China said on Friday United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is welcome to visit Xinjiang, where Beijing faces serious human rights allegations against Uygur Muslims, after the Winter Olympic Games to promote cooperation and not an investigation based on the “presumption of guilt”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing here that the invitation was extended a long time ago and the two sides have been maintaining communication.
"China welcomes Madam Bachelet to visit China, including Xinjiang,” Zhao said.
“Our position is consistent and clear. The purpose of the visit is to promote exchange and cooperation, not investigation based on the presumption of guilt. We oppose anyone using this for political manipulation to pressure China,” he said.
The spokesman, however, skirted a direct answer when asked to comment on a media report stating China is also insisting Bachelet should not release her report on Xinjiang before the February 4 Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony as demanded by US politicians.
“I can tell you Xinjiang enjoys economic prosperity and social order and people there are leading happy lives with their human rights fully protected,” he said.
China firmly opposes tactics of using Xinjiang to smear the country by distorting facts, he said.
China has launched a diplomatic offensive to mobilise world leaders to attend the February 4 opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics as the US, the EU and several western countries announced a boycott of the event by their diplomats to highlight the allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the incarceration of over a million Uygur Muslims in camps.
A host of world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, besides UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are due to attend the opening ceremony to show solidarity with Beijing.
China defends the camps, describing them as re-education centres aimed at de-radicalising sections of the Uyghur Muslim population from extremism and separatism campaign carried out by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
On Friday, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported China has agreed to host a visit to Xinjiang by Bachelet “in the first half of the year after the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
Bachelet recently secured Beijing’s approval for a visit to the region sometime after the Olympic Games, on the prerequisite that the trip should be “friendly” in nature and not framed as an investigation, the report said.
Beijing also insisted that Bachelet’s office hold off on publishing a report into Xinjiang ahead of the Games, as requested by Washington, the media report quoted sources as saying.
Besides the diplomatic boycott, the US brought about legislation that effectively bans all imports from Xinjiang, over allegations of forced labour.
Two US lawmakers, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James McGovern, on the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China last week released a letter sent to Bachelet asking her to publicly release her office’s Xinjiang report before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the report said.