January 7, 2019 / 7:39 AM / 6 months ago

China says it welcomes U.N. to visit Xinjiang via proper procedures

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday it would welcome U.N. officials to its far western region of Xinjiang if they follow the proper procedures, amid global concern over Beijing’s de-radicalization program there.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang drinks a cup of water at a regular news conference in Beijing, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kangm asked at a regular briefing about reports that China had invited UN experts to Xinjiang, said that all parties, including the U.N., were welcome, as long as they respected appropriate travel procedures.

U.N. officials should also “avoid interfering in domestic matters” and adopt an objective and neutral attitude, he added.

The top U.N. 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 U.N. 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”.

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 U.N. rights experts.

In the last two weeks, the Chinese government has arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries to visit the region, as well as organizing a trip for a small group of reporters, including Reuters, to three facilities, which it called vocational education training centers.

In the centers, 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 on the trip that the de-radicalization program had been highly successful but that fewer people would be sent through the system in future.

Reuters last year reported on harsh extrajudicial detentions and interrogations at the camps, which are at odds with Beijing's claims, and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some. (tinyurl.com/y9zzouss)

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie

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