The United States and other western countries have objected to a visit by the United Nations counterterrorism chief to China’s remote Xinjiang, where UN experts say some 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres.

Vladimir Voronkov, a veteran Russian diplomat who heads the UN Counterterrorism Office, is in China at the invitation of Beijing and is due to visit Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, according to an email sent by his office to countries that raised concerns.

US deputy secretary of state John Sullivan spoke with UN secretary-general António Guterres on Friday “to convey deep concerns” about Voronkov’s trip because “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.

“The UN’s topmost counterterrorism official is putting at risk the UN’s reputation and credibility on counterterrorism and human rights by lending credence to these false claims,” the statement said.

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