New Delhi: Chinese oppression of Uighur Muslims in occupied East Turkistan (Xinjiang in China) has been known for years and has been well documented by human rights organisations, media houses and public institutions. Most recently, the United States has deemed China’s abhorrent actions against the ethnic Muslim minority community as a ‘modern genocide’. A recent damning report by the Center of Global Policy also laid bare China’s tactic of forcing Uighur Muslims to manually pick cotton in fields. Over the years, China has resorted to all kinds of torture on Uighurs including — physical torture, sexual abuse, and breach of other human rights.
The issue of the abuses against the Uighur community in Xinjiang is getting more attention in the aftermath of China’s misinformation on COVID-19 outbreak in its initial phases. The international community has finally started taking cognizance of the situation of Uighur Muslims of East Turkistan and has begun to respond to Chinese human right abuses. Also, Chinese actions in the South China Sea and its recent unprovoked aggression against the Indian armed forces that led to the martyrdom of 20 Indian soldiers has turned the international sentiments against China.
India and East Turkistan have an age-old connection. Since the first century BC, both regions have been linked through socio-cultural and economic relations, as well as mutual exchanges. India’s trade and cooperation with East Turkistan began to dwindle after China’s People’s Liberation Army forcefully occupied the region in 1949 and brought it under Chinese rule. Interaction and trade with the region stopped after China forced India to close down its consulate in Kashgar in 1953 and this marked the end of a trade route and cultural connection that existed for hundreds of years.
Indian media houses have taken up the sensitive topic of Uighur abuses in varying ways. Indian media coverage on the issue of the plight of the Uighurs, from September 2020 till 05 February 2021 was analysed. During this period, only a few Indian media has covered about Chinese actions against Uighur Muslims and these can be reached out by a quick key word search of the words ‘Uighur Muslims’ and ‘Xinjiang’.
On the other hand, major English media houses have not particularly covered the plight of Uighur Muslims in occupied East Turkistan. Online-only media platforms, that have also been growing in popularity in India and play a large role in keeping Indians well-informed, were also lacking when it came to content regarding the situation of Uighur Muslims. While searching for articles about the condition and treatment of Uighurs in China, these platforms only had three-six articles within the timeframe. These platforms also had some stories about the US, Canadian and UK officials condemning the treatment of Uighur Muslims in occupied East Turkistan, but then again, no stories highlighting the plight of the Muslim ethnic minority in China.
The Indian media’s reluctance to antagonize China is due to the increase in the influence of China in India. This factor was brought to the forefront when late last year a leading Indian newspaper ran a full-page advertorial commemorating the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The advertorial was full of praises for China and its actions even at a time when the world is contending with Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist actions and its countless human rights abuses across its occupied territories. The advertorial also gave China the chance to propagate its false narrative regarding the Ladakh stand-off with India and showcased China as a ‘global power in counter-terrorism’. The article was not well received by the Indian audiences and many users pointed out that the advertorial was pure Chinese propaganda. Both hidden and open advertisements are one of the ways the Chinese use to influence foreign media to push their narratives on to the international community.
Indian media’s coverage on issues involving China has also been partial. Almost all large media houses have extensively covered the protests in Hong Kong but almost ignored or barely gave a passing mention to the abuses being suffered by Uighurs in East Turkistan. Despite 2500 years of harmonious history between India and the Uighurs of East Turkistan, they seem to be receiving notice only in passing.
Indian Media’s complicated relationship with China is made more complex when India is directly involved. When Chinese aggressive actions on India’s border areas led to a tense stand-off between the two countries, the Indian media criticised the India Government for not taking a tougher stance against China. However, recent months have seen the Indian media fraternity claim that it is highly improbable that India will be able to decouple from China and that it should continue to try and resolve things through dialogue. This kind of inconsistency on how to tackle the growing threat of China has been an aspect that’s still currently plaguing the Indian media.
Another way that Beijing has tried to influence foreign media (including Indian media) is by inviting foreign journalists. The participating journalists are hosted by the Chinese government and spend 10 months in one of Beijing’s most luxurious residences, the Jianguomen Diplomatic Compound. Also, the journalists are given free tours every month to Chinese provinces. This practice has been going on since 2016. Prominent Indian media houses have also participated and sent their journalists and staff to China. An Indian correspondent accredited in Beijing has stated that this initiative by China is aimed at manipulating the quality of foreign media coverage. One important factor to note is the possibility of China offering similar bait to foreign politicians to influence their stance.
The starting of this initiative in 2016 is not a coincidence as it follows President Xi Jinping’s call to Chinese and foreign media to ‘tell China’s story well’. Moreover, the Belt and Road initiative announced in 2013, was also not fetching enough favourable responses for China. Aware of its growing negative perceptions in the world, Beijing is trying to influence and control how foreign media projects China to the world, in an attempt to deflect the international community from its abhorrent actions.
In recent years, the Chinese government under the leadership of President Xi Jinping has been obsessed with the concept of ‘national unity’. Jinping believes that for China to rise in the international community, its population must achieve ‘national unity’ in terms of language, culture and even religion. Due to this faulty notion, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has actively carried out ethnic cleansing of minority communities like Turkic Uighur Muslims and other minorities. As per reports and mounting evidence, China has arbitrarily detained close to a million Uighur Muslims in internment camps that it has conveniently labeled as ‘vocational training centers’. The international community has also begun to take notice of the CCP’s abysmal treatment of minorities and has responded through resolutions, motions and sanctions. Faced with such criticism, China has attempted to manipulate the narrative and brand any criticism of its treatment of Uighur Muslims as blatant Western propaganda.
In such an environment, with China actively trying to change the narrative by influencing foreign media, journalists and leaders, people must stay informed about the plight of the Uighurs in China so that the CCP is not able to act with impunity and continue its abuse of the Uighur community. We must not provide an opportunity to China to twist the narrative regarding its abhorrent treatment of Uighurs. The CCP has tried similar tactics with regards to the coronavirus. China’s ploys to deflect blame and avoid criticism need to be met with accurate, factual and reliable information. The CCP wishes to keep its people as well as the rest of the world blind to its vile deeds, but the whole world has now become aware of China’s true nature. CCP cannot be allowed to act with impunity and commit a genocide akin to the Jewish holocaust right in India’s backyard.