Canada and 40 other countries, including France, have urged China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” for independent observers to visit the western Xinjiang region amid human rights concerns. Meanwhile, Beijing has used the National Security Law to arrest staff at Hong Kong's sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper.
The international call for access to Xinjiang came during a debate at the Human Rights Council, the UN's top rights body.
The division at the council session exposed an ongoing rift between the West and allies of China, which has been increasingly pushing back against criticism of its human rights record.
The war of words broke out after Canada presented a statement from 41 mostly Western countries that echoed widespread concerns among human rights groups about detention centers in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities have been held, allegedly subjected to mistreatment, torture and forced abortions.
China says that the centers are used for training and they "implement new, advanced and non-repressive counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures."
Beijing claims that local government has succeeded in stamping out terror attacks.
"For almost three years, 32 months to be precise, no more terrorist attacks have occurred in Xinjiang," according to an early report of the Global Times, a Chinese government controlled newspaper.
In response to Western criticism, Chinese UN envoy Jiang Duan hit back at Canada's past mistreatment of indigenous peoples and the recent discovery of the remains of more than 200 children at an indigenous boarding school in Canada.
He called for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into cases of crimes against indigenous peoples and faulted Canada for racism and xenophobia.
“We urge Canada to immediately stop violations of human rights,” he said, adding that UN bodies should “keep following the human rights issues in Canada," since "from 2006 to 2014 alone, tens of thousands of migrants were arbitrarily detained by Canada.”
Another blow for Hong Kong freedoms
While Chinese authorities have sealed off the Xinjiang region, preventing foreign journalists and other unwanted people from coming in, growing restrictions on freedoms in Hong Kong are easier to observe.
Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper. the Apple Daily, will publish its last edition on 24 June, being forced to shut down after five editors and executives were arrested and millions of dollars of assets were frozen as part of China's increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.
The board of directors of Apple Daily parent company Next Media said in a statement on Wednesday that the print and online editions will cease due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong".
Hong Kong authorities have already detained and jailed Apple Daily founder, the millionaire Jimmy Lai, in August last year on "suspicion of collusion with foreign powers."
The official website of the Hong Kong Police Department refers to this week's action as the arrest of "five directors, comprising four men and a woman aged between 47 and 63, of a media company for suspected collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security," which is deemed to be a violation of the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing on 1 July 2020. Authorities also confiscated the equivalent of 2 million euros in newspaper assets.
Apple Daily was founded by tycoon Jimmy Lai in 1995, just two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. The paper started out as a gossipy tabloid, but Lai steered it to increasingly advocate Western values, saying the daily would “shine a light on snakes, insects, mice and ants in the dark".