World

China planning campaign to counter international criticism over Beijing’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs

China, facing sustained international criticism over Beijing’s treatment of minority Muslim Uighurs in far west Xinjiang, is mounting an extraordinary and forceful campaign to push back, including explicit attacks for women who have made cases of abuse.

As charges of human rights violations in Xinjiang mount, with a growing number of Western officials accusing China of genocide, Beijing’s target is in discrediting the female Uighur witnesses behind recent reports of abuse. Chinese authorities have named women, disclosed what they say is private medical information and data on the women’s fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. The officials said the information was evidence of bad character, invalidating the women’s claims of abuse in Xinjiang. “To rebuke some media’s disgusting acts, we have taken a series of measures,” Xu Guixiang, the deputy head of Xinjiang’s publicity department, told a December news conference that was part of China’s pushback campaign. It includes hours-long briefings, with footage of Xinjiang residents and family members reading monologues.

During a regular daily press briefing last week, the State Department spokesman Wang Wenbin held up pictures of witnesses who had described sexual abuse in Xinjiang. The account of one of them, he said, was “lies and rumors” because she had not reported the experience in previous interviews. He gave medical details about the woman’s fertility. Xinjiang officials said in January that a woman who had spoken to foreign media had syphilis, and they showed pictures of medical records – unsolicited information that was not directly related to her account. A Xinjiang government official said of another witness last month, “Everyone knows about her inferior character. She’s lazy and likes convenience, her personal life is chaotic, her neighbors say she committed adultery while in China.” Last week, China’s top foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, tweeted pictures of four named witnesses and said they had “racked their brains for lies,” adding, “They will never succeed.”

China has declined to give details of the number of people in the camps. Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps but now says they are vocational and training centers and that all people have “graduated”. Most of the millions of people the United Nations estimates are being held in camps in Xinjiang are Uighurs, in what the central government calls a campaign against terrorism. Allegations by activists and some Western politicians include torture, forced labor, and sterilization. In U.S. bipartisan agreement, the top diplomats of the former administration of Donald Trump and the new one of Joe Biden have called China’s treatment of the Uighurs genocide, a stance adopted last week by the Canadian and Dutch parliaments. Recently however, in a CNN interview when asked about China’s leadership towards the Uighurs, Biden dismissed the genocide and called it “cultural norms”.

China’s Foreign Ministry declined on Monday to answer questions about the specific information about the women but said that “some anti-China forces ignore facts and truth and wantonly fabricate all kinds of lies regarding Xinjiang. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including women in Xinjiang, live and work in peace and contentment.” A Reuters review of dozens of hours of presentations from recent months and hundreds of pages of literature, as well as interviews with experts, shows a meticulous and wide-reaching campaign that hints at China’s fears that it is losing control of the Xinjiang narrative. “One reason that the Communist Party is so concerned about these testimonies from women is that it undermines their initial premise for what they’re doing there, which is anti-terrorism,” said James Millward, a professor of Chinese history at Georgetown University and expert in Xinjiang policy.

ARTICLE: EMANUELI TANAHASHI

POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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