There’s no ‘utopia’, no need to lecture on rights, Xi Jinping tells UN human rights chief

According to a readout issued by the Chinese government, Bachelet told Xi Jinping that she admires China for ‘protecting human rights’ among other achievements including eliminating poverty and upholding multilateralism
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet (left) attending a virtual meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, in Guangzhou. (AFP)
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet (left) attending a virtual meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, in Guangzhou. (AFP)
Updated on May 25, 2022 06:56 PM IST
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BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping defended China’s record in a meeting with UN’s top human rights official on Wednesday, saying there is no “flawless utopia” and criticised countries that lecture others on human rights and politicise the issue.

“When it comes to human rights issues, there is no such thing as a flawless utopia; countries do not need patronising lecturers, still less should human rights issues be politicised and used as a tool to apply double standards, or as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” Xi told UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet who is on a six-day China tour, in a meeting via videolink.

In a statement issued by Bachelet’s office, she is quoted as saying, “I have been committed to undertaking this visit - the first visit by a UN Human Rights High Commissioner to China in 17 years - because for me, it is a priority to engage with the Government of China directly, on human rights issues, domestic, regional and global. For development, peace and security to be sustainable - locally and across borders - human rights have to be at their core.

“China has a crucial rule to play within multilateral institutions in confronting many of the challenges currently facing the world, including threats to international peace and security, instability in the global economic system, inequality, climate change and more. I look forward to deepening our discussions on these and other issues, and hope my office can accompany efforts to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, justice and the rule of law for all without exception.”

Xi and Bachelet’s meeting comes in the backdrop of fresh allegations of systemic abuse carried out by the Chinese government against the minority Muslim UIghurs in Xinjiang.

Bachelet’s tour will take her to Urumqi and Kashgar in Xinjiang this week, a visit, rights activists fear will be a carefully orchestrated one that will be used as a propaganda tool by the government.

Beijing is accused of detaining more than a million UIghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as part of a years-long crackdown, labelled as a “genocide” by the US.

Beijing has denied the allegations.

Xi did not mention by name either Xinjiang or Tibet, where also the government is accused of attempting to subsume the distinct local culture and language in the broader Chinese identity, but said China is following its own national conditions.

“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,” he told Bachelet, a two-time former President of Chile.

Many aren’t convinced whether individual countries can follow their own version of human rights ignoring international standards.

“The world is watching the high commissioner’s trip to China, which is a critical opportunity to address the ongoing severe atrocity crimes in Xinjiang. The survivors and victims of atrocities are awaiting the outcome of the trip,” Alkan Akad of Amnesty International told Hindustan Times.

The latest allegations of abuse in Xinjiang, collated by several western media houses under the title “Xinjiang Police Files” include photographs of thousands of Uighurs detained between January and July 2018 in prisons or in “re-education camps”: The youngest was just 15 years old at the time of her detention, the eldest was 73.

According to the BBC, one document says that, in the event of an attempted escape, the camp’s armed police “strike group” must fire a warning shot, and if the “student” continues to try to escape, to shoot them dead.

Beijing maintains the camps are vocational training institutes, also meant to de-radicalise extremists.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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