Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, has staked her popularity and that of the 193-member organisation on an investigation into China’s crimes towards Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The former Chilean president, lengthy thought of a contender to be the primary girl head of the UN, this week made a landmark journey to the north-western Chinese area the place 1mn Uyghurs and different Muslim minorities have been subjected to mass internments, pressured labour and re-education camps, in addition to draconian tech-based surveillance and police persecution.
However, regardless of her private experiences of repression and a sterling popularity amongst UN friends, hopes are dim that Bachelet will study something of worth about China’s safety equipment and the plight of the Uyghurs. Nor is she anticipated to influence Beijing to vary course.
Instead, critics stated, her tightly managed mission has been undermined by relentless Chinese obstruction, refutations of wrongdoing and propaganda. The journey has additionally highlighted years of worldwide failings to carry President Xi Jinping’s administration to account amid China’s rising affect on the UN.
“All our like-minded countries have similar views on the visit: it’s a win for China,” stated a senior European diplomat in Beijing. “The best thing she can do right now is be open about the access she’s had.”
Bachelet isn’t any stranger to prisons. As a younger girl in Chile within the Seventies, she was captured by secret service brokers and held in a clandestine detention centre earlier than her exile. Her father was tortured and died behind bars.
Her journey marks the primary time a UN human rights commissioner has had entry to China since 2005. It comes towards the backdrop of allegations of genocide by the US, UK, Canada and others, in addition to sanctions and boycotts of firms with ties to the area.
In a collection of orchestrated occasions, Bachelet met international minister Wang Yi earlier than chatting with Xi through video hyperlink and travelling to Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi and Kashgar, one other huge metropolis.
“I have been committed to undertaking this visit . . . because for me, it is a priority to engage with the government of China directly, on human rights issues, domestic, regional and global,” Bachelet informed Xi.
Beijing has denied the alleged atrocities because the “lie of the century” and accused the US of utilizing Xinjiang as a political ploy to comprise China’s rise. However, Chinese authorities have for years managed entry to the area, sealing it from journalists, diplomats and non-governmental organisations.
Wang, the international minister, stated Bachelet’s journey would “help clarify misinformation” from “anti-China forces” as he offered her with a duplicate of Xi’s e-book: Excerpts from Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights. Photos of the trade had been circulated by China’s international ministry and state media.
Richard Gowan, UN director on the International Crisis Group, stated China had made the journey a “public relations mess for the UN” and put Bachelet’s probability of bettering the plight of the Uyghurs “maybe at 3 per cent”.
But Gowan stated the envoy’s journey ought to be seen in the identical gentle as UN secretary-general António Guterres’s assembly with Russian chief Vladimir Putin final month.
“If the UN was not seen to go, that is even more damaging for the residual hope that UN can do some work of value,” he stated.
“In a sense, she is sacrificing herself because we’ve known from the get-go that there wouldn’t be real Chinese transparency. It’s a trap. But it’s a trap that Bachelet had to walk into.”
Bachelet is anticipated to transient media on her journey within the coming days.
Experts stated her popularity, and that of the UN’s capabilities to research human rights abuses, hinged on her long-delayed report on Xinjiang. Complicating her function is a broader path, set by Guterres, to maintain China onside on the UN to fight local weather change.
“The real tell will be the kind of report that emerges,” stated Anjali Dayal, a UN skilled at Fordham University in New York.
Dayal added that whereas it was attribute that UN investigators “do not get the full picture”, Bachelet’s decisions of sources and “efforts to counteract” Beijing would reveal the extent of her workplace’s independence, or its absence.
“It is unavoidable in her role to appear as though you are also taking the government seriously, even if you don’t plan to buy their story . . . The real measure of success will be whether or not she can issue a report that documents things beyond what she has shown by the government,” she stated.
Diplomats complained, nonetheless, that the UN has not taken a stronger line towards Xi over Xinjiang amid China’s rising affect over the organisation.
“China has a long history of being keen to persuade individuals and businesses to participate in quiet diplomacy, talking about human rights one-on-one rather than at the [UN] human rights council or in a series of meetings without media attention,” stated one senior western diplomat in Beijing.
“There is very little evidence that this kind of technique works, especially in terms of China’s core interests. Xinjiang is a core interest for China.”
Additional reporting by Arjun Neil Alim in Beijing