China must not use visit by top U.N. human rights official to end the issue

If China wishes to deny its human rights abuses, then it should show the actual situation as it is. Failure to do so may strongly indicate that oppression is really happening.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited China and inspected the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Amid mounting criticism from the international community over human rights abuses against its Uighur ethnic minority, China announced just before the Beijing Winter Olympics in February this year that it would accept the U.N.’s top human rights official.

It was the first such visit to China in 17 years by a U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and was made at the invitation of the Chinese government. It is unreasonable for the Chinese side to say that the purpose of the visit was to promote exchanges and cooperation with the United Nations, and not to recognize the visit as a human rights investigation.

The visit lasted only two days and the destinations were limited to Urumqi, the regional capital, and Kashgar, further west in the region. It was conducted under a “bubble system,” in which contact with the outside world was blocked on the grounds of controlling infectious diseases, and foreign media were not allowed to accompany the high commissioner for coverage.

China must be aware that the international community’s concerns will not be dispelled by a visit that can only be described as being full of restrictions and having no transparency.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Bachelet to “clarify misinformation” about Beijing’s human rights abuses. It seems that China regards her visit as a U.N. endorsement of Chinese claims on the issue, and is seeking to thereby put an end to the matter.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said decisively, “There is no need for preachers to boss around other countries” regarding human rights issues. This remark, which ignores the fact that human rights protection is an international norm, has resulted in spreading China’s image of arrogance around the world.

After her visit, Bachelet called on China to review its anti-terrorist measures, which Beijing uses as a premise for strict controls in the autonomous region, in supposed accordance with international human rights standards.

On the other hand, she repeatedly stressed that her visit this time was not an investigation, admitting that she was unable to grasp the entire human rights situation. Behavior that is intended to give consideration to claims made by the Chinese side could undermine the prestige of the United Nations.

In spite of that, Bachelet’s inspection visit is of no small significance. It may have demonstrated the importance of international pressure, such as seen in the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and the role of the United Nations.

In the past, a U.N. high commissioner for human rights has conducted an on-site investigation into and actively pursued responsibility for Russia’s human rights violations during the Chechen conflict, and Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. The U.N.’s top human rights official should now aim for a thorough investigation into the Uighur issue as well.

When the World Health Organization investigated the origins of the novel coronavirus in China, Beijing dominated the fieldwork, which swept the issue under the rug. The same situation must not be repeated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 1, 2022)