The United Nations' human rights chief told diplomats her trip to Xinjiang this week wouldn't be an "investigation," in an apparent attempt to manage expectations of her landmark visit to China.
Michelle Bachelet said her trip aimed to promote, protect and respect human rights, according to two people who attended the Monday video call with some 100 participants, who were mostly Beijing-based diplomats. The people asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive issue.
Bachelet said setting high expectations would lead to disappointment, according to the people, addressing concerns raised mainly by Western diplomats on the call over whether she'd be granted unfettered access to Xinjiang.
Rights groups and countries including the U.S. have accused Beijing of putting mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs in mass detention camps in the far western region as part of a campaign of "genocide." China rejects charges that human rights abuses or genocide occur in Xinjiang, which has become one of the biggest points of tension between the world's two largest economies.
U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns expressed to Bachelet "profound concerns" about China's human rights record in Xinjiang and attempts by Beijing to manipulate the trip, according to multiple people on the call who asked for anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak.
The UN Human Rights Office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on criticisms of the meeting.
Still, Bachelet said she'd make the most of being in China, where her arrival in Beijing this week marked the first time a UN human rights chief had visited the country since 2005.
The UN official also confirmed she'll visit a detention center in Xinjiang and has set up meetings independently of Chinese authorities, one of the people said. Bachelet added that she will produce a report on Xinjiang, separate to the delayed one her office is already working on, without sharing publication dates of either.
She'll also deliver a lecture at Guangzhou University in the southern province of Guangdong, visit Kashgar and Urumqi in Xinjiang, and hold a press conference on Saturday to wrap up the trip, the UN Human Rights Office said in a Friday statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that Bachelet would travel in a "closed loop as agreed by the two sides" without traveling press. China is battling virus outbreaks in several cities, as it clings to a COVID Zero policy of eliminating the virus.
Bachelet's visit has taken years to arrange, after being delayed by the pandemic and negotiations over access. 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 the envoys wanted to meet "criminals." China routinely has police follow reporters who travel to the region.
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. A US 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 severe Treasury Department sanctions on Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., which makes surveillance systems used in Xinjiang.