The Chinese government has offered the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet the opportunity to visit the Xinjiang region in the coming months to assess the situation of the Uyghur minority first-hand – objections, according to NGOs, activists and the Western governments about possible genocide and systematic repression by the authorities in Beijing – as long as their trip is “friendly” and non-political in nature.
Bachelet’s journey had been in the works for months, but as yet it had not progressed to the point where an approximate date could be given. First, South China Morning Post sources have estimated that the visit would take place “in the first half of this year, after the Beijing Olympics,” which will end on Feb. 20.
Shortly thereafter, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian confirmed the invitation and admitted that “both parties maintained contacts during the trip,” according to the Global Times, the Chinese government’s international newspaper.
“China’s position is consistent and clear that the purpose of the visit is to improve communication and cooperation,” the spokesman said, before declaring that “China is opposed to anyone who politicizes the issue.” As evidence of this, according to SCMP sources, China has asked Bachelet’s office to delay the publication of a preparatory report on the situation of Uyghurs in the region, at least until the trip of the ONU official.
According to the SCMP, Bachelet has been negotiating this visit with increasing urgency since September 2018, as NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have stepped up their criticism of the situation of potentially more than one million Uyghurs, an ethnic minority of the Muslim faith. who for years have been held against their will in secret centers where they are enslaved and even subjected to sterilization policies. The United States and Canada, calling the practice “genocide,” have imposed sanctions on China for this reason.
The Beijing government has acknowledged the existence of these centers but has made it clear that they are educational institutions designed to counter extremist ideologies and that the students are there voluntarily. So far he has resisted allowing UN experts to visit. The last occurred in 2005.
The situation has also prompted a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries, while Bachelet spokesman Rupert Colville last month anticipated his long-awaited report on the situation of the Uighurs last no longer than “a few weeks”.