BEIJING -- A Chinese official Monday denied Beijing has imposed coercive birth control measures among Muslim minority women after an outcry over a tweet by the Chinese Embassy in Washington claiming that government policies had freed women of the Uighur ethnic group from being "baby-making machines."
Xu Guixiang, a deputy spokesperson for the Xinjiang regional government, told reporters Monday that birth control decisions were made of the person's own free will and that "no organization or individual can interfere."
"The growth rate of the Uighur population is not only higher than that of the whole Xinjiang population, but also higher than that of the minority population, and more significantly higher than that of the (Chinese-majority) Han population," Xu said. "As for the so-called forcing ethnic minority women in Xinjiang to wear IUDs, or undergo tubal ligations or abortions, it is even more malign."
An Associated Press investigation in June found that the Chinese government was forcing draconian birth control measures on Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including IUD fittings, contraceptives, and even abortions and sterilizations.
The measures are backed by the threat of detention, with parents with three or more children swept into camps and prisons if they're unable to pay large fines. As a result, the birth rate in Xinjiang's minority regions plummeted by more than 60% in just three years, even as Beijing eases birth restrictions on the Han population ahead of a looming demographic crisis.
Twitter took down the Chinese Embassy's Thursday tweet following protests by groups that accuse Beijing of seeking to eradicate Uighur culture. Users complained the tweet was a violation of rules set by Twitter, which is blocked in China along with Facebook and other American social media platforms.
"China's fascist government is now openly admitting and celebrating its use of concentration camps, forced labor, forced sterilizations and abortions, and other forms of torture to eliminate an ethnic and religious minority," Nihad Awad, national executive director of The Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an emailed statement.
China has been waging a yearslong campaign against what it calls terrorism and religious fanaticism in Xinjiang, and the embassy's tweet referenced those polices, saying: "Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines."
The tweet cited a study by Li Xiaoxia, a Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences researcher who has asserted that the birth control measures in Xinjiang are voluntary.
Li's papers in past years laid the theoretical foundations for justifying mass birth control measures. In one 2017 paper, Li said having many children was a sign of "religious extremism and ethnic separatism." Li worried that predominantly minority districts were breeding grounds for terrorism, calling it "a big political risk."