08 Apr Beijing’s bizarre Uighur threat
Ben Packham – The Australian – Thursday 8 April 2021
China says it will not “swallow the bitter pill” of sanctions for its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, warning that it will “respond in kind” if Australia joins other Western nations in targeting its officials for human rights abuses.
In an extraordinary press conference on Wednesday, Beijing sought to undermine credible independent reporting of repression, forced labour and sterilisation of Muslims in Xinjiang, describing the region as “a wonderful land” where Uighurs and other ethnic minorities lived happy, fulfilled lives.
It featured an online hook-up with Uighurs in Xinjiang, including one claiming to have been deradicalised, and Chinese officials who lauded the region’s “harmony and stability”.
The propaganda push follows declarations by the US and Canada that China’s treatment of Uighurs was “genocide”, together with targeted sanctions of Chinese officials in a co-ordinated move with the EU and Britain.
Australia has expressed “grave concerns” over “severe human rights abuses” against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang but stopped short of accusing China of genocide.
Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye, who branded claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang as “fake news”, warned Australia not to contemplate sanctions against his country under “Magnitsky-style” laws to target human rights abusers.
“Any people, any country, should not have any illusion that China would swallow the bitter pill of interfering or meddling in China’s internal affairs trying to put so-called pressure on China,” he said. “We will not provoke but if we are provoked, we will respond in kind.”
Speaking via videolink, Chinese government official Xu Guixiang blasted Western companies, including H&M and Nike, for imposing bans on Xinjiang cotton over human rights abuses, declaring “they lack the basic facts”.
Mr Cheng defended China’s punitive sanctions on $20bn of Australian exports, saying “the difficulty we now have in relations (with Australia) was not initiated by China”.
The two-hour press conference at the ambassador’s palatial residence in Canberra included multiple video presentations and claims by five alleged Uighurs — who were said to be talking from Xinjiang — that they lived happy and fulfilled lives under Chinese Communist Party rule.
One video claimed Xinjiang was a place where “all ethnic customs and traditions are duly respected”, despite satellite evidence showing dozens of mosques and shrines destroyed there since 2016.
An official branded independent reports of industrial-scale human rights abuses in the region as “downright lies”, saying “re-education centres” taught singing, dancing and computer skills. One woman who claimed to be a Uighur said she had regarded terrorists as heroes but had found a new life after attending one of the “vocational” centres, and now worked in a legal office.
A young man who claimed to be an imam at a “grand mosque” said reports of mosques being destroyed were “rumours fabricated with ulterior motives”.
East Turkistan Australian Association leader Nurmuhammad Majid said the “production of such propaganda” did not fool anyone.
“They say Uighurs are the most dangerous people on earth yet they say Xinjiang is a great place to live. This is in itself a huge contradiction,” he told The Australian.
“The critical question lies — for whom is it the best place, and for whom is it a risky place?
“By exterminating the Uighur race, killing our people, sterilising our women, forcing mixed marriages and stealing our young generation, it is providing a safe haven for the Han-Chinese settlers.”
Scott Morrison said Australia wanted to have “a positive relationship” with China but one that was “consistent with Australia acting in accordance with its values and national character. And that will never be … something we would yield for the sake of a relationship.”
The chairman of parliament’s intelligence and security committee, James Paterson, said nothing in the conference had dissuaded him from his “profound concerns” about CCP actions against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
“Holding China to its own commitments under the UN declaration of human rights is not interference in their domestic affairs … the world cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening there,” he said.
Human Rights Watch Australia researcher Sophie McNeill branded the media event “a cheap propaganda stunt”.