Uyghur issue: China — a victim of baseless propaganda

Gauhar Zahid Malik

CHINA is, perhaps, the only country of the world that has become a victim of multi-dimensional propaganda not because of any of its fault but with the sole objective of scuttling its steady march on the road to economic progress and prosperity. This viewpoint is shared by the majority of neutral experts, analysts and diplomatic observers with whom I had an opportunity to discuss the issue on numerous occasions.

They pointed out that unlike some other influential global powers China is single-mindedly focusing on its economic development and has demonstrated its commitment, through several regional and global initiatives, to share its achievements with other members of the international community and the sustained propaganda campaign is aimed at creating obstacles in the way of its unmatched progress and development and tarnish its image in the comity of nations.

This sounds strange but there are numerous developments that confirm hatching of conspiracies to undermine economic and military strength of the emerging superpower of the world by its rivals. It is rightly said that anti-Chinese sentiments or Sinophobia are stirred up on different pretexts involving sentiments such as hatred and fear of China, its people, its diaspora or its culture.

A cursory glance over happenings of the past and the recent past would make it abundantly clear that after finding it difficult to compete with China in economic and defence arenas, its adversaries concoct stories about so-called human rights violations in China besides levelling allegations about intellectual rights, propaganda against Tik-Tok and WeChat, alleged human rights violations in Hong Kong, South China Sea issue and negative trade practices.

As China has huge goodwill among the Muslim world, some Western countries and the Western media continue to harp on the theme of so-called persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with a view to tarnishing its image in the Islamic Ummah.

This is despite the fact that the Chinese themselves have organized a number of visits by delegations from different Muslim countries to see the ground situation for themselves and reports of such delegations have belied claims about grave human rights violations there. This propaganda is as baseless as claims by the previous US administration when (former) President Trump called Coronavirus as “Chinese Virus” levelling allegations that turned out hollow claims by studies and findings of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the issue.

A reality check would make it crystal clear that Western media is delivering false narrative on the issue of Uyghur in Xinjiang as part of its digital disinformation campaign. Contrary to the false picture that some vested interests are trying to portray, the fact remains that the Uyghur Autonomous Region is a land of beauty, diversity and unity where 56 ethnic groups are closely united as family members, maintain social stability, and realize economic development and prosperity. People of the region have a rich cultural heritage, there are ethnic unity and harmony, and inhabitants enjoy the freedom of religious belief.

The Western propaganda about Xinjiang is a classic example of double standards on the crucial issue of extremism and terrorism on which the entire world is focused for the last several years. Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion at all, but about combating violent terrorism and separatism which no sovereign country would tolerate.

The Chinese government has launched anti-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts in Xinjiang in accordance with the law to protect people’s lives, which has garnered ardent support of people from all ethnic groups. The US has been accusing China of ethnic ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities but the fact that the region enjoyed social stability throughout and made unprecedented achievements in economic and social development and improvement of people’s livelihood belies such claims.

Economic indicators also confirm this proposition as in five years from 2014 to 2019, the GDP of Xinjiang increased from 919.59 billion Yuan to 1.36 trillion Yuan, with an average annual growth rate of 7.2 percent. It is obvious that such an achievement would not have been possible in a chaotic situation that the Western media is trying to portray. Remarkable achievements have also been made in poverty alleviation with all 3.09 million impoverished people in Xinjiang lifted out of poverty.

Apart from equitable opportunities for economic development and prosperity, legitimate rights and interests of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are protected. All ethnic groups, regardless of their population, have the same legal status and enjoy various rights in accordance with the law, including participation in the management of state affairs, freedom of religious belief, receiving education, using their own languages, and preserving their traditional culture. It is because of these equitable opportunities that people belonging to various ethnic groups are living in harmony and contributing to the overall wellbeing of the entire region.

Some sections of Western media have also run stories about “forced sterilization” on the Uyghur women, resulting in a sharp decline in the Uyghur population but ground realities belie these claims as well. Reports that have generally formed the basis for running stories on the subject were in fact churned out not by independent experts but members of some Western intelligence agencies.

Investigations reveal that one Adrian Zenz, who released a similar report, was a key figure in an anti-China organization set up by U.S. intelligence agencies and a notorious racist. As against the claim of Adrian Zenz about the sharp decline in population, according to the 2019 Xinjiang statistical yearbook released by the statistics bureau of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the natural population growth rates in Kashgar and Hotan were 6.93 per 1,000 people and 2.96 per 1,000 people, respectively, in 2018.

It has also been repeatedly alleged that Xinjiang sets up “re-education camps” to detain millions of Uyghur Muslims but in fact, these were vocational education and training centres established in accordance with the law as part of de-radicalization measures taken by Xinjiang. The aim was to eradicate the breeding ground for terrorism and extremism from the source.

China-bashers also claim that Xinjiang vocational education and training centres exercised “religious control, political indoctrination, intimidation and torture over the trainees” but ground realities speak otherwise as confirmed by inmates. The vocational education and training centres fully respected and protected trainees’ freedom of religious belief, ethnic customs and habits, and the right to use their own ethnic spoken and written languages.

The trainees could decide on their own whether to take part in legal religious activities when they got home; a variety of nutritious Muslim food was provided free of charge; and the regulations, curriculum, and menus at the centres all used local ethnic languages as well as standard Chinese.

The centres employed a residential education model which allowed trainees to go back home on a regular basis, ask for leave to attend to personal affairs, and enjoy the freedom of correspondence. The centres strictly prohibited any form of humiliation or mistreatment. There were no such things as “suppressing ethnic minorities” or “persecuting Muslims.”

These centres have all modern and necessary facilities. The dormitories were equipped with radio, TVs, air-conditioners or electric fans. Medical facilities, legal-counselling and mental-counselling services are provided free of charge. The centres had sports venues for basketball, volleyball and table tennis, facilities for cultural activities, such as reading rooms, computer rooms and movie-screening rooms, as well as cultural and art performance venues, such as small auditoriums and open-air stages.

Extra-curricular activities like folk songs and dances, sports competitions were held on a regular basis to meet the various needs of trainees in the study, life and entertainment to the maximum extent. All the trainees were covered under the public pension and medical insurance schemes and were entitled to free health examinations.

Chinese officials also assert that those who are allegedly ‘missing persons’ are leading a normal life in their respective areas and families. For example, they say, during UN Human Rights Council session in February 2020, the “World Uyghur Congress” organized activity outside the Palace of Nations in Geneva posting pictures of so-called “Uygurs persecuted by the Chinese government.” These pictures were later discredited as disinformation as those in the pictures are living normal lives. Separatist groups stole their photos and personal information.

Officials also reject allegations of transferring 80,000 Uygurs out of Xinjiang to work as ‘forced labour’ for factories in other provinces, pointing out that Southern Xinjiang was an underdeveloped area with a low degree of industrialization and urbanization and people were helped to find jobs in other nearby areas to rise above poverty and feed their families back home. Many of them earn an annual income of 45,000 Yuan, several times higher than the income from farming or working in their hometowns.

As for allegations of systematic elimination of Uyghur culture, foreign visitors to the area confirm that all ethnic groups in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region enjoy full freedom to preserve or reform their own customs and habits. The cultural heritage of all ethnic groups has been protected in the province.

A batch of renowned architectural sites representing the preeminent historical and cultural heritage of the Uyghur, Mongolian, Hui, Xibe and other ethnic minority groups have been properly renovated and preserved, including the Tomb of Afak Hoja in Kashgar, the Tomb of Tughluk Tumur in Huocheng, the Zhaosu Lamasery, the Former Residence of a Mongolian Prince in Hejing, and Chimtoghrak Manor. All ethnic groups enjoy statutory holidays during their traditional festivals, such as Corban Festival and Eidul Fitr.

It is also alleged that the Chinese government sends children of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang-Uyghur region to boarding schools and “forces” them to be separated from their parents. The construction of boarding schools is an arrangement made by Xinjiang in light of the actual conditions of the autonomous region to alleviate poverty through education and improve the quality of compulsory education.

It helps improve education modernization at primary and secondary schools of ethnic minorities and promote exchanges among different ethnic groups in Xinjiang. The practice here is not fundamentally different from that of other parts of China or the rest of the world.

These and similar other charges including digital surveillance of the Uygurs are all part of the malicious propaganda campaign to discredit China and sow seeds of discord among religious minorities of the country who are, otherwise, living peacefully and contributing their share in the socio-economic progress of their motherland.

Unity among all ranks of the Chinese nation has been the leading factor in achieving monumental progress by China and its people hailing from all ethnic groups are determined to continue their march forward thwarting designs of their rivals.

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