China's Ambassador to the United Kingdom was cornered on BBC television and forced to address his country's alleged human rights abuses against the Uighur ethnic minority group.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming was interviewed by the BBC on Sunday, UK time. Veteran journalist Andrew Marr grilled him on China's treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim group native to the northwestern Xinjiang province.
It is believed that up to a million Uighur people have been detained over the past few years in what the Chinese state defines as "re-education camps". Torture and other human rights violations are said to be rife in the camps.
Liu Xiaoming told Marr that the Uighurs received the same treatment under the law as other ethnic groups in his country.
Marr confronted Liu with drone footage, shot over Xinjiang, which showed blindfolded and handcuffed prisoners being held at a train station.
The video has been verified by Nathan Ruser, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
When it emerged last year, Foreign Minister Marise Payne called it "deeply disturbing".
"Can you tell us what is happening here?" Marr asked.
It's worth reading the full exchange that followed.
Liu: "I cannot see this view. This is not the first time you've showed me. I still remember last year, you have shown me what is happening in Xinjiang. Let me tell you this. Xinjiang – have you been to Xinjiang yourself?
Marr: "No, I never have."
Liu: "You know, Xinjiang is regarded as the most beautiful place in (China). There's a Chinese saying, 'You do not know how big China is -'"
Marr: "Ambassador, that is not beautiful coverage, however, is it?"
Liu: "You know, Xinjiang – that is exactly what I am going to tell you. Since 1990, Xinjiang has completely changed, because of thousands of terrorist attacks."
Marr: "That was 10 years ago. Can I ask you why people are kneeling, blindfolded and shaven, and being led to trains, in modern China. Why? What is going on there?"
Liu: "I do not know where you got this videotape. You know, sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners. You know, in any country."
Marr: "But just – what is happening here, Ambassador?
Liu: "I do not know where did you get this video clip,
Marr: "These have been going around the world. They've been authenticated by Western intelligence agencies, and by Australian experts, who say these are Uighur people being pushed onto trains and taken off."
Liu: "Let me tell you this. The so-called Western intelligence keep making this false accusation against China. They say one million or more Uighurs have been persecuted. You know how big, how many population Xinjiang has? It's just about – 40 years ago, it was four or five million. Now it's 11 million people. And people say we impose, we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled in 40 years."
Marr: "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but according to your own local government statistics, the population growth in Uighur jurisdictions in that area has fallen by 84 per cent between 2015 and 2018. Eighty-four per cent."
Liu: "That's not right. You ask me, I give you this figure as the Chinese Ambassador. In the past 40 years, the Uighur population – the population in Xinjiang increased to double. The population doubled. So there's no so-called restriction of the population. There's no so-called forced abortion, and so on."
Marr: "There is a program of forced sterilisation being imposed on Uighur women at the moment, and it's gone for a long time, and people are finally coming out of China and talking about it.
Marr then played excerpts from an interview the BBC's Newsnight programme conducted with Zumrat Dawut, a Uighur woman who says she escaped from China after undergoing a forced sterilisation procedure.
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Dawut had attracted the government's ire by having three children, in violation of China's two-child policy.
First, the authorities detained her for two months in one of their detention facilities. Then, after she was released, they compelled her to undergo the procedure.
"I had no choice. I felt as if I was being taken to a slaughterhouse," she told Newsnight.
She was given a general anaesthetic. When she woke up, she found herself in a ward with other women.
"I looked around. There were women crying in pain. About half an hour later I started to feel a sharp pain in my stomach. I started crying like the others. The pain was so excruciating," Ms Dawut said.
After the operation, she managed to flee to the United States with her immediate family.
Back to the interview. Mr Liu said he could not rule out "single cases" of forced sterilisation, but insisted the practice was not Chinese government policy.
Liu: "First of all, there's no so-called pervasive, massive forced sterilisation among Uighur people in China. It's totally against the truth. Second, the government – government policy is strongly opposed to this kind of practice. But I cannot rule out, you know, single cases. For any country, there's single cases."
Marr: "So you can't rule out the fact that it's happening at all."
Liu: "General policy is that is not a government policy. Generally, we treat every ethnic group in China as equal."
Marr: "When we see interviews like that, and we see people blindfolded and led off to trains to be taken to re-education camps, it reminds people in the West of what was going on in Germany in the 1930s and the 1940s."
Liu: "That is totally wrong. There's no such concentration camp in Xinjiang. In regard to that videotape, I'll get back to you. You know, there's a lot of fake – we are in the information age. There are all kinds of fake accusations against China."
Marr: "I hear that, but let me remind you of what the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide says. It says that genocide is killing people, of course; causing serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about a group's physical destruction; imposing measures intended to prevent births; and forcibly transferring children to another group. All of those things, it's alleged, have been happening in China. And China is going to face accusations at the United Nations about this."
Liu: "Not true. This is not true. The facts just show the opposite. People in Xinjiang enjoy a happy life. You know, they enjoy – people call for good order to be restored in Xinjiang. China, of course, is opposed to any torture and persecution and discrimination of any ethnic group of people. This is not the case in China. The policy of the Chinese government, as I said, every ethnic group in China is treated equal. That is the success story of Chinese national policy."
Overnight, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC the British government was prepared to work with its allies to take action against China, but it was important to "build up an evidence base" first, which could "take a long time".
"It is clear that gross, egregious human rights abuses are going on," Mr Raab said.
"It is deeply, deeply troubling, and the reports on the human aspect of this, from forced sterilisation to education camps, are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a very
"We want a positive relationship with China, but we can't see behaviour like that and not call it out."
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry labelled the allegations of forced sterilisation "complete nonsense".
"The Xinjiang issue is not about human rights, religions or ethnic groups at all, but about combating violence, terrorism and separatism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
China is also engaged in a diplomatic feud with the United States, which imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials earlier this month, accusing them of human rights abuses.
"For far too long, Chinese officials have not been held accountable for committing atrocities that likely constitute crimes against humanity," Republican Senator Marco Rubio said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had been forced to act by "horrific and systematic abuses".
In response, China announced sanctions of its own, targeting American politicians who supported the move.
"We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, and stop any words and actions that interfere in China's internal affairs and harm China's interests," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
"China will make a further response depending on the development of the situation."