Beijing, May 29 (PTI) The US has expressed concern over China’s “efforts to restrict and manipulate” the just-concluded visit of UNHRC chief, Michelle Bachelet to the volatile Xinjiang province to verify the allegations of mass human rights violations against Uygur Muslims, termed as “genocide” by Washington.
“The United States remains concerned about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her team’s visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and PRC efforts to restrict and manipulate her visit,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
“We are concerned the conditions Beijing authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the human rights environment in the PRC, including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing,” he said. Blinken made the assessment as Bachelet wrapped up her six-day trip to China, which included talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video link and stops in Kashgar and Urumqi in Xinjiang.
Speaking in Guangzhou on Saturday, Bachelet the 70-year-old former Chilean president said she visited a prison and one of the centres but was not able to “access the full scale” of these “vocational education and training centres”. “I raised with the government the lack of independent judicial oversight of the operation of the programme… allegations of the use of force and ill-treatment in institutions, and reports of unduly severe restrictions on legitimate religious practices,” Bachelet said.
Blinken said he was “further troubled by reports that residents of Xinjiang were warned not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, that no insight was provided into the whereabouts of hundreds of missing Uyghurs and conditions for over a million individuals in detention”. Repeating calls for independent investigations into conditions across China, he also urged Beijing to respect the human rights of Tibetans and those living in Hong Kong.
“We again call on the PRC to immediately cease its atrocities in Xinjiang, release those unjustly detained, account for those who disappeared, and allow independent investigators unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet, and across China,” he said, the Post reported. Bachelet visited China from May 23 to 28 during which she toured Guangzhou and Xinjiang province.
Kept under wraps ever since she arrived in Guangzhou on May 23 after prolonged negotiations with the Chinese government to get independent access to investigate the mass internment of Uygur Muslims, who are of Turkik origin, Bachelet visited Xinjiang including a de-radicalisation centre, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
China alleges that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which is allegedly linked to radical outfits like AlQaeda and Islamic State actively fomented a separatist insurgency in Xinjiang bordering Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), Afghanistan and the several Central Asian States. Beijing terms the mass camps as re-education centres to impart skill education.
China has also been accused of carrying out a campaign of “sinicization” of Islam which broadly meant bringing it in tune with the policies of the ruling Communist Party. During High Commissioner Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang, local officials made a comprehensive presentation on China’s policies on ethnic and religious affairs, as well as the measures and results of counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told a media briefing here on Saturday.
Bachelet visited the Kashgar Ancient Town and made a trip to the cotton fields where human rights groups have alleged China used forced labour, especially the interned Uygur Muslims. She has experienced the progress that has been made in preserving and promoting ethnic minority traditions and in improving people’s livelihood, Ma said. She also toured an exhibition on counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation, learning in detail the legal and policy frameworks, practices, and results of counter-terrorism and deradicalisation in Xinjiang, he said.
Bachelet had face-to-face conversations with religious personnel on the rights of religious freedom of Muslims respected and guaranteed by law, he said. While there is considerable pressure exerted on China by the US, EU and the Western countries to permit Bachelet’s visit, considering the secrecy over her visit especially whether she was granted independent access to visit the province and speak to Uygurs the US has expressed scepticism over the outcome.
There are apprehensions that by laying a red carpet welcome to Bachelet, excluding her from the rigid COVID quarantine rule China would try to get a clean chit as in the case of the WHO inquiry team to probe the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan last year. The inquiry turned out to be a damp squib as it failed to identify the source of the virus saying that it is unlikely to have been leaked from the Wuhan bio-lab.
Xi who held a video meeting with Bachelet on May 25 downplayed the allegations of massive human rights violations against Uygur Muslims and their mass incarcerations in volatile Xinjiang province. Xi pointed out that in terms of human rights protection, no one can claim perfection and there is always room for improvement, an official press release here said.
“When it comes to human rights issues, there is no such thing as a flawless utopia; countries do not need patronising lecturers; still less should human rights issues be politicized and used as a tool to apply double standards, or as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries”, Xi said in an apparent reference to US and EU countries terming China’s crackdown in Xinjiang as “genocide”.