Beijing announced on Jan. 7, it is willing to invite United Nations (UN) officials to visit its “vocational re-education centers” in Xinjiang, as long as they follow the proper procedures and obey Chinese law.
The announcement comes amid escalating global concern over reported human rights abuses in the region, and follows arrangements by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the past few weeks to allow selected diplomats and foreign journalists to visit the mass internment camps in China’s northwestern region.
As many as one million majority Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be detained in the facilities, according to UN estimates.
Speaking at a regular briefing in Beijing, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, said the visit would be permitted for UN officials and other parties if they “abide by Chinese law and comply with relevant procedures,” a transcript reads on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.
Lu also urged UN officials to “avoid interfering in domestic matters or undermining [China’s] sovereignty” and instead take on a neutral and objective attitude.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in December she hopes to gain access to Xinjiang to verify “worrying reports” of its re-education camps.
Shohrat Zakir, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, made similar comments during the Xinjiang media tour last week, saying that the region is open, according to Pakistani newspaper The News International.
“We will welcome any of the UN experts to visit Xinjiang to know the real situation and we hope their comments will be based on facts and ground realities,” Zakir told a small group of foreign journalists who were granted rare media access to several facilities in southern Xinjiang.
The reporters, who were taken to facilities in Hotan, Kashgar, and Karakax, were told that relevant UN experts would be able to visit to listen to the voice of the majority, who he said would be objective and fair.
He added that he hoped some individuals “will not damage our national interest and the national unity among the people seeking a wealthy and happy life.”
In past weeks, a similar visit was organized for diplomats from 12 countries including India, Russia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia, according to Xinjiang officials.
Zakir went on to push the CCP’s narrative that the detention facilities—which Beijing legalized in October—were constructed to transform and educate those the CCP deems at risk of the “three evil forces” of “extremism, separatism, and terrorism.”
“We are teaching the national common language, law and regulations to aware them about the country and world as well as their legal rights, obligations, and duties,” Zakir said.
Former Uyghur detainees have told The Epoch Times that they were subject to torture, forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the CCP while held in the often overcrowded facilities.
Numerous testimonies have revealed the widespread human-rights abuses suffered by those within the camps.
Meanwhile, mounting evidence suggests that detainees are being exploited in forced labor facilities within the camps-turned-training centers.
The comments made by the pair were foreshadowed by numerous media reports that Xinjiang officials are drastically ramping up efforts to conceal evidence of the scale and true nature of “vocational re-education centers” in preparation for an international inspection.
Thousands of Uyghurs have been secretly transferred from Xinjiang to facilities throughout China, and barbed wire and CCTV cameras are being removed from the camps, according to several sources in the region.
The Epoch Times obtained a CCP confidentiality agreement which urges detainees of a facility in Awat County, Xinjiang not to reveal the “study, life, number of people, and internal workings of the training centers.”
Xinjiang residents have also been told to “smile joyfully” and “praise the [Communist] Party’s policies” during international inspections, or they will face consequences, an Uyghur businessman from Ghulja told Radio Free Asia.
It is not the first time China has taken extreme measures to attempt to deceive international inspection teams.
In 2003, doctors in Beijing were ordered by Chinese officials to hide patients with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from World Health Organization experts to downplay the extent of the epidemic.
An estimated 40 SARS patients were relocated to a hotel in hospital grounds, while 30 others were packed into ambulances during the WHO inspection.