China claims foreign relations ‘sabotage’ as UN rights official visits Xinjiang

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Chinese officials have said the US, UK and other foreign powers are seeking to sabotage its foreign relations by orchestrating criticism surrounding a trip by the top United Nations official for human rights.

China has long held back the fact-finding mission led by Michelle Bachelet, focused on allegations of mass confinement, forced labour and compulsory birth control measures imposed on members of the Uighur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin went on the offensive over such criticisms, saying “the US, Britain and other Western countries have been repeatedly staging political farces around the UN high commissioner for human rights’ visit to China.

“They have first openly pressured and strongly demanded that the high commissioner visit China and Xinjiang, and conducted the so-called investigation with presumption of guilt,” Mr Wang added at a daily briefing.

Meeting between officials
Chinese officials said they oppose ‘politicising’ human rights and imposing double standards, its foreign minister said (Xinhua via AP)

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met Ms Bachelet in the southern city of Guangzhou on Monday, telling her that China opposes “politicising” human rights and imposing double standards.

Ms Bachelet’s trip is the first to China by a UN high commissioner for human rights since 2005.

Her six-day visit is focused on allegations of abuses against Muslim minorities in the north-western region of Xinjiang, but rights groups fear it will help whitewash the crackdown labelled by the US as genocide.

China locked up an estimated one million or more members of Uighur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities in what critics describe as a campaign to obliterate their distinct cultural identities.

China says it has nothing to hide and welcomes all those without political bias to visit Xinjiang and view what it describes as a successful campaign to fight terrorism and restore order and ethnic cohesion.

From Guangzhou, Ms Bachelet is to travel to Kashgar, once a stop on the Silk Road, and Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital.

The UN and China barred foreign media from accompanying Ms Bachelet, and it is unclear whom she will meet and how much access she will be granted throughout her visit.

The UN quoted Ms Bachelet as telling Mr Wang that she was looking forward to exchanges with “many different people during my visit, particularly with government officials, business leaders, academics, students and members of the civil society working on human rights and other social and economic issues”.

She was also quoted as saying: “While we will be discussing sensitive and important issues, I hope this will help us to build confidence and enable us to work together in advancing human rights in China and globally.”

A man with a child
A man holds a child as they watch a dance performance at the International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (AP)

“Multilateral human rights institutions should serve as a major venue for cooperation and dialogue rather than a new battlefield for division and confrontation,” it added.

China’s ruling Communist Party allows no political opposition and strictly limits free speech as well as rights to assembly and religious expression.

The country is also one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council and has signed, but not ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights administered by Ms Bachelet’s office.

Beijing has also come under criticism over its refusal to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as its hard-line “zero-Covid” approach to the pandemic that has disrupted the lives of tens of millions of citizens and upended global supply chains.

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