This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The Chinese government has begun a large-scale propaganda campaign in its far-western Xinjiang region directed at Western countries led by the United States over their condemnation of Beijing’s human rights violations and genocidal policies targeting the Uyghur minority.
In mid-December, authorities began mobilizing instructors and students from universities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to about 12 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs, to participate in the propaganda efforts, according to China’s state-run media. They included faculty and students from Xinjiang University, Xinjiang Medical University, Xinjiang Normal University, and Kashgar University.
Authorities are trying to make sure that charges of genocide and the use of forced Uyghur labor in Xinjiang are rejected in meetings and discussions at the universities, the media reports said. Western countries, under the direction of the U.S., and international human rights organizations have been branded “anti-China forces” and attacked.
Instructors and students who have provided testimony have said in their speeches that the U.S. has led other Western powers in fabricating false accusations of genocide and forced labor, according to the media reports. They also say that peoples of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang enjoy equal work opportunities under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and are living “happily.”
The U.S. and legislatures of some European nations have declared that China’s abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. They have also imposed targeted sanctions on those deemed responsible for the repression.
This propaganda campaign targeting Western democratic countries led by the U.S. has grown stronger following these designations, said analysts and Uyghur rights advocates.
The recent passage of the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with near-unanimous support from lawmakers has forced the Chinese government to undertake the large-scale propaganda campaign in an attempt to claim innocence, they said.
The impact of propaganda
The Chinese government’s goal is to confuse the international community by publicizing that it has the support of the Chinese people for its policies toward Uyghurs,” said Hu Ping, a China analyst based in the U.S.
“Even more to the point, this is about them trying to convince people domestically that their policies are right,” he said.
“In the eyes of the Chinese government, if they can force intellectuals and cultural leaders from among Uyghurs in Xinjiang to do propaganda like this, the impact of the propaganda to convince will be even greater than propaganda done by Han or by Communist leaders,” said Hu.
Forcing intellectuals, particularly professors and students, to testify against the U.S. whenever the Chinese government is on the defensive is a propaganda tactic held over from the Mao Zedong era, he said.
During the decade following Mao’s death in 1976, China’s notion that the U.S. was an enemy lessened as a relatively open environment took shape. But Beijing’s anti-American propaganda began anew following the violent suppression of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, he said.
China’s criticism of Western democratic countries has grown in the era of increased assertiveness and authoritarianism under Xi Jinping, who has served as president since 2012, gathering steam with mounting accusations of genocidal policies in Xinjiang, Hu said. As a result, propaganda about the “American enemy,” with its roots in Chinese nationalism, has reached new heights in China.
But Hu believes that the latest propaganda campaign using professors and students at universities in Xinjiang will backfire.
“Given that the outside world has a good understanding of the latest developments in Xinjiang, it will be impossible for scholars and cultural figures to play the roles expected of them by the Chinese government,” he said.
China’s credibility is ‘zero’
Because Western democratic countries, including the U.S. and United Kingdom, have taken tangible measures against China in response to its repression of the Uyghurs, the Chinese government is now increasing its propaganda attacks against them, said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Uyghurs.
An independent Uyghur Tribunal in London found in December China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang region and that Xi Jinping shared primary responsibility for the atrocities. The people’s tribunal, which had no state backing, based its findings on testimony from dozens of witnesses, including formerly jailed Uyghurs and legal and academic experts on China’s actions in Xinjiang. Beijing angrily denounced the panel and its determination.
The recent passage of the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with wide support from lawmakers made the Chinese government deeply uncomfortable, Abbas said. For this reason, it has further increased propaganda about the U.S. as the enemy and made universities in Xinjiang the front lines in its propaganda war.
“By targeting of intellectuals and students in universities in the region and undertaking propaganda with them, by brainwashing them, by pressuring them into speaking, the Chinese government is attempting to hide what is really happening in the Uyghur region — its crimes such as genocide and using Uyghurs as slaves,” she said.
“By forcing Uyghur elites, intellectuals, and students to speak, it is working hard to increase the convincibility of its own lies, its own false propaganda.”
China’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang have become “absolutely irrefutable,” Abbas added.
The Chinese government is trying to damage the image of the U.S. and other Western countries in the eyes of the public by forcing Uyghur intellectuals, particularly university professors and students, to speak out against them, said Memet Tohti, director of the legal committee at the World Uyghur Congress.
“People are now being mobilized to do propaganda for China,” he said. “They’re forcing people to give testimony in line with the political propaganda of the central government of China. They’re responding to the political and legislative developments connected to Uyghurs in the United States and the West.”
But these activities, like earlier propaganda campaigns by China, will ultimately end with no results, Tohti added.
“No matter what the Chinese government does to force Uyghur intellectuals to speak out, no matter what other methods it attempts to use, the most important thing is that the Chinese government’s credibility in the world has now fallen to zero,” he said.
‘No matter what they do, they will not be able to raise their credibility, so there is no value in this.”