CAIRO: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiaobao sought to reassure the world's Muslims about his country's goodwill towards them in Cairo on Saturday, at a time when Beijing is criticised for the treatment of its own Muslim minority.
"The relationship between Chinese civilisation and Islamic civilisation goes back years," Wen said in a speech delivered at the Cairo-based headquarters of the 22-member Arab League.
"China is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The basic policy of the Chinese government is to ensure equality among all ethnic groups and speed up the economic development of all regions," he said.
In July, violence erupted in China's Xinjiang region pitting mainly Muslim minority Uighurs against members of China's dominant Han group, leaving 197 dead and more than 1,600 injured, according to official figures.
Han vigilantes then went on a rampage against Uighurs two days later, but the exact number of casualties from that day has never been divulged.
Hundreds of people were detained as China vowed to come down hard on those found guilty, with President Hu Jintao and other top leaders saying those responsible must be "severely punished."
China's treatment of the Uighurs received worldwide condemnation and the United States accused China of "repression of peaceful expressions of religious beliefs and political views."
But Wen insisted in remarks at the Arab League that Chinese Muslims were not discriminated against.
"In China, more than 20 million people from 10 ethnic groups believe in Islam. They are all members of the big family of the Chinese nation," Wen said.
"Their beliefs, culture and way of life are fully respected."
The Chinese premier gave his speech on the eve of a summit with African leaders in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh as Beijing bids to expand its diplomatic and economic influence on the resource-rich continent.