China's Uyghur media manipulation strategy to fool the world

number of activists hold a demonstration against China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities, who are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 4, 2021
7 min read
06 January, 2022
In a calculated attempt to divert attention away from the atrocities committed against the Uyghur peoples in North-West China, state-backed media outlets have intensified their efforts to disseminate pro-Chinese propaganda at home and abroad.

A grandiose plan by Beijing to manipulate world opinion over its treatment of the Uyghurs has been underway since 2017 when its campaign to reign in its most "troublesome" minority kicked off in earnest.

China's ambitious project to "media wash" its role in the genocide of more than 10 million people in its far North-Western province has been picked up by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) whose recent exposé Meet the ‘New’ Uyghurs traces the role of Chinese state media in convincing an international audience that the once-feared "terrorist extremists" have been politically cleansed and their region is once again open for business.

"They are no longer 'lazy', 'surplus workers', but an army of beauticians, hairdressers and artists, craftsmen, successful entrepreneurs and skilled factory workers willing and able to travel wherever the government sends them. They have all seen the error of their religious ways, they speak flawless Chinese, and can recite president Xi's speeches and party dogma to order"

Most of the hundreds of thousands who were corralled into so-called  "re-education" camps have been reformed at great expense by the government, and those considered too dangerous to be let loose are now safely tucked away indefinitely.

The Uyghur ancient culture and religion have been sanitised and the population is now onboard with the rollout of compulsory Mandarin. The half a million or so children removed from their homes while parents languished in detention, will grow up away from the pernicious influence of families and draconian birth control measures ensure a significant reduction in births into the future.

The authors of the report have identified the flagship Chinese Communist Party (CCP) international broadcaster, China Global Television Network, CGTN, as key in creating the illusion that all is well in Xinjiang amid a parallel international universe of mounting evidence that all is not at all well.

Text by text analysis of CGTN's media output from 2017 to 2020 has uncovered a deliberate CCP strategy to manipulate a worldwide public into accepting that those they initially billed as  "wild extremists" have been tamed and sanitised through re-education and their region is now a safe space for tourism and all forms of business engagement

Supporters of Tibet, Hongkong, Uyghurs and Anti-CCP activists gathered opposite BBC Broadcasting House in London to call out BBC to boycott Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.
Supporters of Tibet, Hongkong, Uyghurs and Anti-CCP activists gathered opposite BBC Broadcasting House in London to call out BBC to boycott Beijing 2022 Olympic Games [Getty Images]

A genocide with "Chinese characteristics" that has sickened the Western democratic world, has been massaged by state media to airbrush the horror and transform the narrative. Early clumsy photographs of blue-suited, rows of "extremists" in a cage, are subsumed by bright young "graduates" paraded on national media, brimming with confidence equipped with a bewildering array of new skills. They are no longer "lazy", "surplus workers", but an army of beauticians, hairdressers and artists, craftsmen, successful entrepreneurs and skilled factory workers willing and able to travel wherever the government sends them. They have all seen the error of their religious ways, they speak flawless Chinese, and can recite president Xi's speeches and party dogma to order. They all with one voice strongly oppose Western narratives to the contrary.

As evidence of crimes against humanity from escapees and camp survivors mounts, the CGTN's anti-rhetoric has gathered momentum. June 13, 2021, saw camp graduates paraded on national television testifying to their changed lives and new vocational skills. 

Clean dormitories and free meals were a highlight for Patigul Husan who learned to sew. Marian Adil was steered away from extremism and "criminal gangs," into hairdressing. Zulpikar Yasin who was on track to martyrdom was persuaded by her mother to attend vocational education where she learned laws on "counter-terrorism, standard spoken and written Chinese and computer skills." On-screen Zulpikar lashed out at allegations of rape and torture in the camps. "Look at me, do I look like I was tortured? Their fabrications might deceive others, but not us," she said.

Society
Live Story

Elijan Anayat, the Xinjiang regional government spokesman, criticising the Uyghur Tribunal set up in London to determine whether genocide has occurred against the Turkic peoples of North-West China, gave his own version of events in the province since 2017. "Facts have proved vocational education and training in Xinjiang has eliminated the breeding ground for terrorism and religious extremism to a large extent, effectively guaranteeing the rights to life, health, and development of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang," he said.

To boost its campaign, CGTN was found to have enlisted the help of UK so-called "student influencers" enticing them with hefty financial rewards to become "pro-Beijing" advocates, according to a Times exposé in July 2021. The recruitment drive was spurred on by President Xi Jinping who urged members of the ruling party's 25-member political bureau to "build a more sophisticated strategic communicative system with distinct Chinese characteristics” to lead global public opinion. The aim he said was to attract more friends and be seen internationally as "credible and loveable." 

"China is desperate to show the world that its so-called re-education campaign has transformed Uyghurs, and East Turkistan into a land of opportunity. Nothing could be further from the truth"

But according to the UHRP analysis, clearing the fog of disinformation is not easy. CGTN's one-sided analysis is hard to challenge given independent access to the region has been rendered well nigh impossible.

"Objective and impartial foreign friends are welcome," announced Li Xuejun, deputy director of the standing committee of the regional people's congress in May 2021, boasting that "more than 1,200 people from over 100 countries and regions, including officials from international organisations, diplomats, journalists and religious leaders, have visited Xinjiang since the end of 2018." 

Careful analysis of the countries involved however show most are muzzled by a heavy burden of debt to China and fear the consequences of speaking out. Pakistani leader Imran Khan, a case in point, has repeatedly denied knowledge of the atrocities on his doorstep. "Frankly I don't know much about it," he commented in an interview with the UK's Financial Times in 2020

Repeated attempts to inspect the region by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have been stalled, and a visit by European Union ambassadors has been blocked over their request for access to jailed Sakharov prize-winning academic, Ilham Tohti.

"This ongoing denial of access is one of many indications that gross human rights violations remain a daily reality for Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples despite the sanitizing discourse that says otherwise," claim the authors of the report. They maintain CGTN interviews are held over the barrel of a gun and lack the authenticity of unrehearsed statements and genuine depictions of Uyghurs living in the region.

Claiming adherence to the "principles of objectivity, rationality and balance in reporting," CGTN's 160-country reach is able to spread the distorted and rosy depiction of "new Uyghurs" around the world. Providing "cover for genocide" it colludes as Beijing evades accountability for its atrocity crimes.

While the United States and the UK have wised up to CGTN's role as a mouthpiece for state policy, a Council of Europe agreement allows the network to continue broadcasting and "undermine the EU in its own backyard". Its ongoing partnership with foreign news media ensures an abiding smokescreen for the abuses in the Uyghur region.

Society
Live Story

“China is desperate to show the world that its so-called re-education campaign has transformed Uyghurs and East Turkistan into a land of opportunity. Nothing could be further from the truth," said the UHRP chief executive, Omer Kanat. "The push by CGTN, Xinhua, and China Daily to distort reality makes them enablers in a mass ‘gaslighting’ campaign,” he said. Those who turn a blind eye, including social media platforms, Google Play, and the Apple Store, as well as cable, satellite, and streaming television services are all "complicit in the Uyghur genocide."

He called for an end to the scandal of international partnerships with CGTN whose "fake picture of Uyghur life," ignores the "deracination" of a people through "mass internment, high-tech surveillance, forced sterilisation, forced labour, cultural destruction, and the eradication of organic systems of the Islamic faith." The “new” Uyghurs depicted by the Chinese party-state through its CGTN proxy, he said, "neither speak the Uyghur language nor believe in Islam, but express gratitude to a version of modernisation soaked with human rights violations.

"These 'new' Uyghurs presented in the broadcasts of CGTN are victims too," he concluded.

The author is writing under a pseudonym to protect her identity