June 13, 2019 / 9:07 AM / 4 months ago

U.N. rights boss welcome in China, including Xinjiang, envoy says

GENEVA (Reuters) - China’s envoy in Geneva said on Thursday that he hoped U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet would visit China, including Xinjiang, where he said “education training centres” were helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.

FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

China has been condemned internationally for setting up complexes in the remote western region of Xinjiang that U.N. experts describe as mass detention centres holding more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile, has repeatedly pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.

“We hope to see the high commissioner pay a visit to China including a trip to Xinjiang to see by herself ... Seeing is believing,” Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told a news conference.

“The invitation to the high commissioner is always there, we hope to define a time which is convenient to both sides.

“What happened in Xinjiang is vocational education training centres help young people, especially young people, to get skills, to be well-equipped for their reintegration into society,” Chen said, adding that “there are no so-called re-education camps”.

Bachelet’s approach was one of “dialogue and cooperation”, he said, contrasting this with that of her predecessor Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. “I think this is the right direction.”

“The high commissioner has been invited to visit China and we are continuing to discuss with the government for full access. We can also confirm that she met with China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva this week,” spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said in an email response.

Hurtado, asked whether China had offered access to Xinjiang, replied; “At this point, we are still discussing with the authorities.”

Louise Arbour was the last U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China, in September 2005.

China has previously said it would welcome U.N. officials if they avoided “interfering in domestic matters”.

Activists have called for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which opens its next three-week session on June 24, to hold China to account for alleged violations in Xinjiang. The 47-member state forum has never adopted a resolution on China.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, defended the complexes in Xinjiang and said the “campuses” would be closed down gradually as extremist ideology was vanquished in the region.

Chen, asked when the centres would be phased out, said: “I am not in a position to say what kind of road map or the timetable or whatever.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans

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