Beijing says French politicians were being misled by a slanderous American, Australian and British campaign while threatening to invalidate British National Overseas passports held by Hong Kong residents.

Hong Kong protesters rally in support of Uighurs' human rights in Hong Kong, China, December 22, 2019.
Hong Kong protesters rally in support of Uighurs' human rights in Hong Kong, China, December 22, 2019. (Reuters Archive)

China has hit back at French criticism of Beijing's treatment of Uighur Muslims, saying French politicians were being misled by a "slanderous" American, Australian, and the British campaign.

Beijing also threatened to withdraw its recognition of British National Overseas passports held by residents of Hong Kong.

"Recently, some American, Australian and British politicians and a few so-called Western 'human rights organisations' have launched a new campaign of slander against China's Xinjiang," the spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Paris said on Thursday.

"Driven by political ends, they fabricated a whole series of sensational lies which touched public opinion and even misled certain politicians in France."

China dismissed as "absurd" reports that Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has established internment or re-education camps in which a million Uighurs were held.

"The reality is that the vocational education and training centres set up in Xinjiang under the law, and which are similar to de-radicalisation centres in France and other countries, are a useful counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measure," the spokesman said.

France seeks observers in restive region

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday said the situation for Uighur Muslims in the region was unacceptable, asking that the Chinese authorities allow independent observers to enter the area.

He said Paris was not only basing its position on testimonies relayed by rights groups, but that it drew its conclusions from its own sources that there were imprisonment camps for Uighurs, mass detentions, disappearances, forced labour, forced sterilisations and the systematic destruction of the Uighur heritage.

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Threat to BNO passports

Also on Thursday, China threatened to withdraw its recognition of British National Overseas (BNO) passports held by residents of Hong Kong, in retaliation for the former colonial ruler's policy of easing their path to citizenship.

Starting from January 2021, those in Hong Kong with such status would be able to apply for special visas to live in Britain that could eventually confer citizenship, Interior Minister Priti Patel said this week.

However, China opposes such a policy as interfering in domestic affairs, a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry said, calling the move a flagrant violation of Britain's promises, international law, and principles of international relations.

"As the English side is the first to violate the promise, China will consider not recognising BNO passports as a valid travel document, and reserves the right to take further measures," the spokesman, Wang Wenbin, told a news briefing.

Passports for 3 millions Hong Kongers

Even before Britain's offer, China did not recognise such passports as a valid document for mainland entry by residents of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. 

Instead, it required them to use travel permits issued by China.

London's decision, which could allow nearly three million Hong Kong residents to settle in Britain, came after Beijing imposed a new security law that democracy activists fear would end the freedoms promised to the territory in 1997.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies