Chinese leader defends record to UN human rights chief

Michelle Bachelet is in the middle of a six-day visit to China.

Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights
Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has defended the country’s record to the top UN human rights official, saying each nation should be allowed to find its own path.

Mr Xi, who heads the ruling Communist Party that allows no political opposition and strictly controls free speech, criticised countries that lecture others on human rights and allegedly politicise the issue.

“Through long-term and persistent hard work, China has successfully embarked on a path of human rights development that conforms to the trend of the times and suits its own national conditions,” Mr Xi told UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet in a video call, according to an online report by state broadcaster CCTV.

Ms Bachelet is in the middle of a six-day visit to China that includes stops in Xinjiang, a remote north-western region where the Chinese government has been accused of human rights violations and genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups.

Her trip has been criticised by the US and others, who think that China will limit whom she can talk to, stage-manage her trip and use it for propaganda purposes.

The CCTV report did not mention Xinjiang or the Communist Party’s often harsh treatment of dissidents and activists and ethnic groups in Tibet and Inner Mongolia.

Mr Xi laid out the long-held Communist Party’s position on human rights, which argues that China should find its own path and not completely copy the models of other countries and rejects outside criticism as interference in its domestic affairs.

It also says that bettering the lives of people is the most important human right for developing countries, and points to China’s success in lifting people out of poverty.

“On the issue of human rights, there is no perfect ‘utopia’,” he was quoted as saying. “We don’t need ‘masters’ that dictate to other countries, let alone politicising and turning the human rights issue into a tool, practising double standards and interference in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretext of human rights.”

Ms Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said it had been valuable to have direct talks with Mr Xi and senior Chinese officials on human rights issues and concerns in China and globally, a tweet from her UN office said.

A screen showing Xi Jinping holding a virtual meeting with Michelle Bachelet
A screen showing Xi Jinping holding a virtual meeting with Michelle Bachelet (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua via AP)

“My meetings with President Xi and other senior officials have been a valuable opportunity to discuss directly human rights issues and concerns in China and the world. For development, peace & security to be sustainable – locally and across borders – human rights, justice and inclusion for all, without exception, have to be at their core,” Ms Bachelet tweeted.

CCTV and China’s Foreign Ministry quoted Ms Bachelet as telling Mr Xi she admired China’s efforts and achievements on poverty and human rights, but her office said she did not say that.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday in Washington that the United States does not expect China to allow the access Ms Bachelet would need to get an unmanipulated view of the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

“We think it was a mistake to agree to a visit under these circumstances where the high commissioner will not be granted the type of unhindered access, free and full access, that would be required to do a complete assessment and to come back with a full picture of the atrocities, the crimes against humanity, and the genocide ongoing in Xinjiang,” he said.

Ms Bachelet started her trip in Guangzhou, a city in south-eastern China, where she met foreign minister Wang Yi and had a video conference with Du Hangwei, the vice minister of public security. Her itinerary also includes the cities of Kashgar and Urumqi, both in Xinjiang.

In a speech to students at the Institute for Human Rights at Guangzhou University, she noted that young people are influencing debate on issues such as equality, climate action and human rights and are holding governments and businesses accountable for their actions.

“A fundamental ingredient for youth to be able to play that role is an open civic space where they can voice their opinions and seek change,” she said, according to a UN text of her speech.

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