As of: May 26, 2021 10:41 AM

Criticism of China’s dealings with the Uyghurs in the northwest is significant around the world. Beijing does not allow independent investigations – instead it responds with a widespread propaganda attack.

Written by Ruth Kirchner, ARD Studio Beijing
Currently Berlin

The film shows an idyllic countryside. Flowering meadows, colorful rock formations, dancing and singing Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Han Chinese together. “Song wings”, sponsored by the Xinjiang Communist Party and inspired by American music, “La La Land”, premiered in Chinese cinemas and can now be viewed on YouTube.

Ruth Kirchner
ARD-Studio Beijing

In addition to the diluted comics, there are more aggressive overtones in the Chinese propaganda arsenal, for example from Beijing diplomats. In letters to Western politicians – the latest to the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee – they vehemently dismissed criticism of China’s minority policy as a lie. Beijing is also happy to point to foreign commentators questioning the persecution of the Uyghurs.

In China, they even have their own term for this: “They licked their lips to talk.” That is, you really take an “expert” who looks as foreign as possible and then is used to critically examine Western reports on China and Xinjiang, to deconstruct them and thus delegitimize the criticism of China’s Xinjiang policy.

Bjorn Albermann of the University of Würzburg studied China’s media strategy on Xinjiang. He says China is now filming from all kinds of propaganda channels. On YouTube, for example, the number of videos posting China messages has increased dramatically.

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YouTubers like British Lee Barrett, who lives in Shenzhen in southern China, and his son Oli have more than 250,000 subscribers; Also common is Canadian David Dumbrel, who runs a beer bar in Shenzhen, or Israeli Raz Galor, who visits a cotton plantation in Xinjiang and declares that there is no forced labor and that everything is completely normal. It is unclear if Beijing will pay YouTubers. It is indisputable that they are in Xinjiang at the invitation of Beijing and can only see the selected places.

Modern storytelling

Against the strongly documented reports and studies of the massive religious and cultural persecution of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Beijing’s propaganda also relies on modern storytelling. In the false documents “Beyond the Mountains” it is said that China led the backward region into the modern era. People can fulfill their dreams now. Uyghur girls who are allowed to play soccer, young women opening beauty salons, are shown without headscarves or headscarves.

Islam as if it was wiped out, simply no longer exists. What seems inappropriate from a European point of view should not be underestimated: “The same narrative that may not capture us because we see China through a different lens could certainly be successful in other parts of the world,” says Alberman. Chinese media messaging is used in a very targeted and strategic manner, experts say, for example in countries in Africa and Latin America.

There is no independent research

But the messages also got stuck in the West – for example with people who have deep suspicions of the United States or those inclined to conspiracy theories. And while the Chinese propaganda machine is in full swing, Beijing simply continues to reject independent investigations into reports of forced labor, forced sterilization, and mass imprisonment.

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