The Chinese foreign ministry denied it had destroyed thousands of mosques in its western Xinjiang region, and claimed that the region has more mosques per capita than many Muslim countries.
In response to the report, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called it “nothing but slanderous rumours” during a press conference on Friday, and said the ASPI had received foreign funds to “support its concoction of lies against China”.
“It we look at the numbers, there are more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, which is over 10 times more than in the US. It means there is a mosque for every 530 Muslims in Xinjiang, which is more mosques per capita than many Muslim countries,” said Wang.
A report released on Thursday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) estimated that about 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies, mostly since 2017.
The estimates were made using satellite imagery and based on a sample of 900 religious sites prior to 2017, including mosques, shrines and sacred sites.
“The Chinese government has embarked on a systematic and intentional campaign to rewrite the cultural heritage of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region … in order to render those indigenous cultural traditions subservient to the ‘Chinese nation’,” said the ASPI report.
“Alongside other coercive efforts to re-engineer Uyghur social and cultural life by transforming or eliminating Uyghurs’ language, music, homes and even diets, the Chinese Government’s policies are actively erasing and altering key elements of their tangible cultural heritage.”
China has come under scrutiny over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims and claims of alleged forced-labour abuses in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.
China has denied mistreating Uyghurs, and says the camps are vocational training centres that are needed to tackle extremism. (Source: CNA)