Chinese Embassy hits back after US Ambassador to New Zealand's criticism of China

Comments by the United States' Ambassador to New Zealand critical of Chinese censorship have caused a stir within China's Wellington embassy.

US Ambassador Scott Brown chastised China live on The AM Show on Friday, saying the Chinese Government was attacking freedom of speech, "taking away people's ability to think", and not playing by the rules on the world stage.

The Chinese Embassy has now hit back, telling Newshub that Brown's comments on China are "groundless, irresponsible and distorted". 

The US Ambassador's criticism of Chinese censorship came amid a crisis for the North American National Basketball Association (NBA) after the Houston Rockets' general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong critical of mainland China's influence in the city. That was sharply rebuked by the Chinese Government.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong - which is part of China but with its own leadership - have infuriated Beijing, which has repeatedly criticised pro-democracy protesters as it tries to quell anti-Chinese sentiment and any suggestion that Hong Kong could secede.

An NBA game - which did not feature the Rockets - still went ahead in Shanghai. But in response to Morey's tweet, which has since been deleted, media conferences didn't happen, state television didn't broadcast the fixture, promotional content was scrapped, and Houston Rockets' merchandise was reportedly pulled from stores across the Middle Kingdom. 

Brown on Friday called the fallout "absolutely outrageous" and said it was an example of how disagreeing with China led to negative consequences. 

But a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand told Newshub China interacted with the international community with "an open and inclusive mind" and that foreign organisations and people were always welcome in China on the basis of "mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit".

"Whether it is in China, the US or anywhere else, mutual respect is a prerequisite for exchange and cooperation. When one conducts exchange and cooperation with China while having no knowledge of the opinion of the ordinary Chinese people, that will not work," the spokesperson said.

While Brown said many support the Hong Kong demonstrators' ability to protest peacefully, the embassy spokesperson called the protesters violent vandals.

"Radical forces and violent offenders in Hong Kong flagrantly disrupted social order, vandalised public facilities, attacked the police and left a trail of smashed or burned items all over the city," the spokesperson told Newshub.

"These behaviours have gone far beyond the scope of marches or assemblies. They trampled on the bottom line of morality, crossed the bottom line of rule of law, and challenged the bottom line of 'one country, two systems'.

"Ending violence and chaos and restoring order has become the widest consensus and the strongest appeal of all social sectors in Hong Kong."

Scott Brown / Xi Jinping
Scott Brown / Xi Jinping. Photo credit: The AM Show; Getty

The majority of the protests have been peaceful, but both activists and police officers have come under fire for their treatment of each other. Earlier this month, a teenage protester was shot by an officer who was being swarmed by demonstrators.

The Chinese Embassy spokesperson said the chaos in Hong Kong was "in no one's interest, including that of the US" due to the city being a global financial hub and key stop-over for travellers.

"We strongly urge the US to stop endorsing violent and radical forces in Hong Kong and separatist forces for 'Hong Kong independence', and stop instigating words and deeds undermining the stability and prosperity of the Hong Kong SAR government."

Another point of contention for the embassy was Brown's comment on how China used "reconditioning camps" to suppress opposing views.

"They are taking away people's ability to think. They have reconditioning camps. You don't agree with them, they put you in a camp," the ambassador said on Friday.

Re-education labour camps have commonly been used in China to detain dissenting individuals and often low-level criminals. In China's Xinjiang region, UN experts say at least 1 million Uighurs - a Muslim minority group - have been incarcerated and forced to reject their faith.

Former detainees have spoken of torture and brainwashing at the facilities in Xinjiang, and women being forcibly sterilised.

Beijing has consistently rejected such accusations and said camps in Xinjiang were for vocational training and counter-terrorism efforts - something stressed by the Chinese Embassy spokesperson to Newshub.

"We would like to point out that Xinjiang affairs are purely China's internal affairs that allow no foreign interference. The counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures in Xinjiang are aimed to eradicate the breeding soil of extremism and terrorism."

The spokesperson said they "are in line with Chinese laws and international practises" and supported by all people of various ethnic groups in the region.

"They are also China's contribution to the world with regard to counter-terrorism. 

"The accusations by the US side are merely made-up pretexts, which only further reveals the country's malicious intention to impede the counter-terrorism efforts in Xinjiang and stability and development of China."

New Zealand, along with 21 countries including Japan, Australia, Canada and the UK, issued a joint statement in July condemning the Xinjiang detention centres.

Last week, the United States hit out at China over the human rights violations, restricting how Chinese organisations can work with American businesses and imposing visa restrictions on some Chinese Government and Communist Party officials. The US-China relationship has also been fractured this year by an ongoing trade war between the two superpowers. 

Brown said he didn't view China as an enemy, but a "competitor" that isn't playing by the rules. He said the country was stealing intellectual property, manipulating currency and dumping low-cost, low-quality steel onto the world market.


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