A war of words has broken out between a former US national security adviser and China's deputy chief of mission in Pakistan, with Susan Rice calling Zhao Lijian "a racist disgrace".
Zhao, one of the most active Chinese diplomats on Twitter, was defending Beijing's controversial policy in the far western region of Xinjiang, where more than 1 million ethnic Uygurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are said to have been detained in re-education camps that have drawn global condemnation.
Beijing says the camps are "vocational education and training centres" that are part of its efforts to stamp out religious extremism.
In the latest response to the growing outcry, 37 countries " including Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea " sent a letter to the United Nations on Friday in support of Beijing's policy in the region, saying China had made "remarkable achievements in the field of human rights".
Zhao tweeted that it was "a big slap on the face of US & its Western cohorts", referring to an open letter signed by the UN ambassadors of 22 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. In that letter, dated July 9, the diplomats urged China to stop "arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uygurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang".
"US & most of these 22 countries invaded Iraq on so-called credible evidence of chemical weapons, bombed Afghanistan, Libya, Syria … How can they claim to be champions of Muslims in China's Xinjiang where majority of Muslims are living in peace & prosperity? Shameless hypocrites!" Zhao wrote on Twitter. The social media platform has been blocked in China for a decade after deadly riots in Xinjiang capital Urumqi that left more than 120 dead and over 800 injured in 2009.
Zhao then took aim at the United States.
"If you're in Washington DC, you know the white never go to the SW area, because it's an area for the black & Latin. There's a saying 'black in & white out', which means that as long as a black family enters, white people will quit, & price of the apartment will fall sharply," he wrote on Saturday.
"I mean SE, or Southeast. The population of Southeast is predominantly black. Racism in US has existed since the colonial era. Racial stratification continues to occur in employment, housing, education, lending & government."
Rice, who was the US national security adviser under the Barack Obama administration, hit back on Sunday, calling for Zhao to be sent home.
"You are a racist disgrace. And shockingly ignorant too. In normal times, you would be PNGed for this," Rice wrote in a tweet, using an abbreviation for persona non grata.
"Ambassador Cui, I expect better of you and your team. Please do the right thing and send him home," she said, referring to the Chinese ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai.
Rice was also US ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013 and assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Bill Clinton administration.
Zhao responded to the criticism in a tweet on Monday: "You are such a disgrace, too. And shockingly ignorant, too. I am based in Islamabad. Truth hurts. I am simply telling the truth. I stayed in Washington DC 10 years ago. To label someone who speak the truth that you don't want to hear a racist, is disgraceful & disgusting."
Asked about Zhao's comments on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the situation, but added that Beijing opposed the US and other Western nations using Xinjiang to interfere in its internal affairs.
It comes at a time when Chinese diplomats are stepping up efforts to expand their social media outreach at home and abroad. Cui and the Chinese embassy in Washington officially joined Twitter last week, and the same day, the foreign ministry opened an account on TikTok, a popular short video platform developed by Beijing-based ByteDance and designed for overseas markets.
Additional reporting by Catherine Wong
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