Home Advocate UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet ends China visit with cautious criticism of Xinjiang

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet ends China visit with cautious criticism of Xinjiang

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SHENZHEN, China — The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, ended a long-awaited trip to China with a cautious critique of the country’s repression in the Xinjiang region, balanced with praise for the Chinese authorities, in what rights advocates have called a propaganda victory for Beijing.

At a press conference in Beijing on Saturday, Bachelet reiterated that his trip was “not an investigation”. She said she was unable to determine the scale of a Xinjiang re-education and incarceration program for ethnic Uyghurs, saying high-level official visits were not conducive to a “discreet work of an investigative nature”.

Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations of cultural genocide against Uyghur Muslim residents of Xinjiang, where up to 2 million residents have been incarcerated, according to rights researchers.

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Bachelet said she encouraged Beijing to review its ‘counter-terrorism’ policies to ensure they complied with international human rights standards and were not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner . “I heard you,” she said, of those who appealed to her about specific human rights cases.

Bachelet is the first UN human rights chief to visit China since 2005, and her trip is the result of years of negotiations. Activists were widely disappointed that she had not more forcefully criticized China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang or succeeded in unearthing new details about the situation on the ground.

“The High Commissioner’s remarks were too vague and weak to match the gravity of the situation,” said William Nee, advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization. said on Twitter. “To a large extent, this is the kind of whitewashing that the human rights community feared was happening when news of his visit broke.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised concerns on Saturday about “China’s efforts to restrict and manipulate his visit,” and he said Bachelet was unable to access people who were among the labor transfer programs from Xinjiang to other parts of the country.

“We are further troubled by reports that residents of Xinjiang have been warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, that no information has been provided on the fate of hundreds of missing Uyghurs,” Blinken said in a statement.

Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York, said Bachelet’s cautious remarks reflected the United Nations’ limited influence on China, with Bachelet trying to use the praise to encourage Beijing to make changes.

“If the UN came out and started attacking China, China would be unlikely to do anything. At least that is their view,” he said.

Bachelet and Beijing agreed to launch an annual high-level strategy meeting and set up working groups to discuss human rights and minority rights issues. Ku said these types of dialogues have had limited results in influencing China’s policies in recent years.

Chinese officials billed his trip as a success. China’s Foreign Ministry released a reading of Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu’s press conference on Saturday, in which he said Bachelet was able to see the “real Xinjiang”.

“Some Western countries, with ulterior motives, went to great lengths to disrupt and undermine the High Commissioner’s visit, their plot did not succeed,” the ministry statement said.

On the second day of his mission to China to investigate human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Bachelet posed for photos with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who gave him a book from the nation’s leader, “Excerpts from Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights”. and said he hoped the trip would “help improve understanding…and clarify misinformation.”

Bachelet spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video conference on Wednesday, later saying it was an opportunity to “directly discuss human rights issues and concerns in China and around the world.”

Beijing has previously said such a trip would not constitute an investigation into alleged rights abuses, which it calls “the lie of the century”.

Ku said part of the disappointment among rights campaigners stemmed from heightened expectations that after years of negotiating the trip, Bachelet would have gained more access.

“If she had left five years ago, people wouldn’t be so upset,” he said.

Lily Kuo in Taipei and Cate Cadell in Washington contributed to this report.