On Saturday, the UN human rights envoy said her tumultuous trip to China was “not an inquiry,” and that she had unrestricted access during talks in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of massive human rights violations.

Michelle Bachelet’s long-awaited trip to the far-western area this week took her to Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of detaining over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, forcing women to sterilize themselves, and forcing them to work under duress.

 

The US has called China’s actions in Xinjiang “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” accusations Beijing has categorically refuted, claiming that the security crackdown was essential in the face of extremism.

 

Bachelet has been chastised by rights groups and Uyghurs around the world, who claim she wandered into a six-day Communist Party propaganda trip, which included a meeting with President Xi Jinping during which state media stated she supported China’s concept of human rights.

 

Her office then clarified that her comments did not include a support of China’s human rights record.

 

Bachelet presented her visit as a chance to talk with “candour” to Chinese authorities, civil society groups, and academics at the end of her tour while still inside China.

 

“This visit was not an inquiry,” she told reporters, later adding that she had “unsupervised” access to UN sources in Xinjiang.

It is the UN’s top rights envoy’s first journey to China in 17 years, and it comes after months of wrangling over the terms of her visit, which the UN claims is neither a fact-finding expedition nor an investigation.

 

According to her office, Bachelet visited the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar this week, but no images or details of her itinerary have surfaced.

Bachelet’s activities were “organized according to her desire and on the basis of thorough negotiations between the two parties,” a Chinese foreign ministry official said earlier this week.

 

Her office stated that she would meet with “civil society organizations, business representatives, and academics,” but state media have only covered talks with Xi and foreign minister Wang Yi, during which he presented her with a book of Xi statements on human rights.

 

Her journey has been restricted to a “closed loop,” presumably due to the dangers of Covid-19.

 

Following the publication of thousands of secret documents and images from inside the system of mass incarceration this week, the US has maintained its belief that Bachelet’s visit was a mistake, while the UK and Germany have expressed their reservations over the visit.

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