Beijing Reportedly Gives UN Human Rights Chief Bachelet Clearance to Visit Xinjiang After Olympics
01:15 GMT 28.01.2022 (Updated: 15:34 GMT 16.01.2023)
© REUTERS / DENIS BALIBOUSEFILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet gestures during a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2020.
After years of negotiating, the United Nations human rights chief could soon pay a visit to Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where the US and right-wing non-governmental organizations have accused China of human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur population.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Michelle Bachelet has secured Beijing’s approval to visit the western Chinese province in the first half of 2022 after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics, sources told the South China Morning Post on Thursday.
The main games are set to begin on February 4 and end on February 20, although the Paralympics will follow shortly thereafter in Beijing, from March 4 until March 13. It’s unclear if the statement includes both sets of games.
“China has also said the bottom line is that the UNHCR should not publish the Xinjiang report,” the source said. “China also made clear that it wants to define the trip as a friendly visit instead of an investigation with the presumption of guilt.”
Bachelet has sought the trip since 2018, when claims about China putting some 1 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps first arose in the publications of right-wing ideologue Adrian Zenz, and have been widely repeated with little scrutiny since.
Liu Yuyin, the spokesperson for China’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told Reuters last June that if Bachelet came to western China, it should be a “friendly” visit aimed at promoting cooperation "rather than making the so-called 'investigation' under the presumption of guilt.”
Later, in October, Chen Xu, China’s UN ambassador in Geneva, said Bachelet had been extended an invitation, but that her visit “should be a friendly visit rather than an investigation based on the presumption of guilt. So, the visit is friendly cooperation in nature, not like a prosecutor."
In other words, it’s Bachelet who has yielded, not Beijing. However, her office has not yet made any formal comment about the trip.
The issue has become a major international pressure point for the US and its allies to push, with the Biden administration accusing Beijing of genocide last year, placing sanctions on Chinese officials and on Xinjiang companies alleged to have used forced Uyghur labor, and implementing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Beijing denies that a genocide is taking place in Xinjiang, that it forcibly sterilizes Uyghur women or restricts Uyghur culture or the practice of Islam, saying that its rehabilitation and training programs for former extremists are voluntary and in line with the United Nations’ Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism guidelines. It says that people have been voluntarily enrolled in vocational training centers a part of a deradicalization program aimed at eliminating support for groups like the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an extremist Muslim terrorist organization that is aligned with al-Qaeda and has carried out numerous terrorist attacks in China.
The ETIM has also operated in Afghanistan, where the US waged a bombing campaign against it in 2018, and some 10,000 ETIM members were sent to fight alongside other Al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist militias in Syria’s Idlib Governorate during the civil war. Until 2018, the US categorized ETIM as a terrorist organization.