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Society & Culture

The Significance of Bachelet’s Visit to Xinjiang

Jun 22, 2022
  • Wang Zhen

    Research Professor, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

From May 23 to 28, Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, visited China and made a special field trip to Urumqi and Kashi in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. At the same time, Western countries, which have sought to pressure on China within the framework of the United Nations, have openly opposed and denigrated Bachelet’s visit, even as they strongly call for human rights in Xinjiang. This is ironic.

Since around the end of 2017, some Western media and think tanks backed, by certain states, have been hyping up the so-called human rights issue in Xinjiang. The accusations began with the issue of Xinjiang’s education and training centers and gradually expanded to include allegations of religious oppression, forced labor and genocide. However, to date, these charges have not been supported by any valid facts, except for some alleged but unverified leaked documents and verbal accusations by Uygur separatists suspected of being supported by political organizations outside China. As for the supposed “one million persecuted people” claimed by Western media and politicians, this vague and ambiguous figure is not only devoid of any factual basis but is also far from the awareness and experience of the local population of Xinjiang.

For the uninformed public, these slanders and accusations have had multiple and unexpected effects in a short period of time.

First, they have forced many people of justice to completely silence themselves on Xinjiang-related — and even China-related — issues through implicit moral kidnapping. Many of my friends have told me that the issue of Xinjiang has become a moral issue in the region.

Second, they have tarnished China’s image of rapid economic development and social progress in recent years, especially its historic achievements in frontier development and targeted poverty alleviation, through trumped-up political accusations.

Finally, they intend to restart ideological competition, or even a new cold war, against China by raising Xinjiang-related issues such as ethnicity, religion and human rights, which are likely to arouse Western public concern.

In fact, this is the fundamental reason some Western media and politicians do not hesitate to use extremely vicious and dirty terms such as “gulag,” “concentration camp” and “genocide” to describe China. Once the memories and hatred of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany for all of this are aroused, it is easy to morally kidnap people and businesses and adopt tough policies against China, even if these policies are not in the interests of the majority of the population.

The facts speak louder than words, and the silent figures are perhaps more convincing. Between 2010 and 2020, Xinjiang’s GDP per capita increased from 24,700 yuan, or about $3,650 (converted at the average exchange rate of the year concerned), to 53,593 yuan, or about $7,770. Urban residents’ per capita disposable income increased from 13,644 yuan ($2,015) in 2010 to 34,838 yuan ($5,049) in 2020. By the end of 2019, Xinjiang had helped a cumulative total of 737,600 households and more than 2.923 million people escape poverty, with the poverty incidence rate dropping from 19.4 percent at the end of 2013 to 1.24 percent in 2019.

The seventh national census in 2020 showed that Xinjiang had a total population of 25.8 million, with a Han population of 10.9 million and a minority population of 14.9 million. Among them, the Uygur population increased from 10 million in 2010 to more than 11.6 million in 2020, a net increase of more than 1.6 million in 10 years, or 1.52 percent — roughly the same as other Xinjiang minorities (1.41 percent).

Unfortunately, all these numbers and the efforts behind them have been completely obliterated in Western media accounts. This is not to say, of course, that Xinjiang’s development and policies have been perfect, but these advances at least show that China has actively blazed a development path that suits its own conditions. For Xinjiang, a less-developed region in which the incidence of poverty was once as high as 20 percent, the people’s human rights aspirations are not an illusory mirage but are rooted in their own needs and traditional culture. The West’s deliberate disregard and discrediting of Xinjiang’s development shows not only prejudice and ignorance but also tramples on human conscience.

The Chinese government’s invitation to the UN’s Bachelet to visit Xinjiang demonstrates not only the Chinese government’s confidence in its handling of Xinjiang affairs but also its sincerity in engaging in dialogue and cooperation with the UN high commissioner for human rights on related issues. It also shows China’s determination to be a defender rather than a challenger of the UN-based international political order.

During Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a long-awaited speech on China policy at George Washington University. He followed the tone of his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, and continued the stream of accusations about human rights in Xinjiang. But before he gave his speech, perhaps he should have taken a lesson from Bachelet and visited Xinjiang himself. At the very least, he should respect the authority of the United Nations and her independent work to truly play the role of a rules-based and responsible diplomat. This example is what is most significant about Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang.

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