A long-awaited report released yesterday by the United Nations on the human rights situation in Xinjiang concludes that China’s actions in the region “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” The report, published along with a strongly-worded “state response” from China, was seen by international human rights groups as a vindication, and as “groundbreaking.” “We can breathe a sigh of relief,” one rights researcher wrote.
How have media inside China responded? With blistering silence.
A search for “Xinjiang human rights report” (新疆人权报告) in the WiseSearch database, which covers hundreds of Chinese-language newspapers as well as related websites and wire services, turns up 101 articles today. But just one is from mainland China. This is a post to Toutiao by an economics professor from Chongqing University of Technology, who dismisses the report as a “smokescreen” with “no credible evidence.”
“As we all know,” the professor writes, “Xinjiang has developed rapidly and made great achievements in recent years under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the government.”
Surely China’s major news services must have responded? Or People’s Daily Online, perhaps, the website under the CCP’s flagship newspaper? If all else fails we can surely expect a few words — and harsh ones at that — from the ever-faithful Global Times?
The only results returned at all are a pair of articles from the official China News Service, the first about how US hegemony is harming “digital human rights” globally, the second mentioning “the West’s manufacture of rumors about so-called human rights [problems] in Xinjiang.”
It is safe to assume that the Chinese Communist Party is loading its propaganda blunderbuss, and the next 24-48 hours should bring a torrent of commentaries — including one, perhaps, from “Zhong Sheng” (钟声) in the People’s Daily.
But while we wait, it might be a helpful exercise to look at how China has been talking about human rights in recent weeks and months, and what this reveals about how China engages on human rights issues through international institutions like the UN.
The Civil Society Front
As the focus at China News Service suggests, one of China’s primary tactics on human rights is to attack the record of the United States and its allies in the West.
In December last year, state media widely reported on the release by the China Society for Human Rights Studies (中国人权研究会) of a report called “Politicization of Human Rights by the United States Undermines the Foundations of Good Human Rights Governance.” In April this year, another report, “Anti-Asian Racial Discrimination Rises to the Surface to Confirm the Nature of Racist Society in America,” laid out instances of anti-Asian discrimination. The report was once again prepared and publicized by the China Society for Human Rights Studies.
Most recently, the CCP’s flagship People’s Daily reported along with other state media in early July that the China Society of Human Rights had released a new report called “US Commits Grave Human Rights Violations in the Middle East and Elsewhere.”
Who exactly is this group, the China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS)?
The CSHRS refers to itself as “the largest national non-governmental organization in the field of human rights in China,” and “a national academic organization in the field of human rights in China.” It notes in an introduction on its website that it “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO).”
The group is “active in human rights studies,” and it “endeavors to popularize human rights knowledge in an effort to raise the awareness of the importance of human rights throughout society.” The introduction also explains that CSHRS funding comes mainly from the China Foundation for Human Rights Development (中国人权发展基金会), or CFHRD.
CFHRD calls itself a “public foundation.” But it also states unambiguously in its formal charter from 1994 that “the business unit in charge is the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (Information Office of the State Council).”
These organizations have sought to present themselves as being broadly representative of an alternative vision of human rights, one supported by Chinese society and to be taken seriously in the field of human rights studies. They have inserted themselves into international human rights governance, trading on their supposed status as “non-governmental organizations.” But their direct connection to the Central Propaganda Department, the heart of the CCP’s perception machine, underscores the fact that they are little more than a civil society front for the CCP’s global human rights agenda, meant to distract from criticisms of China’s human rights abuses.