The U.S. and its allies have declared China is guilty of genocide against Uighur Muslims. Behind The Headlines’ Dan Cohen examines the claim and the extremist figures behind the propaganda blitz.
XINJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA — Up is down. War is peace. And the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have accused China of genocide.
“This is forced labor, this is forced sterilization, this is forced abortions, …the kind of thing we haven’t seen in an awfully long time in this world,” declared then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
To be fair, the accusers are experts in genocide: the U.S. and its junior imperial partner, Canada, wiped out their indigenous populations. Today the U.S. is responsible for the three biggest human rights catastrophes in the world in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. And the Netherlands is just coming to terms with its massacres in Indonesia.
Mike Pompeo’s successor at the State Department, Antony Blinken, is sticking with the genocide claim. That’s despite the State Department’s top lawyers stating that whatever might be happening in Xinjiang, it’s not genocide. That’s right. Chinese Communist Party genocide denialists have infiltrated the U.S. State Department to impurify our precious bodily fluids.
So what did Pompeo and Blinken base their accusations of genocide on? There must have been a pretty strong body of on-the-ground reporting and research. Or not. It turns out that one guy is pretty much responsible for the whole narrative. His name is Adrian Zenz.
“Adrian’s research, as many of you know, has been key in establishing the existence of the camps in the first place, and in documenting the buildup of the PRC police state,” explained Hudson Institute fellow Eric Brown.
Zenz appeared almost overnight as a go-to expert on Xinjiang and Uighurs. Now he’s a regular on mainstream outlets and even on supposedly progressive news show Democracy Now. In fact, in Mike Pompeo’s official statement accusing China of genocide, he directly credited Zenz.
But most of his so-called research has been discredited, and he’s been revealed to be a straight-up fabulist. A Grayzone News investigation showed that Zenz’s claims of 1 million Uighur detained in camps were based “on a single report by Istiqlal TV, a Uyghur exile media organization based in Turkey, which was republished by Newsweek Japan.” In other words, no evidence, and not even an attempt.
Meanwhile, Zenz’s study accusing China of forced sterilizations didn’t contain any proof of coercion. The Grayzone showed how “Zenz consistently framed the expansion of public healthcare services in Xinjiang as evidence of a genocide in the making.”
Characterizing expanded access to birth control as genocide is what the Christian Right does. So it makes perfect sense that Zenz – an evangelical fundamentalist himself – holds this view.
Zenz’s first book is a psychedelic trip through the mind of a Rapture-ready Christer. Entitled “Worthy to Escape: Why All Believers Will Not Be Raptured Before the Tribulation,” the book claims that in the end times, “God’s refining process will wipe out all unbelieving Jews who refuse to come to Christ.” So Zenz writes racist fantasies about Jews, like me. Who knows what he thinks will happen to Uighur Muslims!
He also says that Satan is using postmodernism to attack gender-authority structures and undermine what he believes are God’s unique but different role assignments for men and women. Clearly, he is against women’s rights. So does he support criminalizing birth control in his native Germany and here in the U.S. where he now resides?
Even more deranged, Zenz’s big genocide study claimed that women in Xinjiang receive 800 to 1600 IUD insertions per capita. That means every Uighur woman is surgically implanted with 4 to 8 IUDs every single day of the year.
Evidently, none of the outlets that feverishly published his claims bothered to give even a cursory examination to the evidence, or lack thereof, that he presents.
Other reasons (besides genocide) for having fewer kids
In reality, the decrease in birth rate is a normal, predictable outcome of economic development. When people are more financially secure, they choose to have fewer kids and do it later in life.
In fact, China is pouring money into Xinjiang to develop its economy.
According to a 2015 U.S. government study, “To decrease ethnic instability in Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s plan is to economically develop the region.”
That’s right. Chinese Communist Party agents have also time-traveled to 2015 to infiltrate the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and write a study trying to justifying genocide. Damn you Xi!!!
As a result of this economic development, China’s birth rate is falling at rapid rates in all regions, which comes with its own set of problems, like an aging population – similar to what the U.S. is dealing with. So Chinese lawmakers are now pushing for the universal two-child policy to be changed to three.
But this rapture-ready fanatic Adrian Zenz isn’t the only source for these claims of genocide, right?
Well, Newsweek cites Adrian Zenz.
How about CNN: the self-described most trusted name in news? CNN says its reporting found that some Uyghur women were being forced to use birth control and undergo sterilization… There it is. Can’t argue with that.
…The article was “based on a report by Adrian Zenz.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum accuses China of crimes against humanity and genocide against Uighurs. They reference “leaked government documents” and “researchers,” presumably referring to Zenz.
Zenz and the Genocide Choir
With Zenz at the center, a cast of shady characters have promoted this disinformation to support the phony genocide claim:
- Rushan Abbas — former Pentagon contractor who worked for Radio Free Asia, a U.S. propaganda mouthpiece started by the CIA.
- Darren Byler — a fellow at the Wilson Center, which is funded by the U.S. government and a host of other NATO governments, big banks and corporations. His resume shows he has also been funded to the tune of 100,000 dollars through the U.S. Department of Education.
- He does panels with Louise Greve — the former vice president of the CIA cutout National Endowment for Democracy, who now runs the NED-funded Uyghur Human Rights Project.
- There’s Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson — this cold-warrior wrote an op-ed in the liberal interventionist Foreign Affairs magazine calling for Biden to confront China over human rights. What the hell are the people at Human Rights Watch smoking to believe the guy who just bombed Syria and sponsors Israel’s project of apartheid has a shred of crediblity on human rights?
- Then there’s the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – the self-declared independent, non-partisan think tank, which is totally dependent on funding from the Australian and American departments of defense, NATO, weapons makers, the Embassy of Japan, and the Embassy of Israel, among others.
2018 and the sudden “genocide” drumbeat
The Uighur genocide claim was virtually unheard of before 2018. Up until that point, Western media coverage of the issue was dramatically different.
By the 1980s, this separatist movement was becoming violent. In one 1997 incident, the Times reported on, about a thousand Muslim separatists of the Uighur ethnic minority rampaged through the town Yining on Wednesday, smashing cars, burning shops and beating up ethnic Chinese to protest Beijing’s rule.
In 1994, the Times reported that Uighur extremists were returning from Afghanistan, where the CIA spent a billion dollars arming what it called a “University of Jihad.” The Times noted that “Afghan veterans have fought in two western provinces, Uighur and Xinjiang, where they have armed and trained Chinese Muslim rebels.”
In the wake of the U.S. destruction of Yugoslavia, the Times noted the separatists fantasized about a NATO bombing campaign
This Uighur separatist movement, its violent anti-Han rampages, or the militants returning from Afghanistan are barely mentioned in any of the contemporary Times reports claiming genocide.
In 1981, The Washington Post wrote about growing ethnic tensions in Xinjiang, noting that “Peking has taken pains to ensure ethnic rights and elevate minority group members to leadership positions. In Xinjiang, a kind of affirmative action program has been started at the provincial university to guarantee that 60 percent of new students are from ethnic backgrounds.” Today, none of this gets mentioned in the Post’s coverage.
How about Newsweek? Back in 2000, it reported that Xinjiang was a weak point that threatened to fragment China along ethnic lines, that Uighur separatists threatened the security of Beijing, and some might even join forces with Islamic “holy warriors.” Now it’s all genocide, all the time.
With these misleading or outright false claims based on manipulated statistics, the only evidence for a Uighur genocide is anecdotal, which is hard to prove or disprove. But the testimony in Western media is often full of contradictions.
Take the case of Sayragul Sauytbay. In 2019, she told the UK tabloid The Daily Mail that she witnessed concentration camp “inmates being flayed, raped by guards in front of other prisoners, given injections that made them infertile and force-fed pork.” Keep in mind this is the same tabloid that has spent years peddling Islamophobic hysteria and once warned about Muslim fanatics hijacking the royal wedding. Sauytbay has told similar stories in more respectable newspapers like Foreign Policy, Haaretz and Deutsche Welle.
But back in 2018, Sauytbay told the Globe and Mail that “She did not personally see violence.” For some reason, she completely changed her story. Maybe she was fearful and traumatized, or maybe she falsified it. Apparently, none of the outlets that published her testimony bothered to check into that discrepancy.
Then there’s Tursunay Ziyawundun. She’s the central character in the forced-sterilization narrative cooked up by Adrian Zenz. She’s delivered teary testimonies for the BBC, CNN and Democracy Now. A few months before those reports, however, she told Buzzfeed News, “I wasn’t beaten or abused.” Again, why did she change her story? And why did all of these media outlets fail to do a basic check into her past statements?
In my research, the first mention of Uighur genocide took place back in 1997, when several so-called “Chinese dissidents” testified to Congress. One woman named Rizvangul Uighur claimed that China’s birth control policy involved murdering babies as soon as they were born. She said the one-child policy was so strictly enforced that “babies are being killed in [the] delivery room without seeing the mother’s face and world.”
Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) – a homophobic bigot from the Christian right – claimed that Uighur women “are often taken physically to the abortion mill. Forced abortions can be performed very late in pregnancy, even in the ninth month. Sometimes the baby’s skull is crushed with forceps as it emerges from the birth canal. Either the woman or her husband may then be forcibly sterilized.”
That’s the same Chris Smith who several months before was railing against abortion rights at the so-called March For Life rally and accusing Bill Clinton of murdering unborn children:
You are and your legacy will be abortion president. You know, mister president, that the scriptures admonish us to pray for those in authority. And we will be faithful to that. As believers we will pray and fast, and sincerely hope, that you reject the culture of death.”
Neither Rizvangul Uighur nor Smith bothered to mention that in 1997 Uighurs and other ethnic minorities were not subject to the one-child policy. So the birthrate in Xinjiang province was 19.66 – meaning there were nearly 20 births per 1,000 people. Meanwhile, in Beijing, the birthrate was 7.91.
Of course, there was a clear political goal in the bogus testimony delivered in Congress. It was coordinated to be released on the day that Bill Clinton met with President of China Jiang Zemin.
Members of Congress were demanding Clinton take a hardline approach to China, some even using racist epithets to warn of a Chinese invasion. “The White House will not wise up until there’s a full blown rice paddy on the east lawn,” warned Democratic Ohio Congressman James Traficant, whose career ultimately ended in a bribery conviction and expulsion from Congress.
After that, save for a couple of Voice of America articles, there was no mention in Western media about the Uighur genocide — until 2018.
The contemporary hypocritical propaganda barrage
It’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of American politicians taking up the supposed Uighur genocide cause are totally supportive of U.S.-sponsored genocides around the world. Like Chris Smith (yup, he’s still there).
The same Chris Smith who welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu with a statement of “unequivocal support for Israel” just a few months after it killed 551 Palestinian children in Gaza.
Or Florida Senator Rick Scott – also a bestie of the butcher of Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The neocon Michael Pillsbury – the same Michael Pillsbury who in the 1980s, as a state department official, oversaw the CIA’s arming of the Afghanistan mujahideen with Stinger missiles, the same mujahideen who would train Uighur jihadists.
The Uighur genocide is almost perfectly tailored for right-wing agitators who want to portray socialism as a totalitarian system akin to Nazism. “When people say ‘never again’ they were (sic) full of crap. They’re just full of crap. This is one area where the United States should be taking a leading role… shaving people’s heads, shipping them on trains and to concentration camps where you force them into labor and/or sterilize them,” declared Ben Shapiro.
“Many of them women who, of their own volition, had the Chinese government paramilitary forcefully end those pregnancies. Forcefully sterilize,” said Tim Pool. “They’re trying to sterilize the Uighur population but force the Han population genetic code into other Uighur women,” his fellow podcaster claimed.
Should I mention here that the U.S. government forcibly sterilized 1,400 Black women in a California prison? Haven’t seen any U.S. government officials or news media talk about that!
This propaganda deluge is having a powerful impact on U.S. public opinion. In 2017, just before the Uighur genocide narrative kicked into high gear, 53% of Americans had a favorable view of China – the highest in three decades. Now, a new poll shows it’s down to 20% – a historic low. That was accompanied by a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in U.S. cities.
Trillions of dollars worth of “caring”
So what is this all about? Why did corporate media and militaristic right wing politicians, along with a surprising number of progressive dupes, suddenly start freaking out about a supposed genocide in China?
Xinjiang is the heart of China’s Belt and Road initiative, the economic plan that connects Asia to Europe and the Middle East. It’s an alternative model to the dictatorship of the U.S. dollar, where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund turn countries into neo-colonies for American corporations – a system backed up with the constant threat of military invasion.
The U.S. can’t deal with legitimate competition, so it’s resorting to smears in an attempt to isolate China diplomatically and slow its economic growth.
It’s either that, or the government and military that forcibly sterilized minority women in prisons, tortured in Abu Ghraib, relies on prison labor, and is waging genocidal wars against multiple Muslim-majority countries, just simply cares a whole lot about the Uighurs.
Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera
Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000.