WASHINGTON – The US expressed worry on Saturday (May 28) about China’s “efforts to restrict and manipulate” the UN human rights chief’s travel to the Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused of imprisoning over a million people in indoctrination camps.
Michelle Bachelet traveled to the far-western Xinjiang region this week, where the US has labeled China’s incarceration of a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities “genocide.”
“We are concerned the conditions Beijing authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the human rights environment in (China), including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The top US ambassador restated his country’s position that Chinese officials would deny Bachelet full access during her lengthy trip, saying the US was “concerned” about China’s “efforts to restrict and manipulate her visit.”
Bachelet defended her journey to China earlier on Saturday, saying it was “not an investigation,” but she urged Beijing to avoid “arbitrary and indiscriminate measures” in its campaign in Xinjiang.
She described the trip as an opportunity to talk with “candour” to Chinese authorities, as well as civil society organizations and academics.
Her journey to China was the first by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 17 years, and it came after lengthy negotiations over the terms of the visit.
“WARNING: DO NOT COMPLAIN”
“We are further concerned by reports that residents of Xinjiang were warned not to complain or speak openly about the region’s conditions, that no information was provided on the whereabouts of hundreds of missing Uyghurs, and that conditions for over a million people in detention were not improved,” Blinken said.
“The High Commissioner should have been able to meet confidentially with family members of Uyghur and other ethnic minority diaspora communities in Xinjiang who are not detained but are barred from leaving the province.”
Bachelet’s statements were also promptly condemned by activists and non-governmental organizations, who accused her of handing Beijing a major propaganda victory.
“Resignation is the only important thing she can do for the Human Rights Council,” said Dilxat Raxit, spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress advocacy organization, while Uyghur activist Rayhan Asat, based in the United States, termed it a “complete betrayal” on Twitter.
The trip featured a virtual meeting with President Xi Jinping, according to official media, in which Bachelet expressed support for China’s concept of human rights.
Her administration then emphasized that her statements were not an endorsement of China’s human rights record.
According to witnesses and rights organisations, over one million people have been imprisoned in indoctrination centers in western China, with the goal of destroying the Uyghurs’ Islamic culture and forcibly assimilating them into China’s Han majority.
Beijing disputes the charges and claims to be providing vocational training to limit the possibility of Islamist radicalism.