In the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, Chinese took to social networks to voice their sympathy. Some, however, also criticised what they believed to be a “double standard” applied by the West for terror attacks occurring on Chinese soil.
On the sidelines of a G20 summit in Turkey, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed this frustration, saying there must be no international “double standard” on the “common enemy” of terrorism. Reporting Wang Yi’s remarks, the English-language China Daily said: “Due to their deep-rooted bias and double standard, some Western countries and their media refuse to recognise the violence and attacks masterminded by extremists in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region as acts of terrorism.”
In the following editorial, posted first in Chinese to Deutsche Welle, veteran Chinese journalist and former China Media Project fellow Chang Ping (长平) argues that in fact China applies its own double standard, and that its discriminatory ethnic polices and lack of transparency about them are the legitimate cause of international criticism.
THE DOUBLE STANDARD CAN END
By Chang Ping
On the very day of the Paris attacks, the Ministry of Public Security announced through an official Weibo account that “police in Xinjiang had destroyed a group of terrorists following a 56-day hunt.” It showed images of police carrying out the raid. But just as internet users were heaping praise on China’s counter-terrorism efforts, orders came down for the removal of the images and related posts from the internet and social media networks.
The act of domestic censorship did not, however, prevent Chinese internet users — encouraged by official state media spin — from sharply criticising Western media for their double standards in their reporting on the Xinjiang terrorist attacks. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Yi, even said during a G20 summit meeting in Turkey that, “There can be no double standards . . . China is also a victim of terrorism, and attacking the ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces represented by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement should become an important part of international counterterrorism.”
When minister Wang Yi, the state-run media and many Chinese internet users talk about a “double standard” in the West, they are referring to the way Western media generally take a critical stance against the media control tactics of the Chinese Communist Party and the government’s policies toward ethnic minorities.
But in fact, it is precisely because Western media do hold China to the same standard as other countries that they are so critical in their coverage. China’s government is always yammering on about how China’s “national circumstances” are unique. What is this if not a desire that the West holds China to a separate standard?
The short-lived Weibo post about China’s anti-terrorist activities in Xinjiang stated that a terrorist attack occurred back in September at a mine in Aksu, [in central-western Xinjiang], in which some 40 people were killed. The government, hoping the public would trust in the effectiveness of its anti-terrorism measures, refused to release the facts on the ground and prevented media from reporting the story. When information was released, this was only through the official Xinhua News Agency.
Try to imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Paris after the recent attacks.
What if the French government’s first move had been to forestall all media reporting with a stern order against any and all coverage? What if it had, with no mention whatsoever of the death toll, allowed only a trickle of official coverage about how how leaders were giving the case top priority, how they had ordered a full investigation and so on?
How would Western media have responded?
It should be obvious to everyone that media Western media would have criticised the French government with at least the same intensity as the criticisms levelled against China in the case of Xinjiang. In all probability, the blowback from the attempted restrictions would precipitate an end to the current French administration.
In the wake of September 11, American media slid into a stupor of nationalism, but this trend quickly came under criticism from scholars and other commentators. Today, many years later, this period in the American press provides a negative case study that is still hotly discussed and researched. Similarly, even as the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year prompted a wave of solidarity among Western leaders over counter-terrorism efforts, there were still many articles that took a more critical and reflective tone.
Another criticism levelled by Western media against the Chinese government concerns its discriminatory policies toward ethnic minorities. In this area, too, it is simply inaccurate to say that Western media have a double standard.
In response to terrorist attacks, mainstream public opinion in the West tends to balance against the simple and unfair lumping of Muslims, Arabs, Syrians or other national, ethic or religious categories together with “terrorists.” And yet, China’s government is itself in the habit of conflating the “terrorist” with the “separatist,” and there is nothing in the Party-controlled media to discourage the popular misconception that lumps these ideas together with Uyghur or Xinjiang people.
Here is one Weibo post that was widely praised: “When the attacks occurred in Paris, all of China united to voice support [for France]. When Xinjiang was attacked the entire country united in its rejection of Xinjiang people.” Of course, many people in Xinjiang are in fact Han Chinese, Kazakh or from other ethnic groups — but even if pointed at Uyghurs alone, these words are a classic example of ethnic prejudice. Ignorant statements like this are evidence of the kind of brainwashing by the Chinese government that Western media point to.
There’s no question that terrorist attacks against civilians must be answered firmly. But this does not mean that the ethnic policies of China’s government immune from criticism.
We can easily imagine another hypothetical situation in which there is within France a designated ethnic minority region with ostensible autonomy, but in which minority people are not permitted even to hold top government offices, where they live under military and special police occupation, where their religious observances are restricted, where they can be harshly sentenced for wearing beards or veils, where they need special permits to travel anywhere, where they cannot be served in certain hotels, bars and Internet cafes. And how would Western media treat such a story? Naturally, they would heap criticism on the French government. The response would be every bit as harsh as what we see meted out to China today.
There are certainly right-wing extremists in Western societies, and in recent years they have arguably been more active and vocal. They have their own media platforms, and there you can witness their verbal attacks against foreigners and minorities. They can form their own organisations and plan public marches. They can even establish political parties and make bids for power. But in Western societies where public opinion is open, mainstream opinion and the dominant political forces generally oppose these virulent strains and remain alert to danger they represent. More often than not, these extremists, rather than the minority groups they target, become the focus of police actions.
China has called on Western media to apply a unified standard, and this demand should be supported. This demands first that the Chinese Communist Party hold itself to the same standards as political parties in the West, and that the Chinese government abides by universal human rights standards. Otherwise, how can we talk about a single standard?