China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022: Media

A production line at a factory in Urumqi, Xinjiang, on Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China has agreed to let the UN's human rights chief visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post, which cited unnamed sources.

The United States and rights groups have criticised China's human rights record in the treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang. Beijing denies all allegations of abuse and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.

China’s foreign ministry said the UN human rights chief is welcome to visit Xinjiang but not for the purpose of an investigation, when asked about the report.

Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular media briefing on Friday (Jan 28) that the invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights was extended a long time ago.

China's mission to the United Nations in New York and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb 4 to 20, was granted on the condition that the trip should be "friendly" and not framed as an investigation.

As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China's human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, prompting a diplomatic boycott from the US and other countries.

"No one, especially the world's leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government's efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uighurs and other Turkic communities," Ms Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

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