The United States on Friday objected to a visit by the United Nations counterterrorism chief to China's Xinjiang province, where around one million ethnic Uighurs and minority Muslims are reportedly held at detention centres.
Vladimir Voronkov, a veteran Russian diplomat who heads the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), is in China at the invitation of Beijing and is due to visit Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, according to an e-mail sent by his office to countries, including Britain that raised concerns over his visit, Al Jazeera reported.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday "to convey deep concerns" about Voronkov's trip.
Sullivan said, "Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not."
"The Deputy Secretary expressed that such a visit is highly inappropriate in view of the unprecedented repression campaign underway in Xinjiang against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims," the US State Department said in a statement.
Sullivan also told Guterres that Voronkov's trip puts the UN's reputation and credibility at risk.
China has been condemned internationally for setting up the detention camps, which it describes as "education training centres" helping to stamp out "extremism" and give people new skills.
However, the West is worried about the fact that Voronkov's visit will validate China's justification for the centres, authorities were quoted as saying.
"China will, and is, actively saying that what they're doing in Xinjiang is good terrorism prevention," said a UN Security Council diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"The visit by Voronkov validates their narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue when we would see it more as a human rights issue," said the diplomat, adding that if Voronkov did not speak out after visiting Xinjiang then "silence could be seen as implicit acceptance, at worst UN complicity.
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