BY Johm Feng
September 7, 2022
China's main social media services Weibo and WeChat are blocking Western backing of a United Nations report that found credible evidence of "serious human rights violations" in Xinjiang, the United States' top envoy in Beijing said on Wednesday.
Ambassador Nicholas Burns tweeted that Chinese internet censors were deleting posts carrying a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said the U.N. Human Rights Office described "authoritatively the appalling treatment and abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC)."
"This report deepens and reaffirms our grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC government authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," Blinken said following the release of the August 31 assessment.
Above, a demonstrator wearing a mask painted with the colors of the flag of East Turkestan and a hand bearing the colors of the Chinese flag attends a protest to denounce China's treatment of ethnic Uyghurs, in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 5, 2018. A report by the U.N. Human Rights Office published on August 31, 2022, found “serious human rights violations” had taken place against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minority groups in China’s Xinjiang region.
OZAN KOSE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
The U.S. embassy, which has protested Beijing's systematic censorship in the past, published Blinken's statement on its website. The Canadian embassy, meanwhile, complained about similar treatment last week.
China's foreign ministry has countered the report's findings and disparaged the authors at the U.N. Human Rights Office, even after a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Guterres urged Beijing to follow its recommendations, including releasing all arbitrarily detained Uyghurs.
At a press briefing last Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the report "a patchwork of disinformation politically driven by the U.S. and some Western forces."
This picture taken early September 1, 2022, shows a screenshot of a long-delayed report on human rights in China's Xinjiang region released just minutes before U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet left her post on August 31. The U.N. report said claims of torture and forced labor in Xinjiang were credible and warned “crimes against humanity” may have taken place.
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Despite the rigorous external response, however, China's reaction has been muted at home. State media has shunned coverage of the U.N.'s 46-page report and Beijing's official response, a 122-page document outlining what it said were measures to counter "terrorism and extremism" in Xinjiang.
On Weibo in particular, a website that boasted more than 580 million active monthly users in the first quarter of this year, direct references to the U.N. report were few and links to the actual assessment nonexistent.
The document was published at a sensitive time for Beijing, coming just weeks before Xi Jinping expects to secure a near-unprecedented third term as its leader when the Chinese Communist Party holds its twice-a-decade national congress on October 16.
It concluded that the "arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups...may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity."
China in the recent past may have had success pushing back against research and assessments originating in the West, but its decision to challenge the jurisdiction of a U.N. office—Zhao called the report "illegal, null and void"—could come with reputational costs, observers say.