The UN human rights chief met China’s top diplomat as she embarked on a six-day trip to the country that will include the remote Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are face repression.
Michelle Bachelet’s tour, which began on Monday, is the UN’s top human rights official’s first to China in nearly two decades and comes as Beijing faces accusations of widespread abuses against Muslims in the far west of Xinjiang.
Bachelet, former president of Chile, plans to meet with high-level national and local officials, civil society organizations, business representatives and academics, and give a talk to students at the University of Guangzhou, his office said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is believed to have detained more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities there in a years-long security crackdown that the United States calls “genocide”.
China vehemently denies the accusations, calling them the “lie of the century”.
Bachelet began her six-day visit in the southern city of Guangzhou, where she was greeted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“I look forward to the interactions I will have with many different people during my visit. I will discuss very important issues and sensitive issues. I hope this will help us build trust,” Bachelet said.
“Unlimited and Meaningful Access”
Later in the week, Bachelet will also visit the Xinjiang cities of Kashgar, once a stop on the Silk Road, and Urumqi, the region’s capital.
Welcoming Ms Bachelet, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Wang Wenbin said her trip was a “closed loop” due to the pandemic and the two sides agreed not to allow journalists to follow the visit. .
She is expected to meet with Chinese leaders and “have in-depth exchanges with people from various sectors,” Wang said, without giving further details.
UN officials have been locked in negotiations with the Chinese government since 2018 in a bid to secure “unimpeded and meaningful access” to Xinjiang.
But fears have swirled of a whitewash offering a tightly controlled glimpse of life in the region, which China says it has pacified with “re-education centres” and boosted by an economic rejuvenation drive.
The United States led reviews ahead of her trip, saying it was “deeply concerned” that Bachelet had not secured guarantees about what she can see.
“We do not expect the PRC to grant the necessary access to conduct a comprehensive and unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang,” State Department spokesman Ned said. Price to reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Instead of a full investigation into the alleged abuse, rights advocates also fear Bachelet is preparing for an organized tour.
A key question is whether Bachelet will be allowed to visit former internment camps and meet with those imprisoned over calls for greater religious, political and cultural freedoms.
His visit will be “an ongoing battle against the Chinese government’s efforts to conceal the truth”, said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“The UN must take steps to mitigate this and resist being used to support blatant propaganda.”
The last such visit, in 2005, came when Beijing wanted to soften its global image as it prepared to host the 2008 Olympics – but a lot has changed since then.
President Xi Jinping has become the most authoritative Chinese leader in a generation and is working to secure an unprecedented third term at the end of this year.
In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, forced sterilization and destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and activists say.
Chinese state media have so far covered the visit on muted.
But an article published by the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday hailed the country’s “remarkable achievements in respecting and protecting human rights”.
A more combative article on CGTN – the English-language arm of China’s state broadcaster – lambasted what it called the West’s “Xinjiang false narrative” and questioned the basis for the allegations.