By Humeyra Pamuk and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is “deeply concerned” that China will restrict access on a visit by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, the State Department said on Friday, while also criticizing Bachelet for “silence” in the face of what it said were atrocities in China’s western Xinjiang region.
China’s foreign ministry announced that Bachelet will visit the country from May 23 to 28, in what will be the first U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights trip there since 2005. Her schedule includes a trip to Xinjiang, where activists say some 1 million Uyghurs Muslims have been held in mass detention.
The United States accuses Beijing of committing genocide there, and Western rights groups fear the visit will be seen as an endorsement of China’s rights record.
“We’re deeply concerned about the upcoming visit,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told a press briefing, adding that the United States had “no expectation that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang.”
Price said the United States had made its concerns known to China and to Bachelet, who he said for months had not heeded repeated calls by the United States and other countries to release a report by her staff on the situation in Xinjiang.
“Despite frequent assurances by her office that the report would be released in short order, it remains unavailable to us,” Price said.
“The High Commissioner’s continued silence in the face of indisputable evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang and other human rights violations and abuses throughout the PRC – it is deeply concerning, particularly as she is and should be the leading … voice on human rights,” he said.
China has denied Western allegations of forced labor and genocide against Uyghurs and has warned other countries not to interfere in China’s domestic affairs by criticizing its actions in Xinjiang.
Human Rights Watch said on Friday that it and other rights groups had expressed concerns that the Chinese government would “manipulate the visit as a public relations stunt.”