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Australia China ramps up media war on Xinjiang as censors blur Western brands

00:15  17 april  2021
00:15  17 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

Uyghur community leaders in Australia appalled and outraged the government allowed a Chinese Communist Party propaganda parade

  Uyghur community leaders in Australia appalled and outraged the government allowed a Chinese Communist Party propaganda parade Foreign governments accuse China of committing genocide against Uyghurs and detaining about a million people, and community leaders in Australia want the government here to recognise the alleged atrocities.Their comments come after the Chinese embassy in Canberra held a press conference where journalists were played five propaganda videos about conditions in Xinjiang in China's far west.

What is happening inside China's Xinjiang region? Well, it depends on who you ask and what you watch.

According to Chinese state media, life in the region is peaceful, prosperous and idyllic — and there's been wall-to-wall coverage.

Videos of Uyghurs dancing happily, praising the Chinese government, and denying human rights abuses have been flooding Chinese English-language media.

Since April 1, China's Central Global Television Network (CGTN) posted nearly 100 stories on its website related to Xinjiang.

Nearly all of them rebuff Western narratives of mass incarceration and genocide — one unnamed interview subject on CGTN says: "I've been here for over three years and Xinjiang is getting better year after year."

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In one bizarre segment, well-known CGTN presenter Liu Xin asks residents of the region's largest city Urumqi to rate their lives out 10.

Predictably, the scores given were all very high.

But human rights groups have for years been documenting widespread arbitrary detention, torture, forced political indoctrination and mass surveillance of the region's minorities.

Researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Albert Zhang said the stories on Chinese state media were in stark contrast to proven research on what was happening in the region.

"[The media reports] dispute very reputable claims of detention, as well as testimonials from Uyghur victims, leaked documents from the Chinese government, as well as open source documents that can be found on government websites," he said.

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For those with family still in Xinjiang, stories like those run by CGTN can be infuriating.

Meyassar Ablat, former vice-president of the East Turkistan Australian Association and a Uyghur activist, said both her brother-in-law and father-in-law remain missing.

"It makes you disappointed and angry … our reality is a nightmare, this is a fantasy," she said.

'If it is such a nice place, why can't I contact my loved ones?'

News reports have come alongside other forms of media distorting the reality of what is happening in Xinjiang.

State media has recently broadcast several high-end production documentaries, including CGTN's four-part documentary series on fighting terrorism in Xinjiang.

The threat of extremism has broadly been used by Chinese authorities as the reason for arbitrary detention and '"re-education".

A "Sound of Music" style musical also hit Chinese theatres last month, depicting life in the region as peaceful, with different ethnic groups living together harmoniously.

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Ms Ablat said it's hard to watch stories like this.

"If it is such a nice place, why can't I contact my loved ones?"

"Xinjiang is my country, if it's so free why can't I go back there?"

An extraordinary press conference held by Chinese officials in Canberra earlier this month to deny human rights abuses in the region contained a similarly contrived video depicting life there.

This type of propaganda is not new, but the effort appears to be in overdrive — and it's led to an intensification of attacks against China's Xinjiang critics.

Western brands blurred and burned

China's state-run tabloid the Global Times has also been on a publishing spree, posting dozens of stories on Xinjiang since the start of the month.

Many of them relate to the region's vast cotton industry.

It produces 85 per cent of China's cotton – about 20 per cent of global supply.

But the region's minorities are reportedly being used as forced labour in factories and the textiles industry has seen a slew of Western brands reconsider their use of Xinjiang cotton.

That has provoked calls for a boycott of a handful of brands in China, and even lead to some netizens burning the offending merchandise in videos online.

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Some western brands were also reportedly blurred out on Chinese television — and Swedish clothing giant H&M had its stores removed from some Chinese map services.

But H&M first said it would stop using Xinjiang cotton back in September last year, so why all the fuss right now?

Yun Jiang, managing editor of China in the World at the Australian National University (ANU), said there was increasing international pressure on China over human rights violations in the region.

"From China's perspective, it seems that international momentum is building up on the Xinjiang issue," she said.

Last month, the EU, UK, Canada and the US slapped sanctions against the region's officials over alleged human rights abuses — and some countries have gone a step further.

"Earlier this year the Dutch and Canadian Parliaments joined the US government in calling the issue in Xinjiang a genocide," Mr Zhang said.

That seems to have intensified China's information campaign.

'Something is up in Xinjiang'

Former ABC journalist Vicky Xu, who works as an analyst for ASPI, was one of the first people to report on forced labour in the region and has since endured a barrage of personal attacks, and a coordinated effort to discredit her.

According to Ms Xu, her name and fabricated stories about her have been clicked more than 7 million times on the Chinese social media app Weibo.

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This week, the Global Times published a hit piece against her where she's been described as "bewitched".

She responded online saying the attention was "a wonderful way to alert the public something is up in Xinjiang".

The Global Times piece was enthusiastically shared by the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney on Twitter before later being deleted.

The relentless campaign against Ms Xu and others like her show China will not backdown on the issue of Xinjiang — and getting accurate information out of the region is becoming more difficult.

Depictions of life controlled by state-run media

The BBC's John Sudworth last month fled mainland China following threats and pressure from Chinese authorities. His award-winning reporting from Xinjiang has been denounced by Beijing.

Last year China also expelled correspondents from a swathe of foreign media organisations, and the ABC's Bill Birtles was also forced to leave the country when he too was pressured by authorities.

That's left China with a monopoly on reporting out of the region — stories on Xinjiang are still syndicated globally via large news organisations including the Associated Press, but they are nearly entirely sourced from Chinese state media.

Ms Ablet said this left little room for her and other Uyghurs to gain a platform.

"It's not a true reflection of life in Xinjiang … it's very hard to sit back and see what is happening … first-hand accounts of camps, torture and rape," she said.

This is in stark contrast to the paradisal depictions now being churned out with rapidity by China's state-run media machine.

The ABC has approached CGTN, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy in Australia for comment.

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This is interesting!