China's ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, struggled on Sunday to explain drone footage from the region of Xinjiang that appears to show prisoners with shaved heads shackled, blindfolded and being led to trains.

Why it matters: The video, which first appeared in October 2019 but resurfaced and went viral recently, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the human rights abuses China is carrying out against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

  • Since 2017, China's government has detained an estimated 1 million–2 million Uighurs in "re-education camps" that it claims are being used to root out extremism.
  • Last month, AP reported that China is engaging in a sweeping campaign of forced birth control and sterilization on Uighurs and other minorities that is "far more widespread and systematic" than was previously known — efforts that some experts have described as "demographic genocide."

What he's saying: Liu, who was confronted with the video by BBC talk show host Andrew Marr, defended Xinjiang as the "most beautiful place" and claimed he did not know where the footage came from. "Sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners," he said.

  • Liu said there has been "no so-called restriction of the population" in the region, despite research that shows birth rates in Xinjiang fell by 24% last year alone, compared to 4.2% nationwide.
  • “Uighur people enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people,” he claimed.

The other side: U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said later on the show that while "genocide" is "such a specific definition you have to be very careful" with, it's clear there are "gross, egregious human rights abuses going on" in Xinjiang.

“The reports of the human aspects of it, from forced sterilization to the re-education camps, are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a long, long time. And this is from a leading member of the international community, who wants to be taken seriously, and whom we want a positive relationship. But we cannot see behavior like that and not call it out, albeit with our partners and in the right way.”
— Dominic Raab

Go deeper: U.S. sanctions Chinese officials over Uighur human rights abuses

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2020 - World

Right-wing media falsely ties Black Lives Matter movement to Beijing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Right-wing outlets and commentators have recently spread a false claim linking the Chinese Communist Party to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why it matters: Such claims raise concerns that a real issue — that of Chinese government interference in U.S. politics — could be wrongly invoked along partisan lines to attack Americans engaging in legitimate activities.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 20, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The U.S.-China climate rupture

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Well that, as Ron Burgundy would say, escalated quickly. China's foreign ministry is accusing the Trump administration of "major retrogression" on climate and being an environmental "troublemaker."

Why it matters: China's unusual statement Monday widens the rupture between the world's largest carbon emitters as global climate efforts are flagging and the pandemic's effect on emissions is too small to be consequential in the long term.

2 hours ago - Health

Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.