The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet arrived in China Monday, in a visit expected to be dominated by allegations of human rights abuses in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
During her six-day visit, Bachelet will travel to the Xinjiang cities of Kashgar and Urumqi, the region's capital. The United Nations has accused China of detaining 1 million Muslim ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang and subjecting them to abuses. China denies it has mistreated Uyghurs.
Rights groups have warned that Bachelet’s visit threatens to whitewash abuses in Xinjiang by China’s government.
No media will be traveling with Bachelet on her trip, and it is not clear whether she will be allowed to visit detention centers where China’s government has detained Uyghurs. China calls the facilities re-education centers and says it has successfully used them to put down violence and restore order in the region.
Rights groups say China has detained Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to wipe out their religious and cultural identities. The U.S. government has said China’s actions amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Bachelet would have "extensive exchanges with all sectors" during her trip.
"I hope that this visit will further promote exchanges and cooperation between the two sides and play an active role in advancing the international human rights cause," he said Monday after confirming her arrival in China’s southern city of Guangzhou.
Bachelet is the first U.N. high commissioner for human rights to visit China since 2005.
Bachelet's office said on Twitter that she would be “discussing sensitive, important human rights issues” and said she hopes “this visit will help us work together to advance human rights in China and globally." Her office has said Bachelet will hold a news conference at the end of her trip.
Rights groups have urged Bachelet to speak out while in China about the abuses against Uyghurs.
"Michelle Bachelet's long-delayed visit to Xinjiang is a critical opportunity to address human rights violations in the region, but it will also be a running battle against Chinese government efforts to cover up the truth," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in a statement.
Rights groups have also called on Bachelet to release a U.N. report by her office on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price also called for the report’s release.
"The high commissioner's continued silence in the face of indisputable evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang … is deeply concerning, particularly as she is and should be the leading U.N. voice on human rights," Price said.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.