New research reveals absurd rumor sources of Uyghur detentions in Xinjiang endeared by Western media

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/27 0:26:07

Women wave the Chinese national flag in Baicheng county of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

The allegations that China has detained millions of Uyghur people in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region came from unreliable studies and sources backed by US government, based on shoddy methodologies and works of a far-right anti-China and anti-communist researcher, a recently published essay in the Grayzone revealed.

"The claim that China has detained millions of ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region is repeated with increasing frequency, but little scrutiny is ever applied. Yet a closer look at the figure and how it was obtained reveals a serious deficiency in data," said the Grayzone article published on Saturday. 

While the "million" figure is widely cited in the West as authentic, an in-depth research shows it is only based on two highly dubious "studies."

The first study was done by the Network of Chinese-Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a Washington DC-based NGO backed by the US government. The "millions detained" figure was first popularized by the CHRD in a 2018 report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is often misrepresented in Western media as a report penned by the UN, according to the article.

Grayzone was founded in 2015 as an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and political analysis. 

An Uyghur woman dances at a restaurant in Awati county, Aksu Prefecture of Xinjiang. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Dubious calculation 

While CHRD states it interviewed dozens of Uyghur people during the course of its study, their inflated estimate was ultimately based on interviews with eight Uyghur individuals, Canada-based writer and lawyer Ajit Singh and Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal wrote in the Grayzone article. 

"Based on this small sample of research subjects in an area whose total population is 20 million, CHRD 'extrapolated estimates' that 'at least 10 percent of villagers […] are being detained in re-education detention camps, and 20 percent are being forced to attend day/evening re-education camps in the villages or townships, totaling 30 percent in both types of camps,'"  the article said. 

Applying these estimated rates to the entirety of Xinjiang, CHRD arrived at the figures it submitted to the UN claiming that one million ethnic Uyghur people have been "detained in re-education detention camps" and two million more have been "forced to attend day/evening re-education sessions," the article added.

The "camps" the CHRD claims are actually vocational education and training centers which employ a boarding school model that allows trainees to go back home on a regular basis and grants leave to attend personal affairs. 

Grayzone has previously reported that CHRD receives significant financial support from National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED is a CIA-backed US foundation which is believed to have played a critical role in innumerable regime changes across the world. 

Screenshot of a report from the Grayzone on Xinjiang

Far-right researcher

The second study, as Grayzone found out, relied on flimsy media reports and speculation. This study was authored by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the far-right Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which was established by the US government in 1983.

"Like the CHRD, Zenz arrived at his estimated 'over 1 million' figure using a dubious methodology. He based it on a single report by Istiqlal TV, a Uyghur exile media organization based in Turkey, which was republished by Newsweek Japan," Singh and Blumenthal said.

"Far from an impartial journalistic organization, Istiqlal TV advances the separatist cause while playing host to an assortment of extremist figures." A frequent guest on Istiqlal TV is Abdulkadir Yapuquan, a reported leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorist group. 

Zenz also tries to justify his estimates by citing reports from Radio Free Asia, a US-funded news agency created by the CIA during the Cold War to spew propaganda against China, according to Grayzone's research. 

In a November 2019 interview with Radio Free Asia, Zenz even inflated the 1 million figure by claiming China was detaining 1.8 million people. 

In an exclusive interview with the Global Times, the spokesperson of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said the so-called scholars including Zenz actually work for the US intelligence agency, and they cooperate with anti-China forces in the US to smear China's Xinjiang policies. 

"Disguised as experts, they made baseless remarks and slandered China's Xinjiang policies as much as possible, aiming to galvanize anti-China forces in the US. What they did was beyond the academic scope - using academic research as a cover, they slandered and smeared China, which are also the old tricks used by the US," added the spokesperson. "The 1 million detention claim is a nonsense and was derived out of nothing." 

A woman plays with her granddaughter at a skiing resort in Baicheng county, Xinjiang. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Grayzone also found that Zenz is a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports "scriptural spanking" of children, and believes he is "led by God" on a "mission" against China. 

A search of Zenz's Twitter profile returns no tweets concerning the rise of Islamophobia in the West, nor US wars and drone strikes against Muslim-majority countries. The only Tweet by Zenz concerning Muslims that is unrelated to China is a denial of the double-standard in judging violence when perpetrated by whites instead of Muslims.

In a separate August 2018 report by Blumenthal, he said Washington wants to pressurize China and push the US to spark a conflict with China. He spoke with World Uyghur Congress (WUC) chairman Omer Kanat, who took credit for furnishing many of the reports about alleged internment camps in the Western media. 

In the report, Blumenthal noted Kanat telling him over "1 million people" were in the camps in Xinjiang and that the figure was offered by some Western media. Kanat also stated that WUC offered more information on the training centers in Xinjiang to the US government and Western media

In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Dolkun Isa, leader of WUC, admitted they aimed to inflict more pressure on China and force Western companies to withdraw from Xinjiang. 

"What is happening in Xinjiang today must be seen in the context of what has been happening throughout Central Asia," read a Workers World report on December 18.

Xinjiang is a major logistics center for China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Xinjiang is the gateway to Central and West Asia, as well as to European markets. "The US government is deeply hostile to this vast economic development project and is doing all it can to sabotage China's plans. This campaign is part of the US military's 'Pivot to Asia,' along with naval threats in the South China Sea and support for separatist movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet," read the article.


Newspaper headline: Busting the myth

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