United Nations

UN rights chief speaks with Xi amid criticism of China trip

Reuters
UN rights chief speaks with Xi amid criticism of China trip

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) via video link, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China May 25, 2022, in this handout provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Also at the meeting are Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Mao Zhaoxu, and Christian Salazar, director of the field operations and technical cooperation division of OHCHR. OHCHR/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

OHCHR/Handout via REUTERS

The six-day China trip of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet includes a visit to the western region of Xinjiang, but there was no mention of it in either side's public remarks

BEIJING, China – Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on Wednesday, May 25, via video link with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who is on a visit that has drawn criticism from rights groups and which the United States has called a mistake.

While Bachelet’s six-day trip will include a visit to the western region of Xinjiang, where her office said last year it believed mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghur people had been unlawfully detained, mistreated and forced to work, there was no mention of it in either side’s public remarks.

Xi told Bachelet that China’s development of human rights “suits its own national conditions”, and that among the various types of human rights, the rights to subsistence and development were primary for developing countries, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

“Deviating from reality and copying wholesale the institutional model of other countries will not only fit badly with the local conditions, but also bring disastrous consequences,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Bachelet said that her meetings with Xi and other officials had been a valuable opportunity to speak directly about human rights issues.

“For me, it is a priority to engage with the government of China directly, on human rights issues, domestic, regional and global,” she said at the beginning of her meeting with Xi.

“For development, peace and security to be sustainable – locally and across borders – human rights have to be at their core,” she said.

Critics have said they doubted Bachelet would be granted necessary access to make a full assessment of the rights
situation in Xinjiang.

Bachelet has called for unfettered access in Xinjiang, but China has said her visit would be conducted in a “closed loop,” referring to a way of isolating people within a “bubble” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

China denies all abuses.

German pressure

On Tuesday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said his country would give higher priority to human rights issues in dealing with China, following new media reports on mass detention of Uyghurs between January and July of 2018.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China opposed
the use of “false information” to smear it and said economic
cooperation between China and Germany was mutually beneficial.

“I hope that the German government and politicians will look
at it correctly and will not mislead the public to the detriment
of their own interests,” Wang said.

‘A MISTAKE’

Bachelet’s China visit has been fraught since its inception,
largely over concern among rights groups and western governments
that it could lead to endorsement rather than scrutiny of
China’s rights record.

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said
it was “a mistake to agree to a visit under the circumstances”.

The United States has described China’s treatment of Uyghurs
as genocide.

On Monday, Bachelet told Beijing-based diplomats that her
Xinjiang trip was “not an investigation” into China’s rights
record but about longer-term engagement with Chinese
authorities, three Western diplomats told Reuters.

Some diplomats voiced concern that she would not be given
“unhindered and meaningful” access.

“I’m a grown woman,” she responded to those concerns, two
diplomats briefed on the call said. “I’m able to read between
the lines.”

Bachelet explained that although her access was limited
because of COVID, she had set up some meetings with people
independently of Chinese authorities. Her office did not
immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

China initially denied the existence of any detention camps
in Xinjiang but in 2018 said it had set up “vocational training
centers” necessary to curb what it said was terrorism,
separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang.

In 2019, Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said all trainees
had “graduated”.

On Monday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi presented
Bachelet with a book of Xi’s quotations on human rights.
(Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing and
Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Robert
Birsel)