A press conference held by Canberra’s Chinese Embassy and funded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in an attempt to cover up the genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang has appalled and upset numerous members of Australia’s Uyghur community.
The event was part of a propaganda campaign conducted by the CCP to extinguish global scrutiny over its genocide of the Uyghur Muslim people, an ethnic minority native to the Xinjiang region. This genocide involves the placement of over one million Uyghurs in internment camps, which the CCP has euphemised as re-education camps. There have been countless allegations of human rights violations, including the forced sterilisation and systemic rape of Uyghur women, torture and labour exploitation, by CCP officials controlling the camps. The CCP continues to deny all of these allegations.
The Chinese Embassy held its two-hour press conference on Wednesday and involved so-called real accounts from six Uyghur speakers. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Xinjiang Vice-Governor Erkin Tuniyaz was among these speakers. Mr Tuniyaz accused Western politicians and media of fabricating the claims of Uyghur genocide and abuse of other minorities in the region.
Cheng Jingye, China’s ambassador to Australia, also claimed any allegations against the CCP lay on false information and urged conference attendees to stop pestering China over the situation in Xinjiang. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Mr Cheng expressing his hopes for a restoration of the Australia-China relationship while warning that the CCP would respond harshly if provoked.
The Chinese Embassy played a short propaganda video, named “Xinjiang is a wonderful land,” at the press conference.
“Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government has placed high on its agenda the inheritance, protection and development of the excellent traditional ethnic cultures in Xinjiang,” the video narrator states.
“This is a land of happiness where people’s well-being is constantly improved. . .This is a land of religious harmony where the freedom of religious beliefs is respected and protected.”
The video also mentioned a struggle against terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang.
Professor James Leibold from Australia’s La Trobe University called the video a shameful and crass piece of propaganda. He criticised its depiction of the Uyghur situation as positive despite mounting evidence proving the opposite to be true.
“In stark contrast to the images of ethnic harmony and diversity outlined in the video, Chinese authorities have launched a brutal colonial-style crackdown in Xinjiang since 2016, which seeks to fundamentally alter the physical and cultural landscape of the region, and eradicate the culture, language and religious practices of the Uyghurs and other indigenous people of the region,” Mr Leibold told New Zealand media outlet Stuff in an email.
Australian Uyghur permanent resident Mamutjan Abdurrahim from Adelaide also expressed to the ABC his fury over the video.
“It’s just preposterous. It makes me furious and makes me even shiver as to I cannot find any words. . .to describe those outrageous claims. It is outrageous to say that people are happy,” Mr Abdurrahim stated.
“How can people going through such massive persecution be happy?. . .It is just preposterous propaganda.”
Mr Abdurrahim’s wife, Muherrem Ablet, was arrested on allegations of provoking ethnic hatred in 2019 after she and her family returned to Xinjiang from Malaysia. The CCP also seized the family’s passports. According to Mr Abdurrahim, this accusation of ethnic hatred is commonly used against wrongfully detained Uyghurs.
Uyghurs living in New Zealand share similar experiences with Mr Abdurrahim. An Uyghur Aucklander under the pseudonym Alim told New Zealand’s Stuff Circuit of his friend Kuresh Tahir’s abrupt disappearance. Mr Tahir was a researcher and scholar at the Ürümqi Xinjiang Social Sciences Academy.
“He is one of the best intellectuals back home … He published over 60 journal articles. And suddenly, he disappeared. I was communicating with him, and suddenly he’s gone,” said Alim.
“I don’t know if he was sentenced, if he’s in the jail or camps, but he’s just gone. No communications.”
CCP-funded propaganda campaigns are also taking place in New Zealand. Wellington’s China Cultural Centre, managed by the CCP’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, held a multicultural dance performance in February featuring the cultural attire and traditional dances of Uyghur Muslims in an attempted distraction from the CCP’s genocide of the ethnic minority.
In January, the United States under the Trump administration declared the CCP’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide. Furthermore, at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Third Committee in October, 27 countries, including New Zealand, supported a statement discussing human rights violations in Xinjiang.
The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada have all sanctioned CCP officials in Xinjiang, demanding Communist China to provide total regional access to UN experts.
The New Zealand National Party has also openly expressed its support for a UN investigation into the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The party is also pushing for a bill allowing the New Zealand government to impose similar sanctions on CCP officials. The New Zealand government initially abandoned this sanctions law in 2020, so New Zealand has not yet joined the effort to sanction Chinese officials in Xinjiang.
Various social action groups, including Uyghur Solidarity Aotearoa NZ, Auckland Peace Action and Peace Action Wellington, have signed a petition and open letter presented in March to Parliament members. The documents urge the New Zealand government to accept the Uyghur refugees who have fled persecution in China.
Stuff. (April 8, 2021). China’s ‘preposterous propaganda’ presentation in Australia about Xinjiang’s Uyghur people ‘shameful’ and ‘crass’. https://www.stuff.co.nz/world/australia/124775981/chinas-preposterous-propaganda-presentation-in-australia-about-xinjiangs-uyghur-people-shameful-and-crass.