BEIJING (Reuters) - China has not ruled out a visit by the United Nations human rights chief to its unrest-plagued regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, but said on Thursday he must apply through "appropriate channels".
Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said last week he was in talks with Chinese authorities on visiting Tibet. Asked whether he would also visit Xinjiang, he did not rule out the possibility, but said it would be premature to discuss details of the trip.
"China hopes to develop cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office on a foundation of equality and mutual respect," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily briefing on Thursday.
"At the same time we also hope that he fulfils his responsibilities fairly and impartially."
In 1998, Mary Robinson became the only U.N. rights chief to visit China, including Tibet, despite repeated requests by her successors. Robinson was a critic of China's practice of sending people to labor camps without trial or due process.
Zeid's predecessor, Navi Pillay, had urged China to allow independent human rights monitors to visit Tibet, where more than 120 people, including many monks, have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Beijing's rule.
Rights advocates and exiled groups say Beijing harshly represses Tibetan language and culture.
China strongly rejects the criticism, saying it ended slavery in Tibet when it "peacefully liberated" the region in 1950 and ushered in economic development.
Hundreds have been killed in the sprawling western region of Xinjiang in the past two years, where bloody clashes between the mostly Muslim Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese have become more frequent.
China has chafed at international criticism of its human rights problems, saying it treats dissidents according to the rule of law and that other countries have no right to interfere in its domestic affairs.
(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)