China has said it would welcome UN officials to its far western region of Xinjiang if they follow the proper procedures, amid global concern over allegations of gross human rights violations against Muslim minorities there.
“Xinjiang is an open region, we welcome all parties, including UN officials, to visit, if they abide by China’s laws and regulations, and go through the proper travel procedures,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday.
But he warned that UN officials should also “avoid interfering in domestic matters” and adopt an objective and neutral attitude.
The top UN human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, in December, said her office was seeking access to Xinjiang to verify “worrying reports” of re-education camps holding Muslim minorities, including the Turkic speaking Uighurs.
In August, a UN human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp”.
Activists say ethnic minorities can be detained for transgressions as minor as wearing long beards or face veils.
Global Times, a Chinese state-aligned English-language newspaper, reported on Saturday that the country has passed a new law to “Sinicize” Islam and make it compatible with socialism.
In a rare move, a group of 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing, spearheaded by Canada, have sought a meeting with the top official in the region, Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo, for an explanation of alleged rights abuses against Uighurs.
Beijing has launched an increasingly active publicity campaign to defend its actions in Xinjiang in the face of an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and UN rights experts.
In the past two weeks, the Chinese government has arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries to visit the region, as well as organising a trip for a small group of reporters to three facilities, which it called vocational education training centres.
In the centres, Uighur students learned in Mandarin about the dangers of extremist thought and sang and danced for reporters, including a rendition in English of If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands.
Xinjiang officials told Reuters news agency on the trip that the “de-radicalisation programme” had been highly successful but that fewer people would be sent through the system in future.