New Delhi: The Chinese oppression of Uyghur Muslims in occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang in China) has been known for years and has been well documented by human rights organizations, the media, and public institutions. More recently, the United States has viewed China’s heinous actions against the Muslim ethnic minority as modern genocide. A recent damning report from the Center of Global Policy also exposed China’s tactic of forcing Uyghur Muslims to manually pick cotton from the fields. Over the years, China has used all kinds of torture on Uyghurs, including physical torture, sexual abuse, and the violation of other human rights.
The issue of abuses against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang is gaining increasing attention following China’s disinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak in its initial stages. The international community has finally started to take notice of the plight of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan and has started to respond to human rights violations in China. In addition, the 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 have turned international sentiments against China.
India and East Turkestan have a centuries-old connection. Since the first century BC, the two regions have been linked by socio-cultural and economic relations, as well as by mutual exchanges. India’s trade and cooperation with East Turkestan began to decline after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army forcefully occupied the region in 1949 and brought it under Chinese rule. Interaction and trade with the region came to a halt after China forced India to close its consulate in Kashgar in 1953, which marked the end of a trade route and cultural bond that had existed since hundreds of years.
The Indian media have addressed the sensitive subject of Uyghur abuse in different ways. Indian media coverage on the issue of the fate of the Uyghurs, from September 2020 to February 05, 2021, was analyzed. During this period, only a few Indian media covered the Chinese actions against Uyghur Muslims and these can be reached by a quick keyword search for Uyghur Muslims and “Xinjiang”.
On the other hand, the major English press houses did not particularly cover the plight of Uyghur Muslims in occupied East Turkestan. Online-only media platforms, which are also gaining popularity in India and play an important role in keeping Indians well informed, were also lacking when it comes to content regarding the plight of Uyghur Muslims. When researching articles on the condition and treatment of Uyghurs in China, these platforms only had three to six articles within the allotted time frame. These platforms also contained stories of US, Canadian and British officials condemning the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in occupied East Turkestan, but again, no story highlighting the plight of the ethnic Muslim minority in China.
The reluctance of Indian media to oppose China is due to China’s increasing influence in India. This factor was brought to the fore when, late last year, a major Indian newspaper published a full-page infomercial commemorating the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The infomercial was full of praise for China and its actions, even at a time when the world grapples with Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist actions and countless human rights violations in its occupied territories. The infomercial also gave China the opportunity to spread its false narrative about Ladakh’s standoff with India and portrayed China as a global power in the fight against terrorism. The article was not well received by the Indian public, and many users pointed out that the infomercial was pure Chinese propaganda. Hidden and open advertisements are one of the means used by the Chinese to influence the foreign media to make their stories known to the international community.
Indian media coverage of issues relating to China has also been partial. Almost all of the major news houses have extensively covered the protests in Hong Kong but have almost ignored or barely mentioned the abuse suffered by Uyghurs in East Turkestan. Despite 2,500 years of harmonious history between India and the Uyghurs of East Turkestan, they seem to be noticed only in passing.
India’s complicated media relations with China are made more complex when India is directly involved. When aggressive Chinese actions in India’s border areas led to a tense standoff between the two countries, Indian media criticized the Indian government for not taking a tougher stance against China. However, the past few months have seen the Indian media fraternity assert that it is highly unlikely that India can disassociate itself from China and that it should continue to try to resolve matters through dialogue. This kind of inconsistency in how to deal with the growing threat from China is an aspect that still plagues the Indian media today.
Beijing also attempted to influence foreign media (including Indian media) by inviting foreign journalists. Participating journalists are hosted by the Chinese government and spend 10 months in one of Beijing’s most luxurious residences, the Jianguomen Diplomatic Compound. In addition, journalists are given free tours each month to Chinese provinces. This practice has continued since 2016. Prominent Indian media houses also participated and sent their journalists and staff to China. An Indian correspondent accredited to Beijing said that China’s initiative aims to manipulate the quality of foreign media coverage. An important factor to note is the possibility for China to offer similar bait to foreign politicians to influence their position.
The launch of this initiative in 2016 is no coincidence as it follows President Xi Jinpings’ appeal to Chinese and foreign media to tell the story of China well. In addition, the Belt and Road initiative announced in 2013 did not obtain sufficiently favorable responses for China either. Recognizing its growing negative perceptions around the world, Beijing is trying to influence and control the way foreign media projects China into the world, with the aim of deflecting the international community from its heinous 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 people must achieve national unity in terms of language, culture and even religion. Due to this mistaken notion, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has actively carried out ethnic cleansing of minority communities such as Turkish Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. According to reports and growing evidence, China has arbitrarily detained nearly one million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps which it conveniently referred to as vocational training centers. The international community also began to take note of the CCP’s appalling treatment of minorities and responded with resolutions, motions, and sanctions. In the face of such criticism, China has attempted to manipulate the narrative and label any criticism of its treatment of Uyghur 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 need to stay informed of the plight of Uyghurs in China so that the CCP is not able to act on it. impunity and continue to abuse the Uyghur community. We must not give China the opportunity to distort the narrative of its heinous treatment of Uyghurs. The CCP has tried similar tactics with regard to the coronavirus. China’s ploys to deflect blame and avoid criticism must be greeted 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 realized the true nature of China. The CCP cannot be allowed to act with impunity and commit genocide similar to the Jewish holocaust in the backyard of India.
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