Beijing exploits anti-Western resentment to counter UN report | National policy

By DAKE KANG – Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Hours after a new assessment by outside observers that China’s crackdown in its farwestern region of Xinjiang may amount to crimes against humanity, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin climbed onto a grandstand to go on the offensive.

“The so-called assessment you mentioned is orchestrated and produced by the United States and certain Western forces,” and is a “political tool” intended to contain China, he said.

It was a tactic Beijing had long used to deflect criticism of its mass detentions of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang: blaming a Western plot.

At home, he found a willing audience. But abroad, it irritates Uyghurs and alienates foreigners. The result has been a split in views on Xinjiang in China and the West, a rift that threatens to sever already poor relations.

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For decades, Beijing has struggled to integrate the Uyghurs, a historically Muslim group with close ethnic and linguistic ties to Turkey, locking the region into a cycle of revolt and repression. After bombings and stabbings by a small number of extremist Uyghurs, Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched a crackdown, trapping large numbers of people in a web of camps and prisons.

Since the start of the crackdown, the Chinese government has sought to control the narrative. They did it through secrecy and censorship. But they also did so by tapping into powerful and deeply rooted anti-Western sentiment, born of centuries of humiliation at the hands of the West.

Growing up in Xinjiang, Uyghur linguist Abduweli Ayup learned how European empires marched on the Chinese capital and burned down ancient palaces. He learned about the American colonization of Hawaii and how it took Texas from Mexico.

Even as a Uyghur, Ayup said, this story sparked resentment.

“Our whole history, we learn that China is the victim, and all these countries around us are very bad,” Ayup said, adding that he himself opposed the West until a good part of his adulthood. “Anti-Western sentiment is really strong.”

It wasn’t until his thirties, Ayup said, that he saw how authorities used historical grievances to deflect blame away from themselves. On July 5, 2009, protests demanding justice for lynched Uyghurs turned bloody. Police opened fire, violent protesters stoned bystanders from the ethnic Han Chinese majority and hundreds were killed in the melee.

Beijing blamed the riots on foreign “terrorists” and “separatists” backed by foreign governments. They glossed over long-running Uyghur resentments and suppressed evidence showing the police were also partly responsible for the violence.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” Ayup said. “How could these foreign forces manipulate Uyghurs from afar?”

When the government launched the crackdown, it sought to keep it secret. For months they denied the existence of the camps.

But as the evidence mounted, the state changed tack and followed the same playbook: It retaliated with charges of foreign conspiracy.

When the BBC investigated labor practices in Xinjiang’s cotton fields, state media denounced the report as “using so-called ‘research’ of anti-China academics” to “invent rumours”. .

When a former Xinjiang resident gathered records on more than 10,000 people detained in the region, a state spokesperson said the database was “created by anti-China figures” backed by the United States and Australia.

And after Omir Bekali, an ethnic Kazakh and Uyghur who spent eight months in detention, testified to the torture inside the camps, he was branded a liar with ‘flawed stories’ by the authorities. state media, fueling “defamations of anti-China forces”. ”

It’s frustrating, Bekali said, because he thinks most Han Chinese in China mean well, but have been kept in the dark by the country’s sophisticated censorship apparatus.

“If you want to know the reality, talk to the victims,” he said. “The government controls the media, they keep telling lies.”

As criticism mounted, authorities in Xinjiang also moved quietly to reduce the most visible signs of repression. While it’s unclear whether this was due to a global review or planned from the start, the result was the same: it hid the intensity of the crackdown from outside visitors.

They removed barbed wire, dismantled some of the camps and ripped out the surveillance cameras that watched the city streets, bare wires still hanging from poles above their heads. They replaced the region’s hardliner leader with one from a wealthy coastal province, better known for its developing economies than its brutal policing.

Then they took reporters to vineyards and banquets, dance performances and historic mosques, with a clear, underlying message: Xinjiang is open for business.

Today, Xinjiang’s tourism industry is booming. Travelers stuck inside China due to its tough ‘zero-COVID’ policies are flocking to the region’s deserts, mountains and bazaars, lured by what they see as its exotic, nature-infused character. Islam.

Although hundreds of thousands of people still languish in prison on secret charges, they are hidden in facilities behind forests and desert dunes, far from city centers and prying eyes. Voices that go against the party line are silenced, with fear and sometimes with prison sentences.

As a result, the former camp inmate Bekali said, “People inside China, they don’t know what’s really going on.

With the latest report on abuses in Xinjiang, there was a change from the usual pattern: the assessment did not come from the US State Department, or from a rights group, or from Uyghurs in exile.

Instead, he came from the United Nations human rights office, an organization that China’s own leaders have repeatedly hailed as the “core” of the international system. As a result, Beijing finds itself in a delicate position, as the report threatens to pierce the party line.

Yet, with independent news censored, authorities have largely succeeded in shaping the narrative within China’s borders. On Chinese social media, the response to the report was muted. And with Western sanctions and rhetoric directed at China, resentment against the West has only grown stronger.

Today, from executives pacing downtown Beijing to teachers giving lectures in lush Guangxi province, many Chinese are wondering what all the fuss around Xinjiang is about.

“People in Xinjiang live a happy life. All my friends who live there are doing very well,” said Ge Qing, a Han Chinese born and raised in Xinjiang who now runs a restaurant serving Uyghur cuisine. “I think the foreign media is very biased against Xinjiang, they just can’t leave it alone.”

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