Monday, June 14

China mounts publicity campaign to counterattack criticism on Xinjiang

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File photo shows people mingle in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. — Reuters photo

BEIJING/GENEVA: China is mounting an increasingly sophisticated counterattack to criticism of its policies in the restive, heavily 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, scholars, 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 United States is even 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 Islamist 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 members of the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

Officials say they are putting some people through “vocational” style 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’, China’s ambassador to Indonesia, Xiao Qian, wrote that religious rights were respected and protected there and attacks were “anti-religion in nature”.

He added, “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 deradicalisation.”

China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, has also written to the Financial Times and the Economist to defend its policy on Xinjiang.

Privately, however, China has not been so willing to discuss Xinjiang with foreign diplomats, say two diplomats who have attended meetings with Chinese officials.

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

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, publicity director at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Information Office, which is the office of the Chinese cabinet’s spokesman, denied mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang, and said China was trying to avoid the problems of radicalisation 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. — Reuters