The release from the UN Human Rights Office on Wednesday of a report pointing to “serious human rights violations” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region came with the Chinese government’s anger baked right in. A state response shared by the UN in its release said the report “wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
China vented its fury again yesterday during a regular foreign ministry press conference. Asked what steps the government would take to address the concerns raised by the UN, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin waved the report off as a “so-called assessment,” alleging that it had been “orchestrated and produced by the US and some Western forces.” Its real objective, he said repeatedly, was to “contain China.”
Reacting to the response, international media outlets made fury a part of the story. China had “lashed out,” reported the Washington Post. France24 spoke of China’s “furious riposte.” And an Associated Press story shared on scores of sites had everyone asking: “Why is China so angry?”
But perhaps the most revealing fact to note today, 48 hours after the release of the Xinjiang report, is that there has been almost no reporting at all inside China. If the external messaging of the China’s leadership has been all about pique, its internal messaging has been about creating a vacuum.
Today’s edition of the official People’s Daily, which might have reported the foreign ministry response, or even offered a rebuttal from the leading pen name in Party fury on international issues, “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), was silent on the question of Xinjiang. A search for “Xinjiang human rights report” in the WiseSearch database, which covers hundreds of Chinese-language newspapers as well as related websites and wire services, returns 127 articles today including the phrase, 13 from publications and 114 from websites. None of these sources are inside China.
There is nothing from the official Xinhua News Agency in Chinese. There is nothing from Xinhua in English, for that matter. There is nothing in China Dailyin Chinese.
The only front-page mention of Xinjiang today at China Daily in English is an article, tucked away in the corner of the homepage, by Adnan Akfirat, a Representative to China and Member of International Relations Bureau of Patriotic Party of Turkey. Called “No More Tarnishing Xinjiang,” the article is a personal tale of Akfirat’s experiences in Xinjiang. “[In] China, thanks to socialism with Chinese characteristics, the Uygurs, including Uygur women, can study the subjects of their choice, as well as master and develop their language, enrich their culture and modernize themselves by learning from the progressive aspects of Islam,” he writes.
It is possible that China’s state media will find the words — furious ones? — in the days to come. But the silence tells its own story, of Xinjiang as a matter so sensitive to China’s leadership that the only voices permitted to speak are the megaphones intended for external audiences.
Which is why, of course, we have heard from the English-language edition of the Global Times. After an initial response on Wednesday, another story in English yesterday from the paper’s website again relayed the Chinese government view, that the Xinjiang report is a “patchwork of disinformation” and a “political tool” for the United States.