US President Joe Biden has been accused of "dismissing" China's alleged genocide of Uighurs, saying the country has "different norms" in a new television interview.
Rights groups believe China has detained at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims in camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang for reasons as minor as having a beard or talking to family overseas.
Over the past few years reports have surfaced that detainees have been subjected to torture, brainwashing, forced labour and sterilisation in an attempt to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates.
A recent BBC investigation revealed allegations that women in the facilities were systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured.
In January, just before Biden took office, the Trump administration determined that China had committed "genocide and crimes against humanity", a view supported by many rights groups.
Biden addressed the issue during a CNN town hall speech on Tuesday evening (local time), recounting a conversation he had with China's President Xi Jinping on February 10.
"If you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been, the time when China has been victimised by the outer world is when they haven't been unified at home," Biden began.
"So the central - vastly overstated - the central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united, tightly controlled China. And he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that."
Biden said he wouldn't be speaking out against China's actions.
"I point out to him no American President can be sustained as a President, if he doesn't reflect the values of the United States and so the idea is that I am not going to speak out against what he's doing in Hong Kong, what he's doing with the Uighurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan - trying to end the one-China policy by making it forceful ... he gets it. Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow."
But he said that there would be repercussions for the country.
"[Xi Jinping] knows that. What I'm doing is making clear the fact that we are going to reassert our role as spokesperson for human rights at the UN and other agencies that have an impact on their attitude."
Social media users called the town hall comments "disgraceful" and "shameful".
"Why is Joe Biden trying to explain away China's human rights violations?" one person wrote.
Another said, "Joe Biden is normalizing GENOCIDE."
"This is a very scary viewpoint and approval by Joe Biden of China's treatment of Uighurs."
However, AXIOS reported that the Biden campaign has previously said China's treatment of Uighur Muslims is "genocide" and that Biden "stands against it in the strongest terms".
"My judgment remains that genocide is committed against the Uighurs, and that hasn't changed," Blinken said.