Canberra pursues China over mass detention

Marise Payne says Australia will pursue China over its detention of Muslim Uighurs.
Marise Payne says Australia will pursue China over its detention of Muslim Uighurs.

Australia has committed to pursuing China over its mass detention of more than one million Muslim Uighurs.

Canberra co-signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council last week, urging Beijing to dismantle its arbitrary detention scheme.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says the correspondence signed by 22 nations reflects an increasing focus on the so-called "re-education camps" in far west China.

"We've said very consistently that we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of detention facilities," Senator Payne told ABC Radio National on Monday.

"Those concerns have been raised with China regularly, including directly be me in my visit last year.

"We are concerned about the forced detention ... of Uighurs and other Muslim groups, and we are very concerned about the underlying tensions that exist there."

Beijing has retaliated by accusing countries such as Australia of "smearing" China and interfering in its internal affairs.

China's mass detention of Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities appears to be the largest internment of people on the basis of religion since the Holocaust.

At least 10 Australian permanent residents have been detained in Xinjiang including a two-year-old boy who is an Australian citizen, according to a Four Corners report.

Senator Payne says the government raises cases with Chinese officials as they come to light, and provides consular assistance to a number of Uighurs who are Australian citizens.

"But if they're not Australian citizens, we don't have an entitlement to consular access," she said.

"China doesn't provide consular access to dual nationals unless they have actually entered China on their Australian passports, so that does add to the complexity.

"But we continue to raise these issues and to seek information and access."

Australia has for several years requested diplomatic visits to the Xinjiang province.

"Those requests as far as I am aware have not been granted," Senator Payne said.

"We will continue to do so and continue to press our concerns."

Australian Associated Press