UN human rights chief begins controversial visit to China

BEIJING: The UN human rights chief began a six-day trip to China on Monday that will include the remote Xinjiang region, raising fears about the access and propaganda value the visit offers the Chinese Communist Party.
Michelle Bachelet’s tour marks the first by the top UN human rights official in nearly two decades and comes as Beijing is accused of widespread abuses against Muslims in far western Xinjiang.
The ruling Communist Party is alleged to have detained more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities there under a years-long security crackdown the United States calls “genocide.”
China strongly denies the accusations, calling them “the lie of the century.”
Bachelet held virtual meetings with the heads of some 70 diplomatic missions in China on Monday, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing, who said she gave guarantees about their access to detention centers and rights defenders.
Later in the week, he will travel to the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, as well as the southern city of Guangzhou.
Welcoming Bachelet’s visit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said her trip is taking place in a “closed cycle” due to the pandemic and that both sides agreed that reporters would not follow the visit.
He is expected to meet Chinese leaders and “have extensive exchanges with people from various sectors,” Wang said, without elaborating.
UN officials have been locked in negotiations with the Chinese government since 2018 in a bid to secure “unrestricted and meaningful access” to Xinjiang.
But fears have been raised that a cover-up offers a tightly controlled view of life in the region, which China says it has pacified with “re-education centers” and enhanced with a campaign of economic rejuvenation.
The United States led the criticism ahead of her trip, saying it was “deeply concerned” that Bachelet has not been given guarantees about what she can see.
“We do not expect the PRC to grant the necessary access to conduct a full and unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the PRC. .
Instead of a thorough investigation into the alleged abuses, rights advocates also fear Bachelet is set for a theatrical tour.
His visit will be “a constant battle against the Chinese government’s efforts to cover up the truth,” said Agnes 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 as Beijing wanted to soften its global image as it prepared to host the 2008 Olympics, but much has changed since then.
President Xi Jinping has become the most authoritarian Chinese leader in a generation and is working to secure an unprecedented third term later this year.
In addition to mass arrests, 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 given moderate coverage of the visit so far.
But an article published by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Sunday praised 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, criticized what it called the West’s “false Xinjiang narrative” and questioned the basis for the accusations.

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