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World 'Inferior' women: China counters Uighur criticism with explicit PR attacks

08:30  01 march  2021
08:30  01 march  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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China accused of forcing birth control onto Uighur women . Several countries have this week condemned China over reports it systematically and forcibly sterilized Uighur minority women in Xinjiang province. Investigations by German researcher Adrian Zenz and the Associated Press found that China is trying to slash the birth rate in the oppressed region through pregnancy checks, forced acceptance of intrauterine devices The report found that Uighur women are threatened with mass detention and large fines, with many women imprisoned for the crime of having more than two children.

Women who had fewer than the legally permitted limit of two children were involuntarily fitted with intrauterine contraceptives, says the report. It also reports that some of the women said they were being coerced into receiving sterilisation surgeries. Former camp detainees said they were given injections that stopped their periods or caused unusual bleeding consistent with the effects of birth-control drugs. Uighur activists say China is using the internment camps to conduct a massive brainwashing campaign aimed at eradicating their distinct culture and Islamic identity.

By Cate Cadell

a young boy wearing a suit and tie: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin holds pictures while speaking during a news conference in Beijing © Reuters/REUTERS TV Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin holds pictures while speaking during a news conference in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, under growing global pressure over its treatment of a Muslim minority in its far west, is mounting an unprecedented and aggressive campaign to push back, including explicit attacks on women who have made claims of abuse.

As allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang mount, with a growing number of Western lawmakers accusing China of genocide, Beijing is focussing on discrediting the female Uighur witnesses behind recent reports of abuse.

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BEIJING/GENEVA (Reuters) - China is mounting an increasingly sophisticated counterattack to criticism of its policies in the restive, heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, courting foreign media and running opinion pieces abroad as it seeks to spin a more positive message. Asked about China 's efforts to put its side of the story and whether its messaging had been effective, the Foreign Ministry said the region was stable and prosperous, with no attacks for more than a year. "On Xinjiang matters, the Chinese people have the most right to speak," it said in a short statement sent to Reuters.

To counter the ETIM and other separatist Uighurs , the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has passed laws regulating, and in some cases restricting, expressions of Islamic and Turkic identity. Such levels of control have been used elsewhere in China where the CCP has felt threatened by separatist movements. As China continues to develop the ways in which it counters terrorism at home, it has also begun to export its version of counterterrorism methods abroad. In addition to selling surveillance technology to foreign governments, China has also become a more active player in the international

Chinese officials have named women, disclosed what they say is private medical data and information on the women's fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. The officials said the information was evidence of bad character, invalidating the women's accounts of abuse in Xinjiang.

a person holding a box: Xu Guixiang, deputy head of Xinjiang's publicity department holds a copy of a booklet, as he speaks during a news conference in Beijing © Reuters/CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS Xu Guixiang, deputy head of Xinjiang's publicity department holds a copy of a booklet, as he speaks during a news conference in Beijing

"To rebuke some media's disgusting acts, we have taken a series of measures," Xu Guixiang, the deputy head of Xinjiang's publicity department, told a December news conference that was part of China's pushback campaign. It includes hours-long briefings, with footage of Xinjiang residents and family members reading monologues.

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How has China 's counter -terror crackdown impacted the Uighur minority in Xinjiang? The BBC's China Editor Carrie Gracie pays a visit to Kashgar city to find out. The story, according to the Chinese government, is "a triple evil", a mix of religious extremism, separatism and terrorism. In May, it announced a year-long security campaign after a shocking series of attacks made the state look weak. Exiles and human rights groups say the story is that the state itself is making matters worse, and the violence is fuelled by repression against a religious and ethnic minority, China 's Muslim Uighurs .

More than 1 million Uighurs have disappeared into China 's internment camps in Xinjiang province. A DW investigation reveals how many of them were tried for their alleged "crimes" in sham trials. There are legitimate reasons for Chinese authorities to be concerned about Uighur extremism. Following decades of cultural and political discrimination, as well as state-sponsored migration of the majority ethnic Han Chinese to Xinjiang, widespread discontent has, at times, turned violent.

A Reuters review of dozens of hours of presentations from recent months and hundreds of pages of literature, as well as interviews with experts, shows a meticulous and wide-reaching campaign that hints at China's fears that it is losing control of the Xinjiang narrative.

"One reason that the Communist Party is so concerned about these testimonies from women is because it undermines their initial premise for what they're doing there, which is anti-terrorism", said James Millward, a professor of Chinese history at Georgetown University and expert in Xinjiang policy.

a group of people sitting at a table: Xu Guixiang, deputy head of Xinjiang's publicity department attends a news conference in Beijing © Reuters/CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS Xu Guixiang, deputy head of Xinjiang's publicity department attends a news conference in Beijing

"The fact that there are so many women in the camps ... who don't have the faintest appearance of being violent people, this just shows how this has nothing to do with terrorism."

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China denies abusing the Uighurs and other minority Muslim populations, and it had previously threatened retaliation for legislation signed by Trump last month that was aimed at addressing the issue. Image: People gather near the White House to call on the US government to respond to China 's abuses of the Uighurs ethnic minority. Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, said many of the nurses that she trains have been the target of unprovoked criticism as they go about their jobs or even when they are with friends or family.

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Uighurs make up most of the 1 million people that a United Nations estimate says have been detained in Xinjiang camps under what the central government calls a campaign against terrorism. Accusations by activists and some Western politicians include torture, forced labour and sterilisations.

In rare U.S. bipartisan agreement, the top diplomats of the former administration of Donald Trump and the new one of Joe Biden have called China's treatment of the Uighurs genocide, a stance adopted last week by the Canadian and Dutch parliaments.

China faces sanctions such as a ban on U.S purchases of Xinjiang cotton and tomatoes, and calls by some Western lawmakers to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. The government denies accusations of abuse at the "vocational training centres" in the remote western region, and says claims of systematic sexual abuse are unfounded.

Beijing has rejected calls for an independent U.N. investigation into Xinjiang's internment program. Journalists and diplomats have not been permitted access to the camps outside of tightly controlled government tours. Uighurs in Xinjiang have told Reuters they fear reprisals for speaking to press while in China

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'LIES AND SLANDER'

China's tightly controlled, invitation-only media events on Xinjiang require journalists to submit questions days or weeks in advance. They include pre-recorded videos and prepared testimony by former camp inmates and religious figures.

Beijing has packaged content from the events in two volumes titled, "The Truth About Xinjiang: Exposing the US-Led Lies and Slanders About Xinjiang."

In January, the Twitter account of China's U.S. embassy was suspended for a tweet that said Uighur women had been "baby-making machines" before Beijing instituted its system of camps.

"The biological, the reproductive, the gendered aspect of this is particularly horrifying to the world," said Georgetown's Millward. China "seems to have recognised that... You now see them trying in this clumsy way to respond."

During a regular daily press briefing last week, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin held up images of witnesses who had described sexual abuse in Xinjiang. The account of one of them, he said, was "lies and rumours" because she had not recounted the experience in previous interviews. He gave medical details about the woman's fertility.

Xinjiang officials in January said a woman who had spoken to foreign media had syphilis, and they showed images of medical records - unsolicited information that was not directly related to her account.

A Xinjiang government official said of another witness last month: "Everyone knows about her inferior character. She's lazy and likes comfort, her private life is chaotic, her neighbours say that she committed adultery while in China."

Last week, the top spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, tweeted images of four named witnesses, saying they had "raked their brains for lies", adding "they will never succeed."

China has declined to provide data on the number of people in the camps. Beijing initially denied the camps existed but now says they are vocational and education centres and that all the people have "graduated".

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by William Mallard)

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