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Challenging Dominant Media Narrative on Xinjiang

Apr 29, 2021

“UK Parliament declares genocide in China’s Xinjiang” screams the headline.

In fact, the non-binding motion was put forward on April 22, 2021 as a political ploy in an almost empty chamber, but the shock value of the declaration continues to reverberate. 

Something strange has happened to public discourse in the West, perhaps magnified by the dislocation and despair of the pandemic. People are not just covering up their mouths with masks to avoid viral harm, but people are covering up their mouths so as not to say things that challenge the master narrative of the moment. 

The free media is itself complicit in the silencing and outright ridicule of views that don’t comport with the flavor-of-the-month trends coming out of the corridors of power, the pens of opinion leaders and think tanks that dominate political analysis today. 

Take Xinjiang for example. The dominant narrative at the moment is that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang. This is an extremely serious charge—one that harks back to the Holocaust, but is it true? 

Is it not worth considering the possibility that the freighted term genocide is being bandied about to inflict maximum pain on China rather than to reflect an honest assessment of the situation on the ground? To cavalierly and carelessly invoke the never-forget tragedy of European Jews in World War Two is an egregious insult to real historic victims of genocide. 

The juxtaposition of trains and work camps evoke powerful emotions in the West, as evinced by Hollywood and historic photos. Such things can indeed be tools of totalitarian evil doing, but sometimes trains are just trains and work camps are just work camps, which is not to condone work camps. Forcing people on trains, forcing people into work camps is indeed a terrible thing. And sadly, it is something which China has a long record of doing, dating back to the Anti-rightist movement of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, though in those days it involved mostly members of the Han majority. 

Many of the Han people who now constitute a notable proportion of Xinjiang’s population were treated in the same shabby way that Uighurs have been treated recently. Forced to leave home, forced to work in state facilities. It’s shameful, it’s politically tone-deaf and flat-out wrong in moral terms, but is it genocide? 

To date, the strongest accusations come from politicians, fueled by NGO reports and the work of researchers who wear the anti-China agenda on their sleeve. Take Human Rights Watch, which has recently accused China of “crimes against humanity” though they have not used the term genocide which has gained currency among U.S. and UK politicians. Or consider the media influence of German researcher Adrian Zenz, who said he was “led by God” to investigate the camps in Xinjiang, using inference and second-hand data to estimate an imprisoned population of 1.5 million. 

Their accusations, some quite horrific, are based on scant access and random anecdotal information. The incompleteness of their research leaves no choice but to extrapolate. Some of the dots connect, some don’t. 

Connect-the-dots was the mantra that the U.S. and UK used to justify the invasion of Iraq, regime change and slaughter by bombing, ultimately snuffing out the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents. On the eve of war, war drums banging loudly, the spurious charges put forth by the U.S. and UK had the ring of truth, the imprimatur of respected agencies and elite analysts, and while they didn’t present a slam-dunk case, it was presented as such in the media. 

That it turned out to be a crock of lies, half-truths and half-baked speculation was not enough to stop the subsequent war, which proved disastrous all around. 

Now, as then, there are belligerent DC opinion leaders who seek war and regime change. Even in China. Yet even a “small, short war” (as was said about Iraq) would have terrible untold consequences and perhaps even upend life on earth as we know it. It’s not that the U.S. couldn’t inflict horrendous harm on China, it’s that the U.S. cannot hurt China without hurting itself. 

War with China is a lose-lose proposition of the highest degree. 

It is precisely at such times of escalating threats and rabid nationalism that free speech and dispassionate research are needed. It’s precisely at such times that voices against regime change and war by other means need to be listened to attentively. 

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs was recently invited by BBC to “discuss” with China human rights activist Teng Biao the futility of talking to China about climate change in light of Xinjiang and human rights abuses. He questioned the framing of the interview, wondering why the BBC talked about human rights as if it were an issue that only applied to China and not the US. That got him accused of what-aboutism and things went down from there. 

Sachs, who recently published “The Xinjiang Genocide Allegations Are Unjustified” with genocide legal researcher William Schabas has taken a courageous stand against the groupthink of the moment. 

Another economist, on the other side of the world got similarly roasted by the media for having the temerity to “debunk” the popular media story which claims one million Uyghur Muslims work in Chinese concentration camps. Jane Golley, who researches China at Australia National University quoted the work of serious scholars who chose to remain anonymous, fearful of backlash for challenging the dominant narrative of the day. 

The media is a mess. A real-time China pile-on is in play. First stoked by the likes of Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former head of the National Trade Council Peter Navarro, Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and other purveyors of hate from the previous U.S. administration, it has become a stalking Frankenstein with a life of its own. 

China is now defined as the ultimate other, the enemy of our time. Not only have the hate-driven policies of Donald Trump’s China team been absorbed by the new U.S. administration of Joe Biden, but they are doubling down on hot issues such as Xinjiang and Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has taken the place of the truculent Mike Pompeo, but it is hard to distinguish policy differences between the two. 

There is only one acceptable American take on “Chy-na” and that is to accuse it of everything, give it credit for nothing and suspect it of the worst.

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