The Australian Institute for Strategic Policy (ASPI) released a report on March 1 this year titled “Uyghurs for Sale” containing the topic of re-education, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang. The authors of this lengthy report attempted to demonstrate an untenable conclusion by garbling and fact distorting, which is accused by the Chinese officials and the public for charging the Chinese government with the fake evidence. It is obvious that ASPI and the authors aimed to demean China and to stigmatize the Chinese government’s policies on Xinjiang.
As the impact of the ASPI report, many members of the US Congress have jointly proposed the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act”, and then US President Trump has signed the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020” into law. On July 10, 2020, the U.S. Customs seized a batch of products exported from Xinjiang to the U.S. on the grounds of “forced labor”. The action drew forth China’s fierce opposition.
ASPI used to be a less eye-catching research body over the years. Formed in 2001, it claims to be an independent, non-partisan research think tank. Its purpose is to provide the Australian government with fresh ideas on Australia’s defense, security and strategic policy choices. ASPI is responsible for informing the public on a range of strategic issues, generating new thinking for the government and harnessing strategic thinking internationally. According to its annual report, among the yearly funding of more than 9 million Australian dollars, 4 million dollars is provided by the Australian Department of Defense, and the rest comes from many other countries and regions, including not only the governments and organizations of NATO countries such as the USA and the UK, but also apparatus in Japan and Taiwan, which are all stakeholders actively seeking strategic interests in Asia-Pacific region and containing China’s influence, judging from the background of the sponsors.
According to an article on the US website “Gray Zone”, ASPI and the Center for International Strategic Studies (CSIS), headquartered in Washington, D.C., are the main institutions engaging in forced labor research. A new wave of media reports on Chinese forced labor relies almost entirely on a series of dubious studies by purportedly “independent” think tanks backed by the West’s military-intelligence apparatus.
Therefore, ASPI is not a politically neutral strategic research body, but a political intelligence agency filled with Western values and long-standing prejudice against China.
The Chinese government has enumerated plenty of examples proofing that Xinjiang was once a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism in China. From 1990 to 2016, the separatist forces launched thousands of violent terrorist incidents in Xinjiang, killing a large number of innocent people and hundreds of police officers, government bodies were attacked, and property damage could not be estimated. The Chinese government realizes that due to the lagging development of economy, society, and education in Xinjiang, Xinjiang, especially in southern part of Xinjiang, has a large number of “three-blind people” which means people who are illiterate, legal illiterate, and teaching illiterate. Some ethnic minorities whose thoughts are poisoned can easily become victims of international hostility force, anti-China and separatist forces. This is why the Chinese government has made great efforts to control the situation in Xinjiang. The government believes that Xinjiang issue is not about human rights, but about anti terrorism and anti secession.
The Chinese government has been working hard in Xinjiang in recent years to fight terrorism and maintain stability, and the success of the governance of Xinjiang, especially the southern part of Xinjiang is pretty obvious. There have been no violent terrorist incidents in Xinjiang over the past 4 years. From 2016 to 2018, Xinjiang created 1.4 million jobs, and 8.3 million rural surplus laborers have transferred jobs; from 2018 to 2020, 100,000 people in southern part of Xinjiang were transferred to new jobs. Nine-year compulsory education has been implemented, and three years of free pre-school education has been realized in southern part of Xinjiang, full coverage of medical insurance and continuous improvement of people’s lives has been achieved. Xinjiang is in best period of prosperity and development in its history.
Western countries do not have adequate understanding of the reality of Xinjiang and are reluctant to treat Xinjiang with a correct attitude. Western media habitually views the Chinese government’s policy with prejudices and tainted glasses, which has resulted in the internationalization and stigma of Xinjiang issue. It is a difficult problem the Chinese government is facing, which can probably tackled by inviting outside world to visit Xinjiang to learn more about it. Since 2018, thousands of foreign envoys, officials of international organizations and media have visited Xinjiang. Forty-six countries positively evaluated Xinjiang’s development progress at the UN Human Rights Council in July this year and supported China’s stance on Xinjiang-related issues.
Unfortunately, based on in-depth analysis to ASPI’s Xinjiang report, we found a common defects: the report authors heavily rely on satellite imagery to interpret things in Xinjiang from the starting point of a preset position.
In November 2018, an ASPI report entitled “Mapping Xinjiang’s ‘re-education’ camps” used some satellite imagery to show the size changes of facilities at different times to assert how the “Uyghurs concentration camps” have expanded, thus concluded that the Chinese government keeps detaining Uyghurs, forcing education and labor, etc. We have noticed that the Chinese government has been carrying out anti-terrorism education and vocational training in Xinjiang, performing various methods to eliminate extremist thought to let people return to a normal life. Returning to a normal life needs to help people master basic life skills, and providing vocational training and job opportunities is part of Xinjiang’s stability. But such this sort of permanent cure efforts against terrorism have been misread by Western media and think tanks as “concentration camps” and “forced labor.” This is the focus of some debates.
We noticed that in the above ASPI report, ASPI specifically mentioned that a Chinese named Shawn Zhang contributed a lot to this research. However, Shawn Zhang, whose background is unknown, has a history of making false statements using satellite imagery. Recently, a Chinese named Sun Feiyang who works in a bank in the United States revealed that Shawn Zhang maliciously interpreted a satellite imagery on Twitter last year, claiming that the Eitika Mosque located in Keriya Town, Xinjiang, which has a history of more than 800 years, was demolished in early 2018. His Tweet was immediately quoted by Western media to accuse the Chinese government. But a few weeks later, Shawn Zhang himself discovered the error and corrected it to be the north gate of the mosque that was removed for expansion. The Western media did not mention his correction, but continued to use this satellite imagery as a “strong evidence” to denounce the Chinese government. In fact, people visiting Xinjiang in March 2020 found that the north gate of the mosque was converted into a new square. New buildings and widened roads surround the mosque from south to east.
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the main writer of the ASPI report on Xinjiang in March this year is a researcher at ASPI’s Cyber Policy Center. She used to be a journalist for the New York Times Sydney Bureau and ABC’s Asia Pacific newsroom in Melbourne. She’s also a stand-up comedian and delivered the 2019 chaser lecture, but unsuccessful for entry for the Next Chapter. This ambitious lady, a “traitor” in the eyes of Chinese netizens, was accused of not having the academic ability and professional background to engage in relevant research. She is described as a “show-off lady”, trying to seek the limelight by fabricating stories to smear China.
In the Xinjiang report, she and her team arbitrarily interpreted satellite imagery and some Xinjiang photos to expose how the Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. They aim to strongly suggest that under forced labor, Uyghurs make products for many international brands.
The “Grey Zone” website stated that stories about “forced labor” against China are promoting Cold War public relations, and the main basis for these ASPI reports comes from an evangelical religion that is promoted as a “famous Xinjiang expert” Enthusiast Adrian Zenz, who claims to be “God granted him an anti-China mission”, is a far-right fundamentalist and eschatologist member at the Memorial Foundation for the Victims of Communism. His questionable but incendiary accusations against China have led to the Western press crowing him as the leading international expert on Xinjiang. His most recent claims of “forced labor” were published by a “journal” founded and managed by US and NATO military operatives. A closer look at the reports issued by these institutions will reveal that they are heavily biased and lack credibility. Western media deliberately ignored this when describing China as the country with the worst human rights situation in the world.
There is no think tank that can be called neutral. The background of ASPI shows it has a strong anti-communist attribute. The researchers and evidence it uses are all anti-communist themes that serve the Cold War mentality.