Several important international conferences about cooperation with China took place in the Middle East in December. One was held by the Royal Academy of Morocco in Rabat on Dec. 9 and 10. Another was held by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Brookings Doha Center in Doha on Dec. 16 and 17. The discussions were both profound and interesting.
To the surprise of Chinese scholars, the Xinjiang issue, which is mainly about the education and training centers, has been mentioned occasionally. Some Western and Middle Eastern scholars questioned the legitimacy and rationale of China’s handling of the issue. This indicates that misunderstanding about China’s Xinjiang efforts still looms in a significant way, particularly among academics and the media.
Chinese scholars at the two conferences, including me, worked hard to explain China’s position. Here, I would like to recap and expand on some of the points I expressed at the conferences.
China has been always crystal clear that establishing education and training centers in Xinjiang is one of the preventive measures taken in the fight against terrorism. The centers’ curricula consist of language education — both standard spoken and written Chinese language — as well as law, vocational skills and courses on the eradication of extremism. Information is readily available in the mainstream Chinese media, including CGTN, Xinhua News Agency, China Daily and other outlets.
Moreover, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China has issued two white papers on Xinjiang, “The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang” (in March last year) and “Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang” (in July).
The rationale behind establishing the centers can be easily understood. As a preventive measure, on one hand, steps need to be taken to help remove extremist ideologies from the minds of people who have adopted them. It is also necessary to educate them with the national language and provide vocational skills so they have more opportunities for employment. If we cannot keep the young people in office buildings or in factories, they will either go to the battlefields and become part of ISIS or to the streets to create instability.
Despite the clear information offered by the Chinese side, some Western media proposed another version of the story. The New York Times and CNN have published many articles and reports about the Xinjiang issue. They used words such as “concentration camps,” “prison camps” and “detention centers” to describe the education and training centers to support the unreasonable criticism that China’s efforts undermine human rights. The American media’s effort to demonize China’s measures in this regard have actually become part of a U.S. strategy to sabotage China’s development.
It should be not difficult to choose whom to believe. It is a widely accepted norm in academic studies that scholars should cite the sources of the involved or relevant targets for footnotes or quotations. This is what scholars are always told by the editors of academic journals or magazines when writing serious academic papers for publication. They are often told that they cannot cite Cuba’s or Japan’s sources while talking about United States foreign policy. Rather, they must cite information from official sources — the White House or U.S. Department of State, for example.
Countries often deliver information selectively to cater to their own political agendas. In truth, neither an adversarial country nor a friendly one will necessarily deliver accurate information. Therefore, a serious scholar must be sure to include Chinese sources of information when talking about the Xinjiang issue.
Unfortunately, many of the scholars questioning China’s rationale have never traveled to Xinjiang, or even to China. Many have never read the two white papers by the Chinese government or reports from Chinese media. They just follow the New York Times and CNN.
However, even though understanding of this issue has improved greatly, with more than 50 countries expressing clear support for China’s approach (far more than those accepting U.S. accusations), misunderstanding yet looms in a significant way, as mentioned above. China should reflect upon the reasons behind the misunderstandings and work hard to improve its standing in the communication arena so as to reach an international audience.
International scholars, misguided and misinformed by Western media, will ultimately have to go to Chinese sources for accurate information. China has grown to be the second-largest economy in the world, has become a major actor in the international arena and will always be there. An accurate understanding of China will not only help China but also benefit scholars and their countries.
As a humble scholar, I hope that my points of view might help to clear away some misunderstandings.