China’s U.N. ambassador has fired back at his U.S. counterpart over her remarks that sending a member of the Uyghur ethnic group to help deliver the Olympic flame was an attempt to "distract" from the issue of abuses against Muslim minorities.
Ambassador Zhang Jun issued a statement to “resolutely refute" what he called unfounded accusations against China made by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield in an interview with CNN.
Zhang said China’s Winter Olympics team includes 20 athletes from nine ethnic minorities, including Uyghur and Tibetan. China chose cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a Uyghur, as one of two final Olympic torchbearers at the opening ceremony.
“She is the pride and excellent representative of the Chinese people. On what ground does the U.S. has such inexplicable anger over this? And why?” Zhang said.
The United States is staging a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, sending athletes but not the traditional delegation of dignitaries, citing China’s alleged systemic and widespread abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in its western region, especially Xinjiang’s predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.
China’s selection of cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang for the honor of being a final Olympic torchbearer at the ceremony that opened the Winter Games was a big surprise.
To U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, that choice was “an effort by the Chinese to distract us from the real issue here at hand, that Uyghurs are being tortured, and Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese.”
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And she told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “we have to keep that front and center.”
The U.S. says China is committing genocide in its treatment of the Uyghurs. China denies any abuses and says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.
The American diplomat says “we have made clear that crimes against humanity are being committed in China.”
She added: “It is important that the audience who participated and witnessed this understand that this does not take away from what we know is happening on the ground there.”
China has 174 athletes competing in the Games, mainly drawn from the Han majority that makes up more than 90% of the population.