U.S. report reveals China's efforts to cover up its oppression of the Uyghur population using digital tools and the internet.
TIPPINSIGHTS EDITORIAL BOARD
August 29, 2022
Demonstrators with chains on their hands and feet hold a protest as part of the worldwide "Stop Genocide Now" campaign to draw attention to China's policies towards the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in Fatih, Istanbul, Turkiye on July 31, 2022. Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The world was appalled to hear of the Chinese government's systematic oppression and ill-treatment of the minority Uyghur Muslim population in the Xinjiang region. It is estimated that about 12 million Uyghurs live in China. The American administration has stated that the ongoing crimes against humanity and oppression of the ethnic people of Xinjiang amount to genocide.
Human rights activists, international organizations including the Amnesty International, and international media outlets have reported, based on multiple eyewitness accounts and verifiable data, that the Chinese government is running detention centers under the guise of "vocational training and "re-education" facilities and have imprisoned about one million Uyghurs. The ethnic people are being tortured, interrogated for supposed crimes, used as forced labor, and subjected to sexual assault, forced sterilizations, and abortions.
Naturally, Beijing has denied the allegations and retaliated by pointing to its accusers' blotched human rights records. As reprehensible as the government-backed oppression of the Uyghur is, China's efforts to contort the narrative on the ground realities in Xinjiang are beyond pale. Drawing further condemnation on the Chinese administration, the U.S. state department has put out a report that brings to light China's efforts to manipulate global public opinion on Xinjiang.
China is leveraging the power of the internet and artificial intelligence to run what essentially amounts to a cyber or digital war. Beijing is using its resources to flood the digital space and social platforms with a narrative that shows the government actions in the Xinjiang province in a positive light, countering honest reports of the oppression borne by the Uyghurs. The disinformation overload and spreading of government propaganda are expected to wipe out dissenting voices before it reaches a more extensive world audience. The government and government-backed agencies are using fake videos, disinformation campaigns, and bots to create a rosy picture that portrays Uyghurs as enjoying a peaceful and productive life.
Ironically, while, on the one hand, the Chinese regime controls private enterprise and personal freedom, China is exploiting private marketing firms and the influencer culture to spread the 'positive' story of the 'happy' Uyghur. Not leaving anything to chance, the whitewashing of the issue is thorough and multipronged. The 'information' and campaigns are pushed in multiple languages and tailor-made for a specific target audience. Besides this, cyberbullying, trolling, and doxing (publishing personal information online without permission) are methods to dissuade dissenting voices from expressing their views.
Beijing is looking beyond its shores to propagate an impression of support and simultaneously drown out dissenting voices. China has partnered with foreign media to spread the word. The U.S. state department's report questioned the story's veracity by an anonymous author who talked of Beijing's "poverty alleviation" policy in Xinjiang, which the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation published in November 2019.
It is fair to speculate whether Kenya, a link in China's Belt and Road Initiative and heavily indebted to Beijing for several infrastructure development projects, took an independent decision to run the story or was persuaded to do so. With its huge investments and colossal development projects across many developing countries, China could use its leverage and influence to steer support for its position, replicating the modus operandi it has been using in the case of Taiwan.
The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, located on the mainland, northwest of the country, is China's largest province. The province's strategic geopolitical location, which borders eight Asian countries, and its abundant mineral resources, are essential to Beijing's plans to dominate Asia and grow into a superpower.
For years China has dismissed allegations of human rights violations as an 'internal matter' and, therefore, not a subject for foreign opinions. With the United Nations condemning the oppression of Uyghurs and the U.K., the U.S. and other nations terming Beijing's actions as genocide have forced the Chinese government to counter the narrative. The People's Republic of China has shrewdly brought its A-game to tackle the issue.
In the Information Age, what better way to counteract reports and documentaries than by flooding the space with propaganda dressed up as authentic stories to confuse search engines? After all, only what goes viral or is up-voted only catches the naive netizens' eye.