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Xinjiang is China’s largest administrative region and has been an Autonomous Region since 1955. The largest ethnic group is the Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs. There are about 12 million Uighurs, making up just under half of the 25-million population of Xinjiang.

The Uighurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish. There are smaller Uighur populations in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, the latter two of which border Xinjiang (the region also has borders with Tajikistan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India).

A number of NGOs and UN bodies have chronicled restrictive and oppressive measures employed by the Chinese authorities against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province (MPs referred to such reports during a debate on human rights in Xinjiang in Westminster Hall January 2019 and on China’s policy on its Uighur population in March 2020).

The Chinese state has repeatedly rejected such reports. The Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, appeared on the Andrew Marr show in July 2020 to reject claims about detention camps, describing them as “fake”.

There are some separatist groups in Xinjiang that want to break away from Chinese rule and have on occasion used violent tactics. China has pointed to such incidents to justify its approach in the region saying it is tackling “terrorism”, and is trying to “de-radicalise” the population.

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