CNN international correspondent Will Ripley first reported on the broadcast blackout, saying it happened when candidates in the debate “were asked about China’s human rights record and the mass detention of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang”.
According to the broadcaster, the screen went black after debate moderator Judy Woodruff asked a candidate if the US should boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics over the alleged abuse of China’s Uighur citizens.
The screen remained blank for nine minutes while the debate covered other topics including the Hong Kong protests and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China regularly monitors live broadcasts and organisations in the business of live-streaming must censor their content before broadcasting.
The country has been avoiding scrutiny into its mass detention camps for Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.
The detention camps – which Beijing calls “vocational training centres” – hold approximately more than a million Uighurs and other minorities, where they are allegedly subjected to torture, medical experiments, and rape.
The Chinese government maintains the purpose of the camps are to combat terrorism and extremism.
After the leak, regional officials in Xinjiang moved to tighten controls on information and held high-level meetings on how to respond.
In October, the UK led 22 other countries at the United Nations in condemning China over its detention of Muslims.
In a joint statement, the group said: “We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China.”