China bites at New Zealand after Uighur abuses condemnation, but criticism pales in comparison to Chinese attack on Australia

China has bitten back at New Zealand after Aotearoa supported its Five Eyes partners placing sanctions on Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province. 

In a coordinated effort earlier this week, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada - three members of the Five Eyes alliance - as well as the European Union imposed historic sanctions on Chinese officials for their roles in human rights breaches against the Uighur people.

While neither Australia nor New Zealand imposed sanctions themselves - constrained by a lack of legislation allowing such a measure - the countries did release a joint statement welcoming their partners' efforts. The statement said there was "clear evidence" of abuses and called on China to grant "unfettered access" to Xinjiang for United Nations experts. 

Beijing - which has always denied it treats the Uighur people poorly - retaliated to the sanctions by imposing their own on several high-profile EU figures and has promised "firm reactions to any country who cites lies and rumours to smear China". 

It's now hit out at New Zealand, with the Chinese Embassy here warning Aotearoa should stay out of "China's internal affairs". 

"We urge the New Zealand side to observe international law and basic norms governing international relations, respect China’s sovereignty, and stop using Xinjiang to interfere in China’s internal affairs," an embassy statement says.

The embassy says some countries and media have been "fabricating and spreading groundless disinformation about Xinjiang to smear China's image [and] vilify its Xinjiang policy".

It then goes onto present a routine response China often provides when asked about Xinjiang, claiming concentration camps in the region are for "countering terrorism and de-radicalisation" and "there has never been 'forced labour' and 'religious oppression' there".

"They are simply malicious and politically-driven hypes, and couldn't be further from the truth."

Uighurs in the region, according to the embassy, have seen their life expectancy increase and enjoy stability. It says Xinjiang is open for people to see for themselves but China opposes "any condescending presumption of guilt". 

The criticism of New Zealand is muted, however, compared to that levelled at Australia by its Chinese Embassy. That's of little surprise considering the strained relations between Beijing and Canberra.

It says the "allegations" made by Australia "are unwarranted attacks against China and out of pure political manipulation" and represent a "despicable tactic of smearing China on the Australian side".

"We urge the Australian Government to stop vilifying China, refrain from meddling in China's internal affairs and cease to apply double standards on human rights," the embassy says.

"We call on Australia to reflect upon and address its own problems, in particular the killings of innocent civilians by Australian overseas military personnel, the worsening situation of racial discrimination, the long-standing insufficiency in the protection of the rights of aboriginal peoples as well as the inhumane treatment of detainees in the off-shore detention centres."

Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, was also asked about New Zealand and Australia's comments at her Thursday press conference. 

She repeated many of the comments made by the embassies but focussed her criticism on Australia and the Five Eyes alliance in general. 

"The Five Eyes allies cannot represent the international community. As a Chinese proverb goes, 'A just cause rallies abundant support while an unjust one has little.'... Take a look at a world map, you will find China have friends all over the world," Hua said. "Why should we be worried?"

It's not the first time China has taken aim at New Zealand in the past year.

In July, China called on Aotearoa to "correct its mistake" after it suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over concerns about the financial hub's autonomy. In early December, Hua questioned why New Zealand was getting involved in a feud between Australia and China over an image posted on Twitter.

In recent years, a plethora of credible international reports and first-hand testimonials have emerged revealing the horrific treatment of Uighur people. 

Earlier this year, the BBC published testimonies from former Uighur camp detainees about "an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture". The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2019 published a raft of Chinese Government documents detailing a mass surveillance programme underway in Xinjiang.

A landmark independent report from a Washington DC think-tank this month found China was breaching every prohibited act of the UN Genocide Convention and said the Chinese state had an "intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group".

Despite that, New Zealand has yet to label the treatment of Uighurs at the hands of the Chinese state a "genocide". The United States, Canada and Denmark have all made declarations to that effect.

Instead, New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has stressed the need for an independent observer to enter Xinjiang with unfettered access.