China Warns UN as Human Rights Chief Seeks to Inspect Xinjiang

China accused the United Nations' top human rights official of making "erroneous remarks" after the commissioner revealed that she was seeking "meaningful access" to Xinjiang amid ongoing reports about serious violations.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was in discussions with China over "modalities for a visit, including meaningful access," which she hopes will happen this year.

Bachelet told the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday that she intended to visit Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China's northwest, "particularly as reports of serious human rights violations continue to emerge."

The Chinese government responded with mixed signals. Its mission to the UN Office at Geneva said it welcomed the official's visit to China and Xinjiang, but told Bachelet to "stop making erroneous remarks which interfere in China's sovereignty."

Witness testimony, rights groups and UN assessments say Chinese officials in Xinjiang have detained over a million Uyghur Muslims in "re-education camps," with many subject to forced labor and forced sterilization.

China, at first denying the existence of camps, later classified them as "vocational" training facilities to boost literacy and employment in the region.

In January, the United States became the first country to declare China's policies in Xinjiang as genocide. Several Western governments, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have since followed, including in the coordination of sanctions with Washington.

China has continued to deny any allegations of wrongdoing as the issue gains international exposure and leads to calls for a boycott of next year's Winter Games in Beijing.

On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Bachelet's comments were "not factual."

"We welcome the official to visit Xinjiang and had already invited her to visit China, including Xinjiang. Both parties have been in constant communication," the official noted.

Zhao said: "We have made our position clear on several occasions. The visit should be a friendly one for the purposes of promoting exchange and cooperation, and not to conduct an investigation under the presumption of guilt."

"We oppose any political manipulation and the use of this issue to pressure China," he added.

Bachelet, who is from Chile, told the UN Human Rights Council that her office had been "closely monitoring" developments in Hong Kong, where the application of China's national security law has had a "chilling impact" on the city's democratic space and independent media.

Since the law was enacted on June 30 last year, 107 people have arrested and 57 formally charged, with the first case coming to trial this week, Bachelet said.

"This will be an important test of independence for Hong Kong's judiciary in its willingness to uphold Hong Kong's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in accordance with the Basic Law," she added.

UN Rights Chief Seeks Access To Xinjiang
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivers a speech on global human rights developments during the 47th session of the Human Rights Council on June 21, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images