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Australian crowd mocks Chinese ambassador over detention of Uighurs

Police checkpoint in Xinjiang Uyghur autonomy district (农业学大寨/WikiCommons)
February 27, 2020

China’s deputy ambassador to Australia, Wang Xining, was laughed at on a recent television program for referring to the Uighur prison centers as “training camps.”

Appearing on ABC’s Q&A panel Monday night, Wang defended the Chinese government’s response to detaining China’s predominantly Muslim minority Uighurs and said most were there voluntarily. Wang’s comments caused uproar and laughter from the audience. Wang also defended the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Wang was confronted by two Uighurs, who are Australian citizens, whose family has been detained in prison camps. Almas Nizamidin has not heard from his wife, who is detained in a prison camp, for three years. The other, Sadam Abdusalam, has not met his infant son. Abdusalam’s wife and his son are on house arrest in a Chinese city and the Chinese government will not let them leave.

“Why has the Communist Party locked up one million Uighurs? Will you release our family members?” Abdusalam asked Wang.

Wang was not able to answer the question directly right away, as Q&A host Hamish Macdonald had to interrupt Wang when he began talking about the history of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China in order to get a straight answer.

Wang went on to imply that Abdusalam’s pregnancy resulted in her house arrest.

“According to Chinese law, they [Abdusalam and his wife] don’t have legal matrimony,” Wang said and therefore the government has the legal right to detain her and her son.

China’s number two diplomat then went on to claim the real problem about the situations, including the coronavirus outbreak is the “infodemic.”

An infodemic is a play on the words “information” and “pandemic,” meaning that the rapid spread of misinformation is causing great panic in the public.

When asked if Macdonald would be allowed to visit one of the camps to clarify and resolve the infodemic without people following him around and harassing him or even jailing him, Wang reluctantly said that “no one will follow” Macdonald. Wang was again met with an outbreak of laughter from the audience.

Journalist Stan Grant a reporter on the panel who had visited a camp, responded to Wang saying, “We were often detained. We were often physically assaulted while trying to get to speak to people from many parts of China, as well you know Wang from our time together.”

Wang also defended China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying there wasn’t a cover-up, despite the late-whistleblower, doctor Li Wenliang, being punished for trying to raise the alarm about the spread of the virus.

“I don’t think there is a cover-up,” Wang said in comments reported by The Guardian. “It is a very sophisticated issue. It involved a lot of agencies and expertise. It takes time to make precise judgment on how to deal with.”

Wang called Li “very respectable,” and said “he’s one of thousands of doctors and nurses who dedicated their life sometimes for the sake of this epidemic.”

He added, “people will remember him for what he [has] done.”