China says UN human rights chief can visit Xinjiang ‘after Olympics’

  • Sources say Michelle Bachelet can make the trip in first half of 2022 but it should be ‘friendly’ in nature and not framed as an investigation
  • Beijing is also understood to have pressed for a delay in release of OHCHR report on the region until the Games have wrapped up

China has agreed to host a visit to Xinjiang by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet “in the first half of the year after the Beijing Winter Olympics”, according to people familiar with the situation.

The UN’s top human rights official has been negotiating with Beijing since September 2018 for a visit to Xinjiang, where some 1 million Uygurs are alleged to have been held in mass detention camps.

Sources said Bachelet recently secured Beijing’s approval for a visit to the region sometime after the Games, which open on February 4, on the prerequisite that the trip should be “friendly” in nature and not framed as an investigation.

Beijing also insisted that Bachelet’s office hold off on publishing a report into Xinjiang ahead of the Games, as requested by Washington, the sources said.

“After recent rounds of discussions with Bachelet and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, China has agreed to host Bachelet in the first half of the year after the Beijing Winter Olympics,” said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified.

“But China has also said the bottom line is that the OHCHR should not publish the Xinjiang report,” the source added.

“China also made clear that it wants to define the trip as a friendly visit instead of an investigation with the presumption of guilt.”

Bachelet’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The narrative war between China and the US has been heating up with the approach of the Winter Olympics.

Washington is doubling down on its allegations of China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang” – angrily dismissed by Beijing, which sees them as designed to undermine China and its efforts to host the Games.

The US and some of its allies – including Britain, Canada and Australia – have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the Games in protest against China’s human rights record.

The Joe Biden administration further turned up the pressure last month with legislation that effectively bans all imports from Xinjiang, in China’s far west, over allegations of forced labour.

Two US lawmakers, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James McGovern, on the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China last week released a letter sent to Bachelet asking her to publicly release her office’s Xinjiang report before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

China has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in Xinjiang, and has said its policies in the region aim to strengthen vocational training and stem religious extremism.

The United Nations’ human rights office said in September it was finalising its assessment of the situation in Xinjiang.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Bachelet, said in December the office hoped to publish its report “in the coming weeks”.

Author: Catherine Wong, SCMP

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