(Bloomberg) --

China blamed European demands to meet jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti for preventing diplomatic visits to Xinjiang, suggesting little chance of a breakthrough in a stalemate at the center of tensions between the two sides.

Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the Xinjiang government, told reporters Friday there hasn’t been “any new substantive progress” on negotiations to allow European diplomats to visit the region. Xu blamed the dispute on “unreasonable requests” from Brussels, such as demands to meet jailed Uyghurs including Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 on allegations of separatism.

“They want to talk to Ilham and other criminals -- this is disrespect for China’s sovereignty,” Xu told briefing in Beijing on a range of Xinjiang issues. “With such a mindset and such prerequisites, China does not support visits on that basis.”

The diplomatic tours would help European leaders show they’re taking seriously allegations of human rights abuses against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, a leading global supplier of cotton, solar panels and other goods. Brussels is under pressure from lawmakers, domestic constituencies and the Biden administration to take a stronger line against policies the U.S. says amount to “genocide.”

In May, Europe suspended ratification of an investment pact with China, after the two sides exchanged tit-for-tat sanctions over Xinjiang. The European Parliament subsequently passed a resolution urging a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year in Beijing due to the issue.

China has dismissed allegations of human rights abuses as a U.S.-led campaign to impede the country’s rise. The country denies forcing ethnic Muslims into internment camps, work programs and birth-control initiatives, saying it policies in the region are intended to fight extremism and reduce poverty.

Before his imprisonment, Tohti was an economist at Minzu University of China and an outspoken critic of relations between Uyghurs and the Han majority. He was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2019 and his exiled daughter, Jewher Ilham, met former President Donald Trump at the White House last year.

While China regularly urges diplomats, the media and other foreign observers to visit Xinjiang, official visits are tightly controlled and unofficial ones are often met with police interference. Xu, the Xinjiang government spokesman, said Friday that those who would visit with “biased minds” wouldn’t be welcomed.

Still, Xu said China was “attaching a lot of attention” to the effort to host senior European diplomats and would provide as much convenience and access as possible. “We hope that people from across the international community will have the chance to go to Xinjiang,” he said.

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