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Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 20, 2019.

Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 20, 2019. (Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg)

The United Nations’ human rights chief is planning to proceed with a landmark trip to China next week, people familiar with the matter said, in a highly scrutinized visit that will include a stop in the far west region of Xinjiang.

Michelle Bachelet is set to meet with foreign diplomats in the country on Monday in a virtual meeting while she’s in China, the people said, asking not to be identified to discuss confidential information. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has released few details on the schedule for Bachelet, who is set to become the first UN human rights chief to visit China since 2005.

The UN Human Rights Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian didn’t offer any updates about the trip when asked about it at a regular press briefing Thursday in Beijing.

Bachelet announced earlier this year her intention to visit China and head to Xinjiang, where human rights organizations and some countries including the U.S. have accused Beijing of putting mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs in mass detention camps as part of a campaign of “genocide.” China rejects charges that human rights abuses or genocide take place in Xinjiang.

The visit would come after the State Department this month outlined plans to boost pressure on China over what it called “horrific abuses” of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, an issue that is becoming one of the biggest points of tension between the world’s two biggest economies.

A U.S. law set to take effect next month would ban the import of goods from Xinjiang unless companies can prove they weren’t made with forced labor. Washington is also weighing the unprecedented step of imposing more severe Treasury Department sanctions on Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., which makes cameras and surveillance systems used in Xinjiang.

Bachelet’s visit has taken years to arrange. It was delayed by the pandemic and talks over how much access she will have. Discussions between China and Europe about a trip to Xinjiang by a group of ambassadors reached a deadlock last year, with an official from the region complaining that the envoys wanted to meet “criminals.”

In February 2021, Australia called on China to give international observers immediate and unfettered access to the region. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at the time that Beijing welcomed foreign nationals with “an unbiased view” to visit Xinjiang. “We oppose interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, and oppose the presumption of guilt or any investigation based on it,” he said.

Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN body, said on Tuesday that Bachelet would visit Guangzhou and Xinjiang, without providing dates. A team dispatched in advance of her visit was still in China and now out of quarantine, she said.

Bachelet wouldn’t need to quarantine upon her arrival, and the visit would “last six to seven days,” Throssell said, adding that she will meet several “very senior Chinese officials.”

A long-awaited report by the UN Human Rights Office on the situation in Xinjiang won’t be published before the visit, Throssell said.

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said such a delay was “almost incomprehensible” and expressed concerns over the credibility of the visit.

“Bachelet is walking into a trap,” he said. “She will almost inevitably be forced to engage in a highly chaperoned and choreographed visit and the Chinese government will use her office’s credibility to show to a domestic audience that she agrees with the government’s policies in Xinjiang.”


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