On a cool day in late March this year, more than a hundred guests filed into a photo exhibition on South Korea’s Jeju Island, a popular holiday destination. The images on display in the hall were not of the island’s impressive lava tube system, which in 2007 earned World Heritage Site status. Nor did they explore Jeju’s rich and colorful shamanistic traditions.

Not about Jeju Island at all, the exhibition showcased the beauty and appeal of a region far away in China’s northwest, where the UN Human Rights Office has said that the Chinese government’s treatment of ethnic Uyghurs may constitute crimes against humanity. In smiling rejection of a preponderance of supporting facts, the title of the Jeju exhibition said it all: “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” (新疆是个好地方).

Facing tough criticism globally of its harsh crackdown in the Xinjiang region, where first-hand accounts from Uyghurs have corroborated accusations of human rights abuses from international organizations and the United Nations, China has pushed back with a concerted campaign of global propaganda. This has included guided tours for foreign journalists (front-loaded with official lectures), television co-productions focusing on culture and tourism, carefully planned diplomatic junkets, and even a broad and elaborate campaign of pre-planned videos from purported residents in the far-flung northwestern region.

The photo exhibition on Jeju Island further underscores the extreme lengths to which China will go to take the case of its innocence, and even benevolence, in Xinjiang directly to foreign populations.

Portraits of Peace and Happiness

Images showcased at the exhibition, focused on the natural beauty of Xinjiang and on colorful cultural elements such as Uyghur music and traditional dance, sought to portray the region as peaceful and prosperous. In a speech opening the event, China’s local consul general, Wang Luxin (王鲁新), told those gathered that Xinjiang had in recent years enjoyed “sustained economic development, social harmony and stability,” and that the lives of people in the region had immeasurably improved.

The photo exhibition was accompanied by a tourism promotion event, encouraging businesses and tour groups to visit Xinjiang and seek mutual opportunities.

In a further sign of the importance China attaches to such efforts at media diplomacy on Xinjiang and other key propaganda efforts, a report on the event was promoted on page three of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper on March 25.

The photo exhibition followed another China-sponsored event in Jeju, the South Korea-China Youth Dialogue Forum, on November 30 last year, co-hosted with a local news agency on the island. That event was planned by the South Korea-China Youth Friendship Association (韩中青年友好协会), a legal entity registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea that maintains a close relationship with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The association was previously known as the Northeast Korea Cultural Exchange Association (韩国东北文化交流协会), which according to the Chinese Embassy in South Korea has historically held "wide-ranging friendly exchanges and cooperation with relevant associations, localities, and enterprises in China."

Local Outreach on a Global Scale

Official Chinese live events under the “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” banner have been held in numerous locations globally over the past few years — including Russia, Liberia, Cameroon (and other African nations), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Osaka, Hong Kong, and Macau. A video advertisement on the propaganda theme, produced by the state-run China News Service, was pushed to users of TikTok in July last year.

In July 2022, a “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” video conference was held in the Tunisian capital, highlighting the “prosperity and progress” experienced in the region. The event, which gathered Tunisian government officials, journalists, and think-tank representatives for presentations on government development policies and life in Xinjiang, emphasized that events in Xinjiang are a matter of China’s internal affairs (中国内政).

"Recently, I read on the internet that America and Western countries say that we in Xinjiang are subjected to 'forced labor,’ and this big lie has made me very angry,” one speaker on video, identified in state media reports as a local worker from Xinjiang, told China’s Tunisian guests. "It has been my dream since I was a child to earn money for a better life through the skills I have learned and hard work, and there is no need for forced labor."

A similar event to that on Jeju Island was held in Belgium in December 2021, billed as “Xinjiang Online Culture and Tourism Week.” Like the recent South Korean event, it included both images and themed propaganda short videos on Xinjiang’s natural beauty and rich culture, and on its continued economic development.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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