BEIJING – China on Tuesday said the U.S., Britain and other foreign powers are seeking to sabotage its foreign relations by orchestrating criticism surrounding a trip by the top United Nations official for human rights.
China has long held back the fact-finding mission led by Michelle Bachelet, focused on allegations of mass confinement, forced labor and compulsory birth control measures imposed on members of the Uyghur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin went on the offensive over such criticisms Tuesday, saying “the U.S., Britain and other Western countries have been repeatedly staging political farces around the U.N. high commissioner for human rights’ visit to China."
“They have first openly pressured and strongly demanded that the high commissioner visit China and Xinjiang, and conducted the so-called investigation with presumption of guilt," Wang said at a daily briefing.
The U.S., Britain and other countries “jumped out and spared no effort to disrupt and sabotage the visit, creating conditions and obstacles for the visit," Wang said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Bachelet in the southern city of Guangzhou on Monday, telling her that China opposes “politicizing” human rights and imposing double standards.
Bachelet's trip is the first to China by a U.N. high commissioner for human rights since 2005.
Her six-day visit is focused on allegations of abuses against Muslim minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, but rights groups fear it will help whitewash the crackdown labeled by the U.S. as genocide.
China locked up an estimated million or more members of Uyghur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities in what critics describe as a campaign to obliterate their distinct cultural identities. China says it has nothing to hide and welcomes all those without political bias to visit Xinjiang and view what it describes as a successful campaign to fight terrorism and restore order and ethnic cohesion.
From Guangzhou, Bachelet is to travel to Kashgar, once a stop on the Silk Road, and Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital. The U.N. and China barred foreign media from accompanying Bachelet, and it’s unclear whom she will meet and how much access she will be granted throughout her visit.
The U.N. quoted Bachelet as telling Wang that she was looking forward to exchanges with “many different people during my visit, particularly with government officials, business leaders, academics, students and members of the civil society working on human rights and other social and economic issues.”
“While we will be discussing sensitive and important issues, I hope this will help us to build confidence and enable us to work together in advancing human rights in China and globally,” it quoted Bachelet as saying.
“Wang noted that to advance the international cause of human rights, we must first respect each other and refrain from politicizing human rights." the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
“Multilateral human rights institutions should serve as a major venue for cooperation and dialogue rather than a new battlefield for division and confrontation," it said.
China's ruling Communist Party allows no political opposition and strictly limits free speech and rights to assembly and religious expression. China is also one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and has signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights administered by Bachelet's office.
Beijing has also come under criticism over its refusal to criticize Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as its hard-line “zero-COVID" approach to the pandemic that has disrupted the lives of tens of millions of citizens and upended global supply chains.
In an online meeting Tuesday with Wang, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on “members of the international community to condemn Russia’s illegal war of aggression and to assume their responsibility to uphold international law and to protect the U.N. Charter."
Baerbock cited the “shocking reports and new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang and called for a transparent investigation," her ministry said.
“Human rights are a fundamental part of the international order and Germany is committed to protecting them worldwide," Baerbock said.
"I think it’s important that these accusations, which have been known for a long time, are addressed by the Chinese side, and I made that very, very clear in this morning’s discussion,” she added.
Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck called the latest reports of internment, mistreatment and forced labor of Uyghurs “particularly shocking.”
“Internationally there needs to be a clear response and further investigation of this,” he said in a statement.
Habeck said Germany for years had shied away from looking to closely at the problematic human rights record of its close trading partner, but that the country's new center-left government was taking a different approach.
Germany would scrutinize environmental, social and human rights aspects when considering German companies’ requests for loan guarantees for their investments in China, he said.
“We will also examine very closely Chinese firms’ takeover bids in Germany,” he added, saying one recent offer was prohibited while another was withdrawn by the company after questions were raised.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, echoed the concerns.
She tweeted: “Horrified by the Xinjiang Police Files, which spotlight China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities."
Thomas-Greenfield also said that Bachelet and her office “must take a hard look at these faces and press Chinese officials for full, unfettered access – and answers.”
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.