Washington’s Xinjiang smear

With help from The New York Times and an anti-communist fanatic of questionable mental competence, Washington orchestrates a smear campaign in an effort to widen one of China’s ethnic fault lines

January 1, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

A Chinese government campaign to bring jobs to a poor region of the country plagued by Islamist-inspired secessionist violence is being depicted by The New York Times as “ethnic subjugation,” “social re-engineering,” and a “crackdown on Muslims.” This echoes the US State Department descriptions of the economic development campaign as “Orwellian,” a “gross human rights violation,” and “one of the worst stains on the world of this century.”

“Chinese leaders have struggled for decades to suffocate separatist sentiment in Xinjiang, a mountainous expanse abutting Central Asia that 12 million Uighurs—nearly half the region’s population—regard as their homeland,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [1] Beijing’s efforts to more fully integrate the predominantly Muslim Uighurs into China’s multi-ethnic community have sparked recriminations in the West. Chinese leaders have been accused of incarcerating a million or more Uighurs in “indoctrination” camps.

Adrian-Zenz-Uyghurs-China-Christian-fundamentalist
Democracy Now! labels a fanatical anti-communist who is employed by a US government-established foundation and believes he’s on a mission from God to destroy the People’s Republic of China as “an independent researcher.” 

For the past two decades the United States has waged war on Islamist-inspired anti-US violence in the Middle East, a campaign marked by assassinations, invasion, occupation, torture, incarceration of Islamist militants, gross violations of international law, and programs to re-educate Islamist radicals. In contrast, Chinese efforts to deal with Islamist-inspired violence, (and within its own borders, in contrast to a US “war on terror” which is carried out in other peoples’ countries), have been mainly based on job training, job creation, and re-education.

Chinese leaders “attribute ethnic tensions and sporadic violent attacks in Xinjiang to the influence of radical Islam.” [2] Creating jobs has been central to the government’s strategy. “A person with a job will be stable,” said Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2014. [3]

In a campaign to end poverty nationwide by late 2020, Xi has pushed Xinjiang officials to create economic opportunity for Uighurs, as a way not only of ameliorating the material conditions of China’s Muslim population, but also of more fully integrating it into Chinese society. [4] “The government goals are sweeping,” says The New York Times—up to one million new jobs in Xinjiang by late 2023. [5]

Dozens “of factory zones have emerged across Xinjiang,” The New York Times reports, attesting, it says, to Beijing’s ambitions to end poverty nationwide by late 2020 [6]—a laudable goal.

But rather than depicting the Chinese campaign in meritorious, or even neutral, terms, The New York Times echoes the US State Department, turning what would appear to be a welcome job creation program into something dark, namely, “an aggressive campaign to remold Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities … into an army of workers for factories and other big employers.” [7] A program of job training and placement for “idle villagers” is described as “social re-engineering,” while lifting Xinjiang residents out of poverty is demonized as “a major effort by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to entrench control over this region.” We would soon enough dismiss as rank propagandists Chinese journalists who would decry a US job creation program for impoverished areas of the United States as a major effort by the US president to entrench control over disadvantaged regions. We ought to do the same when US journalists propagate the same nonsense.

To portray China as the site of a massive assault on human rights, New York Times’ reporters Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy turn to the Uyghur Human Rights Project [8], an organization backed by the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In an August 2007 article titled “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique reported that the NED “was created in 1983, ostensibly as a non-profit-making organisation to promote human rights and democracy. In 1991 its first president, the historian Allen Weinstein, confessed to The Washington Post: ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.” [9] In other words, the NED overtly works to destabilize governments Washington doesn’t like, under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights. It does so by providing funding and encouragement to dissident groups, like the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Drawing on the testimony of the CIA-surrogate-funded group, The New York Times depicts Beijing’s vigorous poverty reduction program as an effort to “remold Xinjiang’s minorities into loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor,” as part of a program of “ethnic subjugation”. [10]

If the negative spin isn’t enough to raise questions about The New York Times’ agenda, the newspaper’s reference to Beijing’s efforts to deal with Islamist-inspired secessionist violence as a “crackdown on Muslims” [11] is. If the campaign could indeed be described fairly in these terms, we would have to redefine ‘crackdown’ to mean ‘education and job creation’ and ‘Muslims’ to mean ‘violent Islamist-inspired secessionists.’ The New York Times would never describe the US ‘war on terror’ as ‘a crackdown on Muslims,’ for the obvious reason that it doesn’t target all Muslims, but only a very small violent, anti-US, subset. The newspaper, however, finds itself unable to make the same distinction where a strategic US competitor is concerned, preferring instead to portray measures of repression against a small, Islamist-inspired violent subset of Chinese Muslims as measures directed at all of them.

In July, “a host of Muslim-majority nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, joined North Korea, Myanmar and others in signing a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council praising China’s governance of Xinjiang” [12]—an indication that Beijing’s campaign to address secessionist violence in the remote Chinese region is not the Orwellian stain on humanity that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have us believe. A better candidate for ‘gross human rights violation’ – another of Pompeo’s slurs on the Chinese job training program—might be the State Department supremo’s warning that the United States will see to it that the Iranian people starve if Tehran continues to refuse to renegotiate its nuclear deal with Washington. [13]

In a resolution on protecting the rights of Muslim minorities around the world, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a group of 57 nations that has been a vocal defender of the Rohingyas and Palestinians, praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens” [14]—another endorsement at odds with the US campaign to smear its rising strategic competitor as an anti-Muslim power.

Meanwhile, as Washington poses as the champion of China’s Muslims, it has little to say about the litany of abuses heaped upon India’s Muslims by its friend, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi. Any unbiased effort to identify crackdowns on Muslims would arrive at India’s doorstep long before it arrived at China’s. In the recent past, Modi—on whom Washington relies to execute its Indo-Pacific Strategy to eclipse the rise of China as a strategic competitor—has been responsible for banning a method of divorce allowed under Muslim religious law and ending the autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir. To add insult to injury, Modi welcomed a Supreme Court decision that would allow Hindu groups to build a temple in the city of Ayodhya on a site where Muslims want to rebuild a mosque torn down by a Hindu mob in 1992. [15]

On top of these anti-Muslim actions, senior leaders of Modi’s party say they want to introduce a citizen registry that would require all residents to produce documents proving their citizenry. Muslims who are unable to produce the required documents would be treated as immigrants, while all others would be able to naturalize. [16] According to The Wall Street Journal, “Muslims in India say they feel increasingly targeted and vulnerable.” [17]

Washington, then, is prepared to overlook the anti-Muslim actions of an ally, while presenting the efforts of a strategic competitor to improve the material conditions of its Muslim population as a dark, communist-guided Orwellian campaign to brainwash Muslims in order to subordinate them to Han rule. This is the same kind of nonsense Hitler and other counter-revolutionaries used to serve their own reactionary ends, except in their case they depicted communist efforts on behalf of Europe’s working class as a dark, Orwellian campaign by Marxists to bring Germans and Russians under Jewish control.

Some Western newspapers allege that a million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps, and that the figure is based on a UN report. But as The Grayzone’s Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal have pointed out, the figure is not based on a UN report, but on a report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a group backed by the CIA-surrogate NED. It is more apt to label the report, not as a UN-produced document, but as report bankrolled by a US destabilization agency.

Not only does the network’s backing by the US government constitute prima facie evidence of a pro-US, anti-China bias, but the dubious methodology by which the US-backed group arrived at its estimate of one million Uighur detainees further calls its claims into question. The estimate is based on the testimony of eight Uighur opponents of the Chinese government who were asked to guess how many Muslims from their respective villages had been detained by authorities. Their answers were then projected regionally. The methodology, in its reliance on an extremely small and non-random sample—without making the slightest effort to identify who the detainees are (violent radical Islamists or Muslims selected at random?)—is so compromised as to be virtually useless, if not a complete joke. No legitimate researcher or reporter would take it seriously.

Neither would anyone of an unbiased mind take seriously Adrian Zenz, anointed by Western governments and their faithful scribes in the mainstream (and even progressive) media, as a Xinjiang expert. Zenz has become the go-to guy for Western media and governments for commentary on China’s treatment of its Muslim citizens.

According to Singh and Blumenthal, Zenz is “a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports ‘scriptural spanking’ of children,” but more importantly “believes he is ‘led by God’ on a ‘mission’ against China.” [18]

The New York Times bills Zenz as a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. [19] The foundation’s name speaks volumes about its agenda, but it also helps to know that it was created by the US government, and that its mission is to discredit communist governments, including China, by calling their human rights records into question.

The foundation’s view of the world, according to its website, reposes on the following  premises:

• Communist regimes commit the worst human rights abuses on the widest scale in the world today.
• Communists have killed more than 100 million people over the past century.
• Communism promises to make everyone equal, but delivers radical inequality.
• Every time it is tried, it ends either in economic collapse or a police state. [20]

It’s a virtual certainty that Zenz, as a researcher at an anti-communist foundation, has an a priori anti-China agenda. Laying aside questions about his mental competence—indicated in his belief that “God has sent him on a holy crusade against the People’s Republic of China” [21]—there is no possibility that he is anything but an advocate for a US-friendly, anti-Chinese point of view. In other words, he has zero credibility. All the same, he has appeared before the US Congress and Canadian Parliament as a Xinjiang expert, and has been sought out by Western media from The New York Times to Democracy Now! for commentary. [22] Here’s one of Zenz’s gems from The New York Times: “The long-term strategy [of the Chinese jobs program] is to conquer, to captivate, to win over the young generation from the beginning.” [23]

Washington’s reasons for trying to strengthen secessionism in Xinjiang, and for attempting to discredit Beijing’s efforts to allay it, are not difficult to find. From the Obama Administration forward, US policy has focused on countering the rise of China. A standard tactic states use against rivals is to provide assistance and encouragement to dissident groups to weaken rivals internally. The idea is to find existing fault lines, and then to press on them. In China, Washington has targeted four weak links: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang. “Xi told Trump that China is deeply concerned about ‘the negative words and deeds’ of the United States on issues related to” these four regions. [24] The negative deeds include the flow of funding from the CIA-surrogate NED to pro-secessionist groups, as well as Western government and media support for phony China experts who are paraded before global audiences to portray China as a human rights abuser. This is part of the United States’ larger project of eclipsing the rise of a strategic competitor in order to protect US global hegemony.

Scratch the surface, and the US campaign is revealed as a bad joke. It depends on portraying Beijing’s efforts to lift China’s Muslims out of poverty as an Orwellian plot to enforce Han ethnic rule over Uighurs and relies on groups funded by a foundation created to carry out destabilization operations once entrusted to the CIA. At the same time, it elevates a fanatical anti-communist who believes he’s imbued with a mission from God to destroy the People’s Republic of China to the role of the world’s leading expert on Xinjiang.

1. Josh Chin, “China stresses investment, invokes New Zealand massacre in defending treatment of Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2019.
2. Chin.
3. Eva Dou and Chao Deng, “Western companies get tangled in China’s Muslim clampdown,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2019.
4. Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, “Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities into an Army of Workers,” The New York Times, December 30, 2019.
5. Buckley and Ramzy.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Hernando Calvo Ospina, “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique, August, 2007, https://mondediplo.com/2007/08/04ned
10. Buckley and Ramzy.
11. Amy Qin, “In China’s crackdown on Muslims, children have not been spared,” The New York Times, December 28, 2019.
12. Jon Emont, “How China persuaded one Muslim nation to keep silent on Xinjiang camps,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
13. Mike Pompeo, November 7, 2018, quoted in “Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.
14. Jane Perlez, “With pressure and persuasion, China deflects criticisms of its camps for Muslims,” The New York Times, April 8, 2019.
15. Eric Bellman, “India says the path to citizenship will get easier, but Muslims see a Hindu plot,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
16. Vibhuti Agarwal and Krishna Pokharel, “With protests, India Muslims push back against Modi government,” The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2019.
17. Eric Bellman, “India says the path to citizenship will get easier, but Muslims see a Hindu plot,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
18. Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal, “China detaining millions of Uyghurs? Serious problems with claims by US-backed GO and far-right researcher ‘led by God’ against Beijing,” The Grayzone, December 21, 2019.
19. Qin.
20. https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/vision
21. Singh and Blumenthal.
22. Ibid.
23. Qin.
24. Steve Holland and Roxanne Liu, “Xi accuses US of interfering in China’s internal affairs in phone call with Trump,” Reuters, December 20, 2019.