UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told leaders in Beijing he expects them to allow UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to make a “credible” visit to China including a stop in the troubled Xinjiang region, his spokesman said on February 5.
Guterres met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics, according to a readout of their talks.
The UN chief “expressed his expectation that the contacts between the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chinese authorities will allow for a credible visit of the High Commissioner to China, including Xinjiang,” it said.
A readout of the meeting from Chinese state news agency Xinhua made no mention of the rights issue.
Campaigners say that at least one million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, a far-western region where China is accused of widespread human rights abuses including forced sterilisations of women and forced labour.
In the run-up to the Winter Olympics, China’s foreign ministry repeatedly emphasised Guterres’ support of the Games at daily briefings.
The UN chief himself congratulated Xi on the organisation of the Games in their talks in Beijing, the statement from the world body said.
But China has so far denied Bachelet, a former president of Chile, a long-sought independent visit to Xinjiang.
The US government and lawmakers in five other Western countries have declared China’s treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang a “genocide” – a charge flatly denied by Beijing.
China has repeatedly exhorted its critics to stop “politicising” the Olympics, which have been overshadowed by issues including rights, Covid-19 and fears of what will happen to athletes if they speak out at the Games.
But at the opening ceremony, it chose a young Uighur athlete, 20-year-old cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, as one of the final Olympic torch-bearers – a move that had clear political overtones.
Activists and lawmakers have been eagerly awaiting a UN report on human rights in Xinjiang, and pressure had mounted for its release before the Beijing Games, but the world body said late last month it would not be forthcoming before the Olympics.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper indicated that Beijing had relented and agreed to a visit to Xinjiang by Bachelet – hinting that, in exchange, it expected her office to hold off publishing the report.
At the meeting with Xi, Guterres “expressed the wish for enhanced cooperation between the UN and the People’s Republic of China in all the pillars of the Organisation’s work – peace and security, sustainable development, including climate change and biodiversity, and human rights,” the UN statement said.
On climate change, the UN chief “recognised the important efforts China is making to address climate change but reiterated the appeal for additional efforts to accelerate the transition to the green economy to bridge the emissions gap.”