; and consumer prices rising about 3 percent. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

(CNN)Chinese President Xi Jinping believes his policies in the far-western region of Xinjiang are “completely correct,” despite growing international criticism of alleged human rights abuses and mass internment.

Up to 2 million Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, as well as other minorities, are believed to have passed through detention centers in the region in recent years, according to the US State Department, where they have allegedly been subject to political indoctrination and abuse under the guise of de-radicalization efforts.

Speaking at a two-day work conference on Xinjiang that ended on Saturday, Xi said that China’s Xinjiang strategy was correct “and must be adhered to in the long term.”

“The whole party must treat the implementation of the Xinjiang strategy as a political task, and work hard to implement it completely and accurately to ensure that the Xinjiang work always maintains in the correct political direction,” Xi added, according to state media.

“We must also continue the direction of Sinicizing Islam to achieve the healthy development of religion,” Xi said. The Chinese leader added that “it is necessary to tell the story of Xinjiang in a multi-level, all-round, and three-dimensional manner, and confidently propagate the excellent social stability of Xinjiang.”

Even before the mass detention policy, Muslims in Xinjiang faced growing restrictions on practicing their religion, from limits on wearing the veil or growing beards, to pressure not to fast during Ramadan.

Xi claimed current policies in Xinjiang have brought “unprecedented achievements” in economic growth, social development, and improvement in peoples’ livelihoods. He added that “the sense of gain, happiness, and security among the people of all ethnic groups has continued to increase.”

His remarks come amid rising condemnation from Western nations including the United States over alleged human rights abuses in the region. Last week, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill called the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” which aims to prohibit certain imports from Xinjiang and impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations in the region.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly this month, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an official investigation into Xinjiang.

Growing international pressure comes as many human rights groups have begun describing the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide, amid reports of mass sterilization of Uyghur women as part of state-driven efforts to push demographic change. Last week, Chinese authorities confirmed there had been a drop in birth rates in Xinjiang since 2018, but denied this was the result of sterilizations.

The Xinjiang government said in a statement to CNN that the birth rate in the region had dropped from 15.88 per 1,000 people in 2017 to 10.69 per 1,000 people in 2018. The statement said that the drop was due to “the comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy.”

Former internees who spoke to CNN testified to receiving or being aware of forced sterilizations. Numerous other witnesses have spoken about widespread abuse and forced indoctrination in the camps.