Wed, Oct 03, 2018 - Page 1 News List

China mounts PR campaign to fend off Xinjiang critics

RE-EDUCATION?Chinese officials deny mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang and say some have been put in ‘vocational’ courses to rein in extremism

Reuters, BEIJING and GENEVA, Switzerland

An Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, China, on May 23, 2014.

Photo: Reuters

China is mounting an increasingly sophisticated counterattack to criticism of its policies in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang, courting foreign media and running opinion pieces abroad as it seeks to spin a more positive message.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, academics, foreign governments and UN rights experts over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

The US is looking at sanctions on senior Chinese officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses there, which would further ratchet up tension amid their blistering trade war.

China says Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Muslim militants and separatists, and has rejected all accusations of mistreatment in an area where hundreds have been killed in recent years in unrest between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese.

Officials say they are putting some people through “vocational” courses to rein in extremism, and have denounced hostile foreign forces for sowing misinformation.

In an opinion piece last week in the Jakarta Post entitled “Xinjiang, what a wonderful place,” Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian (肖千) wrote that religious rights were respected and protected there and attacks were “anti-religion in nature.”

“But regrettably, a few institutions and people from the West pursue double standards, deliberately distorting the facts, speculating on the so-called ‘re-education camps’ and misrepresenting [the] Chinese government’s efforts to prevent religious extremism and promote deradicalization,” he wrote.

Chinese Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming (劉曉明) has also written to the Financial Times and The Economist to defend Beijing’s policy on Xinjiang.

However, privately, China has not been so willing to discuss Xinjiang with foreign envoys, two diplomats who have attended meetings with Chinese officials said.

“They just shut you down,” one of the diplomats said.

Last month, the Chinese government invited a small group of foreign reporters to a briefing on the sidelines of a UN human rights meeting in Geneva to put its side of the story in unusually strong and outspoken terms.

Li Xiaojun (李曉軍), publicity director at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Information Office, denied mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang and said China was trying to avoid the problems of radicalization that Europe had experienced.

“Look at Belgium, look at Paris, look at some other European countries,” Li said, referring to recent terror attacks in these locations blamed on Islamic extremists. “You have failed.”

Government officials at the Geneva event were accompanied by five Chinese academic experts, who all remained silent when asked if they had any criticism of China’s human rights record.

The five said they had not been to Xinjiang recently.

Asked how they knew about conditions there, Wang Xiaolin, a professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said there were a lot of information channels, such as television broadcasts, social media and information shared by businesspeople, tourists and academics and friends who have traveled there.

It is hard to quantify whether anyone is paying attention to what China has been saying on Xinjiang. Xiao’s piece for the Jakarta Post was roasted by followers of the paper’s Facebook and Twitter pages as Chinese “propaganda.”

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