China criticised Pope Francis this week over a passage in his new book in which he discusses “suffering by China’s Uighur Muslim minority group”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied Francis’ remarks had any factual basis. “People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” he said at a daily briefing reported by Reuters.
Zhao made no mention of the camps holding more than one million Uighurs and members of other Chinese Muslim minority groups.
The US and other governments, along with human rights groups, say the prison-like facilities are intended to divide Muslims from their religious and cultural heritage, forcing them to declare loyalty to China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.
China initially denied the existence of the facilities but now says they are centres intended to provide job training and prevent terrorism and religious extremism on a voluntary basis.
In his new book “Let Us Dream” due out on Dec 1, Francis listed the “poor Uighurs” among examples of groups persecuted for their faith.
“I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi – what the IS did to them was truly cruel – or Christians in Egypt and Pakistan killed by bombs that went off while they prayed in church,” he wrote.
Francis has declined to call out China for its crackdown on religious minorities, including Catholics, much to the dismay of human rights groups. Francis has been careful to not say or do anything to offend the Chinese government on the subject.
China and the Vatican have had no formal relations since the Communist Party cut ties and arrested Catholic clerics soon after seizing power in 1949.