UN chief to China's leaders: Allow credible visit by rights envoy

Motorists crossing a traffic junction under a screen showing pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Hotan, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on April 30, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Chinese leaders on Saturday (Feb 5) that he expected the authorities to allow UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to make a "credible visit" to the country, including Xinjiang, the United Nations said.

Mr Guterres met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics, according to a UN statement of the meetings.

Ms Bachelet has long sought access to Xinjiang to investigate accusations of abuse against ethnic Uighurs.

The issue has soured relations between Beijing and the West, sparking accusations of genocide from Washington and a US-led diplomatic boycott by some countries of the Winter Olympics.

"The Secretary-General... expressed his expectation that the contacts between the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chinese authorities will allow for a credible visit of the High Commissioner to China, including Xinjiang," said the statement.

Ms Bachelet's office in Geneva said last month that conversations were under way for a possible trip to the area in north-west China in the first half of the year.

Rights groups accuse China of large-scale abuses against Uighurs and other minority groups, including torture, forced labour and detention of one million people in internment camps.

China calls them re-education and training facilities, denies abuses, and says it is combating religious extremism.

Mr Guterres also discussed Afghanistan and climate change - among other issues - during his meetings with Mr Xi and Mr Wang.

"The Secretary-General recognised the important efforts China is making to address climate change but reiterated the appeal for additional efforts to accelerate the transition to the green economy to bridge the emissions gap," said the UN statement.

Mr Guterres travelled to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday. The ceremony concluded with the Olympic flame cauldron lit by two young Chinese Olympians, one of them a member of China's Uighur minority.

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