BEIJING (Reuters) - China hit back on Wednesday at criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of its record on religious freedom, saying the United States was not perfect and should be looking after its own affairs rather than making baseless accusations.
Tillerson, speaking at the State Department while introducing the agency’s annual report on religious freedom, said the Chinese government tortures and imprisons thousands for their religious beliefs, citing the targeting of Falun Gong members, Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China fully respected and protected freedom of religion and belief.
“The so-called U.S. report ignores the facts, confuses right and wrong and makes wanton criticism of China’s religious freedom situation,” she told a daily news briefing.
“China is resolutely opposed to this and has lodged solemn representations with the U.S. side.”
The United States would do better to look at its own problems, Hua added.
“Everyone has seen that the facts prove the United States is not totally perfect,” she said, without providing any examples.
“We urge the United States to respect the facts and properly manage its own affairs, and stop using the wrong means of the so-called religious freedom issue to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”
State news agency Xinhua said in an English-language commentary the violence at a weekend rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, meant the United States should reflect on its own problems before pointing the finger at China.
“Against the backdrop of the recent clash between white supremacists and their opponents, the U.S. accusations against China simply lay bare the double standard it employs,” it said.
“The violence highlighted the danger of racism, which is a serious problem in a still divided U.S. society,” Xinhua added.”Despite its self-proclaimed role as the world’s human rights champion, the fact is the world’s sole superpower is far from becoming a respected role model in this regard.”
The violence erupted on Saturday after white nationalists converged in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally to protest against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War.
Many of the rally participants were seen carrying firearms, sticks and shields. Some also wore helmets. Counter-protesters likewise came equipped with sticks, helmets and shields.
The two sides clashed in scattered street brawls before a car ploughed into the rally opponents, killing a woman and injuring 19. A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harboured Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel