New Zealand's Chinese Embassy has been accused of window-dressing "grave human rights abuses" against the Muslim Uighurs living in Xinjiang province in China.

Last night, the embassy played down the internationally condemned treatment of the Uighurs with "propaganda" suggesting there were no issues in the region.

At an event celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year at Wellington's Te Papa museum last night, the Chinese Embassy erected an entire display dedicated to the Xinjiang province.

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"Xinjiang fully implements the policy of freedom of religious belief, protecting normal religious activities and ensuing the public's freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law," part of the display said.

This is despite global condemnation of the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in the region.

About a million people - mostly from the Muslim Uighur community - are thought to have been detained without trial.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand's Community Manager Margaret Taylor said the embassy was "window-dressing the grave human rights abuses".

"The picture painted by the Embassy is directly contradicted by official Chinese Government documents leaked last month."

A photo on the display wall of the Chinese Embassy's Lunar New Year event in Wellington last night - experts have called this
A photo on the display wall of the Chinese Embassy's Lunar New Year event in Wellington last night - experts have called this "propaganda". Photo / Jason Walls

Those documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, detailed grave human rights abuses inflicted on those in detention camps in the Xinjiang region.

"The best way for the Chinese Embassy's claims of human rights development, religious freedom, and improved living conditions in the Xinjiang region to be confirmed is to allow experts and researchers to conduct an independent investigation about what is actually happening in the region."

The UK has urged China to give United Nations observers "immediate and unfettered access" to detention camps in Xinjiang.

China has so far refused.


Despite the international condemnation, the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand's display said that "great improvements" have been seen in the living conditions of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and promised "further improvement" will be seen in the protection of human rights in the region.

University of Canterbury Professor and China expert Anne-Marie Brady said she was not surprised to hear the Chinese Embassy was using this type of "propaganda" about Xinjiang.

"It's the same message they have been pushing around the world – it's not unique, its China's framing of the [issue]."

There was only one MP present at the event – Minister for Pacific Peoples, William Sio.
He did not give a speech; nor did any other New Zealand official at the event.

Brady said it was noteworthy that New Zealand had barely any political presence at the embassy event.

"China is engaging in a global push to get its message out about Xinjiang but New Zealand's MPs did not turn up to hear it."


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited China in March last year and, before she left, promised she would raise the alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province with Chinese leadership.

Ardern told the Guardian it was only natural that there were some areas where New Zealand and China "do not see eye-to-eye".

"For example, New Zealand regularly discusses human right issues with China, including the situation in Xinjiang."

New Zealand was one of 24 countries to sign a statement to the head of the United Nations Human Rights body, condemning the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in China.

"We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China," the statement said.