Another unprofessional performance by Four Corners, this time on Xinjiang

Aug 27, 2022
Map of People's Republic of China where Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region province is pulled out
Image: iStock

Several weeks ago Four Corners gave us a special program about Xinjiang Uyghurs sent to prison-style camps and forced to learn Chinese. I watched it recently as a rebroadcast.

I was once sent to an Australian military camp to learn Chinese, at Pt. Cook near Melbourne. Conditions were fairly severe. Eight hours a day, five days a week. Much memorisation. Constant exams. Weekends off but travel restricted.

No one complained, even though the standard we reached was well below that expected of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Chinese is a difficult language. After a year of constant study we could barely put sentences together.

Yet if Xinjiang is to function as a part of China somehow the population there has to become reasonably fluent in the language, while retaining their own language.

Both the Chinese authorities and the Uyghurs deserve sympathy as they grapple with the language problem.

In Xinjiang there was a further problem. In the ABC program we were told about the 2009 riots in Urumchi, capital city of Xinjiang, with 200 citizens killed in cold blood. For some reason we were not told that the killers were all Uyghurs. And that the victims were all Han Chinese. This attack was followed by similar anti-Han killing incidents elsewhere in China.

One can understand some reasons for Uyghur discontent – cultural differences, Han Chinese flooding into Xinjiang province, the inability of non -Chinese speaking Uyghurs to get jobs in Chinese owned factories. But some Uyghur hostility also has roots in the East Turkestan liberation movement dating back to the thirties and designated as a terrorist movement by the US. The movement had long sought the Xinjiang separation from China, by force if necessary.

In this situation some crackdown by Chinese authorities was inevitable. And Chinese authorities sometimes are not gentle in their crackdowns, even with their own citizens, as we saw in recent Covid lockdowns. If they could imprison their own citizens for months on end to exterminate the Covid danger, is it too surprising if they set out harshly to suppress all and any suspected hints of Uyghur separatism in the wake the 2019 killings?

Nor should it be surprising that if they are going to lock up suspected separatists for extended periods then they will also use the chance to teach them Chinese.

Four Corners gave no hint of impartiality or balance in its choice of speakers. That is very typical of almost all Australian Media in dealing with China. None of the Westerners seemed to know or speak Chinese. None seemed to have direct experience of Xinjiang, a land where most Western visitors claim impressive progress despite the alleged harshness of the regime.

Special attention was given to one Adrian Zenz, an Austrian academic from the little-known, religion-oriented US Jamestown University which claims no involvement in Asian languages or studies. Zenz is a favourite source of information about alleged Chinese genocide in Xinjiang for Western anti-China agencies, yet seems to have no direct sources of information.

His main qualification seems to be a background in European anti-communist studies. He does not seem to be able to speak or read Chinese.

Surely Four Corners can do better than this.

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