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China has enlisted some of the world’s foremost human rights abusers to defend its mass detention of more than 1 million Muslims.

Expand chart
Data: Axios research; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: A letter supporting China — with signatures from Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea and 34 other mostly authoritarian states — comes after 22 countries formally condemned abuses in the Xinjiang region. It reveals growing frustration and defensiveness over the issue from Beijing, says Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch.

From the letter: “We express our firm opposition to… politicizing human rights issues, by naming and shaming, and by publicly exerting pressures on other countries. We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.”

  • The letter also claims China’s policies brought “safety and security” and “a stronger sense of happiness” to Xinjiang, and lauds the commitment from China (which keeps the population of Xinjiang under strict surveillance and aggressively restricts journalists’ access) to “openness and transparency.”

Between the lines: “What surprises me is that they don’t see just what damage it does to their own credibility to draft a self-justifying letter about human rights that’s signed by North Korea,” Richardson says.

The big picture: An estimated 1-2 million people in Xinjiang, most of them Uighur Muslims, are held in detention camps that activists say are designed to erase the Uighur identity and instill fear and obedience to the Communist Party.

  • China at first denied that the camps existed. When that became untenable, Beijing claimed they were voluntary job-training centers designed to root out extremism.
  • The reality exposed by journalists, NGOs and former detainees includes mass surveillance, arbitrary detentions, brainwashing and even torture.

Where things stand: The general response from countries and corporations over the past 2 years has been an uncomfortable silence. That makes the recent criticism at the UN significant, Richardson says.

  • “The Chinese leadership has been given plenty of reason to believe it will be held to a different standard than everybody else,” she says.
  • The message from the countries that have spoken out is, “‘You’re big, you’re powerful, you’ll retaliate, but we’re still going to hold you to the same standard.’”

What to watch: Much of the world sits in the middle, neither condemning nor defending China. That includes big majority-Muslim countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey; European countries including Italy; and Asian powers like India.

The bottom line: China has showed it can rally support, or at the very least silence, from dozens of countries who care more about its checkbook than its human rights record. But that hasn’t made this issue go away.

The U.S. has repeatedly criticized China's actions, but was not party to the statement at the UN Human Rights Council. See the full list of the countries on both sides.

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - World

Biden cleans up comments about Russia invading Ukraine

Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden sought to clarify his suggestion that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine may not draw the same response as a large invasion, telling reporters Thursday that "Russia will pay a heavy price" if any troops cross the border.

Why it matters: Some officials in Kyiv saw Biden's comments as inviting Russian aggression.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
47 mins ago - Health

Study finds bias against Black patients written into medical charts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Black patients were more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white patients to have negative descriptors about them in their electronic health record, according to a study published Wednesday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study is further evidence of bias in the U.S. health care system, which can ultimately result in worse care and disparately poor outcomes.

Jan. 6 panel asks Ivanka Trump to cooperate with investigation

Former President Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on January 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot sent a letter Thursday to Ivanka Trump requesting her cooperation with the investigation.

Driving the news: "We write to request your voluntary cooperation with our investigation on a range of critical topics," the chair wrote in a letter to the former president's daughter.

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