22 Apr Academic cops Uighur blast
Ben Packham – The Australian – Thursday 22 April 2021
The chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee has blasted the head of Australia’s top China-focused academic institution after she cast doubt over Chinese human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Professor Jane Golley, the director of ANU’s taxpayer-funded Centre on China in the World, told the National Press Club on Wednesday she had read a “convincing” but anonymous paper contradicting media reports of China’s widespread mistreatment of Uighurs.
“Just last week I received a scholarly article that debunks much of what you have read in the Western media on this topic, including the figure of one million Uighurs in detention camps, the pervasive use of forced labour, and of calling it genocide,” she said, standing along China’s deputy ambassador to Australia Wang Xining.
“This tells me that threats to academic freedom are not confined only to China.”
Professor Golley, an economist, conceded she was not an expert on Xinjiang, so could not make a judgment on the report’s veracity.
“I have to wait for it to be peer-reviewed by other experts. But what it did tell me is there are some convincing elements of what I read that would run against the dominant narrative that we read in the press.”
Senator James Paterson, the Joint intelligence and security committee chairman, said he was astonished Professor Golley would endorse an unverified report over extensive evidence of grave human rights abuses against Chinese Uighurs.
“It is concerning to see any academic publicly elevate an anonymous, unpublished article, which has not been peer-reviewed, above the years of scholarly evidence, investigative journalism and reports from reputable human rights organisations, which has exposed what is happening in Xinjiang,” he said.
“It’s even worse that the head of one of our pre-eminent taxpayer-funded university centres should do so at the National Press Club. Taxpayers are entitled to expect much higher standards of academic rigour than that.”
China strongly denies human rights abuses against Uighurs, arguing that facilities branded detention camps in the West are in fact vocational training centres.
Mr Wang told the National Press Club that China was “a positive force in the world”, dismissing a question about an Australian Uighur family seeking information on a relative who had been sentenced to 25 years jail in Xinjiang.
“I don’t know every case … whether they are of any particular ethnic group,” he said.
Mr Wang said China wanted “every ethnic group to live a good life — and we know how to deal with that”.
Human Rights Watch’s Australian director Elaine Pearson said she was “shocked” at Professor Golley’s comments, which came just a day after a HRW and Stanford University report found “the Chinese government has committed — and continues to commit — crimes against humanity against the Turkic Muslim population”.
Ms Pearson said: “While the Chinese government is in denial about these abuses, and refuses to allow access to UN human rights monitors, it is critically important that foreign governments do act and take strong, co-ordinated action.
“This is why we need a UN commission of inquiry to ensure an impartial investigation into alleged violations in Xinjiang.”