The United States on Wednesday urged China to safeguard the rights of its Uygur minority and carry out a transparent probe of the latest violence in which 21 people died.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called on China to “take steps to reduce tensions and promote long-term stability in Xinjiang”, the vast and ethnically divided western region.
“We urge the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of this incident and to provide all Chinese citizens – including Uygurs – the due-process protections to which they’re entitled,” he said.
Chinese officials said that police officers and social workers – including 10 from the mostly Muslim Uygur community – were among the dead in gun fights on Tuesday in Barchuk county, blaming the violence on “terrorists”.
Advocacy groups and experts say China has produced little evidence of organised terrorism in Xinjiang and point to long-standing resentment among Uygurs over limited freedoms and the growing presence of majority Han.
Ventrell said the United States was “deeply concerned” by accounts of discrimination against Uygurs and other Muslims in China.
“We urge the Chinese government to cease policies that seek to restrict the practice of religious beliefs across China. But we’ve been particularly concerned about the Uygurs,” he said.
China frequently voices anger at US criticism of its human rights record, although the world’s two largest economies co-operate frequently in other areas, including trade and on the showdown with Beijing’s ally North Korea.
Ventrell said that the US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, was coincidentally in Xinjiang on Tuesday as part of a US trade delegation that included energy, rail and transport companies.