China said Tuesday that a World Bank decision to scale back a vocational education project was unrelated to allegations of mistreatment of minority Muslim Uighurs in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
The World Bank launched a review in August of the program after Foreign Policy magazine reported that a school that benefited from a tranche of the $50 million loan to China bought “barbed wire, gas launchers, and body armor.”
Rights groups and experts say more than one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been interned in re-education camps in Xinjiang, where they are being tortured and forced to renounce their religion.
The World Bank said on Monday that its review “did not substantiate the allegations” but that it would cut funding to the scheme’s “partner schools” as a precautionary measure because the schools were dispersed and difficult to monitor.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday that the World Bank’s review of the program “clarifies the truth while strongly rejecting the relevant accusations.”
The “adjustments” announced by the World Bank are instead based on “based on the programs’ actual needs,” said Geng at a regular press briefing.
Geng said that the inspection showed that the project did not suffer from the problems “hyped up by foreign media.”
The World Bank statement said Monday that the “scope and footprint of the project [with the partner schools] is being reduced.”
“Specifically, the project component that involves the partner schools in Xinjiang is being closed,” it said.
China’s treatment of the Uighurs – a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority concentrated in tightly-controlled Xinjiang – has come under growing scrutiny.
Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps before admitting to running what it called “vocational education centres,” which it presented as necessary to combat religious extremism and boost employment.