China said Monday it would welcome United Nations officials to the restive western region of Xinjiang with the condition that they stay out of the country’s internal affairs.
This comes after U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in December her office was seeking access to the region to verify reports of re-education camps holding Muslim minorities.
Reports of gross human rights violations targeting the Uighur ethnic minority in the region in China’s northwest, which shares a border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, have leaked out in the past year.
“Xinjiang is an open region, we welcome all parties, including U.N. 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 at a regular press briefing.
But he warned that foreign nationals, including U.N. officials and experts, should avoid interfering in China’s internal affairs.
Why This Matters
China’s foreign ministry regularly claims it welcomes visits to Xinjiang from foreign journalists and officials.
But foreign journalists traveling to the region are frequently detained and followed by police to prevent and obstruct reporting on the internment camps and treatment of Uighurs.
China has long imposed draconian restrictions on the lives of Muslim minorities in the region in the name of combating terrorism and separatism.
But police measures have intensified in recent years, and an independent U.N. panel believes as many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities are being held in “re-education centers.”
Activists say ethnic minorities can be detained for transgressions as minor has wearing long beards or face veils.
More on the Subject
The Chinese government seems to have been caught off-guard by the outpouring of criticism of its massive campaign of repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities, Omer Kanat, director of Uyghur Human Rights Project, wrote in The Globe Post in late December.
It is now clear that forced labor is a critical component of the “vocational training” which the Chinese government claimed it was conducting in an attempt to sanitize the image of the concentration camps.
It appears that some camps are removing barbed wire from their walls. Local residents are reportedly being instructed not to speak about the camps, in an apparent attempt to prepare for inspection teams that might include foreigners.