China welcomes UN visit to Xinjiang, but opposes investigation

Chinese spokesperson says Canada and others seeking to ‘destabilize’ China

China would welcome a United Nations visit to Xinjiang Autonomous Region — the scene of what some nations have called a government campaign of genocide against the Uyghur minority — but Beijing is opposed to an “investigation with a presumption of guilt,” a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said.

On CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told host Rosemary Barton that the UN is negotiating with Beijing to allow the UN High Commissioner to visit the region. Canadian parliamentarians and several other countries have accused China of carrying out a campaign of genocide against Uyghurs there.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month that reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour in Xinjiang require a thorough and independent assessment.

At a news briefing in Beijing today, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that the Chinese government would welcome a visit and confirmed that the UN and China are in talks — but stopped short of inviting an unrestricted investigation.

China says visit shouldn’t be an investigation

“The purpose of the visit is to promote exchanges and cooperation between the two sides, not to conduct a so-called ‘investigation’ with a presumption of guilt,” he said in response to a question from Agence France-Presse. “At the same time, we oppose the use of this matter for political manipulation to exert pressure on China.”

In response to a follow up question, Zhao said “a few Western countries” were using the prospect of a UN visit to Xinjiang to “engage in political manipulation and to put pressure on China.”

While Zhao did not specify which countries he was referring to, his remarks come after Canada, the U.K., the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials last week in response to what they say are human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang.

WATCH | Human rights need to be respected, Secretary General Antonio Guterres says:

UN needs to enter China ‘without restrictions or limitations’: Antonio Guterres

In an exclusive interview with CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the United Nations is engaged in a “serious negotiation” with China about granting UN officials access to China’s Xinjiang province to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the region against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Guterres also calls on Beijing to respect the will of the people of Hong Kong. Watch Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT/11:30 a.m. NT on CBC News Network and CBC Gem. 4:29

China retaliated Saturday when it announced targeted sanctions against Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong, the opposition critic for foreign affairs, and the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights, which had denounced Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities.

Xu Guixiang, a spokesperson for the regional government of Xinjiang, said today that Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union are engaging in political manipulation to destabilize China through sanctions.

He described the allegations as “misconduct,” said they undermine “international efforts to punish genocide crimes” and called them “the biggest false accusations in human history.”

“They have lost their minds and their conscience. They are enthusiastic about political manipulation and the abuse of sanctions to a level that is hysterical,” Xu told a news conference. “Their purpose is, by using human rights as an excuse, to destabilize Xinjiang and China.”

At a UN news conference on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is taking appropriate steps to stand up for human rights.

“We have acted. We have acted in a way that is giving extra support and ability for Canadian companies to ensure that they are not being involved in questionable supply chains from Xinjiang,” he said.

“But we are also, more importantly, working with our allies around the world to move forward on sanctions and on concerted, collaborative, coordinated approaches to really make the point that our concerns about what’s going on there are significant and need to be responded to by the Chinese government.”

In response to a question about China inviting UN observers into Xinjiang, Trudeau called it “excellent news” but deferred to Guterres.

Guterres said that the UN is “seriously engaging with China” over the possible visit, adding he wants “no unacceptable limitations.”

China faces accusations of genocide

The U.S. government has publicly accused Beijing of genocide against the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minorities in the region.

In Canada, MPs voted to label China’s actions in Xinjiang region as “genocide.” Liberal cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, abstained from that vote.

The Liberal government has been reluctant to use the term “genocide” to describe Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang but it has faced increasing pressure from opposition parties to take a stronger stand on China.