The United Nations’ counterterrorism chief is visiting China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing says 1 million Uygurs and other Muslims are being detained because of a terrorism threat, UN sources and rights activists said on Thursday. Vladimir Voronkov, undersecretary general for counterterrorism, is the highest level UN official to visit the far western Chinese region, which activists have described as an open prison, deprived of religious freedom. UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that Voronkov, a Russian diplomat, was on an official visit to China, but did not provide details of his itinerary. The UN counterterrorism office worked to ensure that measures used to fight terror respected human rights, Haq said. Beijing argues that the internment camps in Xinjiang are “vocational training centres” to steer people away from extremism and reintegrate them, in a region plagued by violence blamed on Uygur separatists or Islamists. Voronkov’s visit to Xinjiang, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, drew sharp criticism from rights activists. Uygur leader Dolkun Isa urges pressure on China as he receives US award “The UN allowing its counterterrorism chief to go to Xinjiang risks confirming China’s false narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue, not a question of massive human rights abuses,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, said. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet asked Beijing in December for permission to carry out a fact-finding mission in Xinjiang, but has been left waiting. New UN rights chief condemns attacks on minorities in first address Earlier on Thursday, Chen Xu, China’s new ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said the UN high commissioner for human rights would pay a visit when “we can find a time which is convenient to both sides”. China has insisted that the fate of the estimated 1 million Uygurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims is an internal matter. At the request of the United States and other Western countries, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in May raised the plight of the Uygurs during his visit to China. He told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that “human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism”, the UN said.