This follows a string of evidence documenting Chinese forced labor practices in Xinjiang. In January, Buzzfeed released a report documenting satellite imagery of extensive labor camps where China is forcibly detaining Uyghurs. Last December, the BBC released an expose documenting China’s forced labor policy of the Uyghurs and other minorities in picking cotton in Xinjiang. Last July, over 180 civil rights organizations called out various apparel brands in China for using forced labor from the Xinjiang region. The same month, the U.S. departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security issued a joint advisory warning US companies of forced labor in Xinjiang. In March 2020, an Australian think tank also alleged that over 83 companies had supply chains of a workforce “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor.”
While the West is watching allegations of Chinese human rights violations with increased scrutiny, China is responding with a propaganda campaign to deflect attention away from these allegations. Chinese media like state-run newspapers XinhuaNet, Global Times, and China Daily are denying these human rights violations exist, and stating that the US and the West are fabricating them to deflect from their own human rights violations, or to otherwise undermine China and its economic progress.
Claim One: Human Rights Violations Do Not Occur
Many articles in Chinese media denying human rights violations specifically deny accusations of forced labor. A Global Times article argues that there are no “concentration camps” in China’s Xinjiang region, arguing that these are merely “vocational education and training centers…” The same article also dismisses charges that China is forcibly taking Uyghur children from their parents, proposing that what is happening is merely voluntary “boarding education” decisions made by students and their parents.
Additionally, the Chinese Consul General in Los Angeles called claims of slave labor in the cotton fields “totally absurd,” claiming that since 70 percent of cotton picking in the region was done by machine, there would be no need for slave labor anyway, according to XinhuaNet. Claims of forced labor in the photovoltaic industry are also “absurd,” given that the industry is capital-, not labor-intensive, according to the Chinese “secretary-general of the regional nonferrous metals association,” as reported in China Daily.
Furthermore, according to state officials, “[r]especting people’s choices has always been the top priority of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region government when it comes to drafting employment policies,” as cited by a China Daily article. According to that article, many of the youth in Xinjiang are leaving the region on their own free will to seek jobs with higher salaries, and “[n]ot a single person has been forced to work elsewhere or do a job that they don’t want to.”
Claim Two: The West Uses Human Rights Violations Claims to Subvert China
Chinese media claim that accusations of human rights violations are a way for the West to subvert China. One Global Times article states that accusations of genocide are an attempt by the US and the West to build “a malicious narrative in a bid to ramp up a war against China,” and that calling the Uyghurs “vocational education and training centers” “camps” constitutes “a ploy to demonize China.” A China Daily article argued that claims of “genocide” are “crassly instrumentalized to beat the drums of Sinophobia.” A People’s Daily article accused the Uyghur Tribunal as a mechanism to “slander Xinjiang and interfere with China’s domestic affairs,” born out of “evil intentions of the U.S. and Western anti-China forces.” XinhuaNet reported that, according to a spokesperson of the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations, the Uyghur Tribunal was merely a “political attempt to use Xinjiang to create mess and contain China.”
Certain claims of subversion are especially ridiculous. One China Daily article maintains that a report alleging China’s human rights violations against the Uyghurs results from “cooperation” among “interconnected interest groups,” which bizarrely include “Christian fundamentalists,” the “Muslim Brotherhood” and “pro-Israel lobbyists,” among others. The same article also implies that the CIA is implicated; citing a retired US army colonel, the article claims “If the CIA wanted to destabilize China, that would be the best way to do it—to form unrest and join with those Uyghurs in pushing the Han Chinese in Beijing…”
Chinese media also claims that this subversion can be economic in nature. A Global Times article argues that “[b]y alleging ‘forced cotton-picking by ethnic minorities,’ certain people are defiling the speckless cotton in Xinjiang and also maligning its socioeconomic progress.” A XinhuaNet article accused the West of accusing China of “forced labor” in the Xinjiang region as a way to “undermine the development of the region.” The Chinese Consul General in Los Angeles called claims of “genocide” and “forced labor” are intended to, among other things, “weaken the local [Xinjiang] economy and contain China’s development,” according to another XinhuaNet article.
Claim Three: Focusing on China’s Alleged Human Rights Violations Deflects from Similar Violations from the West
Chinese media also portray the West’s scrutiny of China’s human rights record as an attempt to deflect attention away from the West’s poor human rights record. “The US and the West…are thoughtlessly bandying about claims of ‘genocide’- a heinous act…altogether too familiar to Anglo-Saxons with a long legacy of genocide and extinction of races,” remarked an editorial in the Global Times. The same article, citing Ren Yi, “a graduate from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who is an influential Chinese blogger with over a million followers on Weibo,” stated that: “Genocide is a very real concept to the European and Western ears: Because they are the greatest perpetrators of genocide in human history. What they are doing now is projecting their own sin onto and demonizing China in their own mindset.”
A common theme by Chinese state-run media is to use alleged American human rights abuses in the Muslim world to deflect away criticism of China’s human rights record in Xinjiang. For example, a Global Times article asks rhetorically: “…how does China’s War on Terror inside Xinjiang and its human costs compare with the US-led Global War On Terror and its human costs?” Additionally, an article in XinhuaNet remarked that “[c]ountries like the United States, the world’s top violator of the human rights of Muslims, should feel ashamed of their disgraceful and even bloody records in human rights, and should look into the mirror before accusing others.”
In response to growing scrutiny of its human rights record in Xinjiang, Chinese state run media is engaging in an elaborate campaign to clear China’s name and cast doubt on accusations coming from the West. Like its propaganda campaigns fighting the “lab leak” theory, and supporting China’s exportation of COVID-19 vaccine, China is using state run media in an attempt to rehabilitate its image abroad.