Rainbow alert on China

Mar 18, 2023

Crikey sets its sights on “human rights abuse” of China’s LGBTQI+ community relying on a single source for its investigation – the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The recent Nine Newspapers “Red Alert” series was lambasted from many quarters, including Crikey whose David Hardaker called the report “alarmist” and an “insight into the kind of pompous, khaki hyperbole that captures government after government and defence minister after defence minister”.

Now Crikey has cooked up ‘rainbow hyperbole’ with the almost equally alarmist title of “China’s Queer Purge”. Passed off as a Crikey “investigation” the series is not a product of staff writers, rather freelance writer Tom Canetti, who at least disclosed his source: “an analyst from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) who provided research for this investigation”.

That appears to be where the honesty ends.

The nature of the alleged persecution of China’s LGBTQI+ community represents an outrage and gross abuse of human rights; but how true are the allegations?

In truth, the real outrage should be directed at Crikey’s editorial team for allowing Canetti, a relatively junior journalist with a track record of stories attacking China, who’d never before written for their publication, to produce this inflammatory series.

The bare facts

Before a detailed critique of the ASPI-driven “Queer Purge” series, it is pertinent to establish a few important facts.

China—where the government arguably operates the world’s most extensive internet censorship program—is home to at least half a dozen gay dating apps. In fact, its most popular, Blued has 60 million members making it the biggest gay dating app in the world.

Homosexuality is celebrated in Chinese ancient literature. One classic, The Passion of the Cut Sleeve, the 2,000-year-old story of Han Dynasty emperor Liu Xin and his relationship with another man, is studied in Chinese high schools.

UK website travelgay.com identifies numerous gay friendly attractions in China and promotes China holidays specifically for LGBTQI+ travellers. Another UK website, The Gay Passport recommends a number of Shanghai’s gay bars as a great place to meet the city’s “strong local gay community that frequents them”. Even the Economist has reported “Beijing has a remarkable gay nightlife”.

A number of Chinese state-owned and operated hospitals provide gender affirmation surgery. While one of China’s most revered celebrities, Jin Xing who is known universally as “China’s Oprah” hosts a variety talk show with over 100 million viewers — she is transgender.

A cultural issue hardly confined to China

There is a cultural stigma attached to homosexuality in China and this is a far more confronting issue than alleged government crackdowns. As with many similar cultures, particularly east Asian cultures like Korea and Japan, parents have enormous expectations of their children, which are often unrealistic and cause great anxiety for young people who don’t fall in line with accepted social norms.

Crikey reports trans people in China are at enormous risk of suicide, pinning the blame squarely on the CCP. Yet research in Japan shows almost half of young people identifying as LGBTQI+ have been suicidal, with more than one in ten having attempted to take their own lives.

Other reports suggest almost identical statistics in the United States where a young LGBTQI+ person will attempt suicide every 45 seconds.

Nowhere in the west is the cultural stigmatisation of the gay community any harsher than the United States, whose foreign and military polices are driven to the extreme by ASPI.

Gay conversion therapy remains widespread in the US with one report estimating a staggering 698,000 Americans have undergone the process, 350,000 of whom were adolescents, many as young as 13. And, it’s worth noting, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who presided over a 367% increase in State Department funding to ASPI, is famously anti-same sex marriage.

Fanciful reporting and unsupported ‘facts’

The first of the three-part series, entitled “Inside China’s LGBTQIA+ re-education camps: survivors claim shock treatment and beatings”, relies on unnamed sources. Given the disclosure, ASPI analyst, Daria Impiombato provided the research, it might be safe to assume the alleged survivors spoke to her not Canetti or Crikey.

The purported survivor accounts seem somewhat fanciful, with one claiming to have multiple siblings, plausible but nonetheless a very rare exception for families in the one-child policy era.

That person, a transgender woman, claims she was able to escape forced detention by fleeing her home through its garage leading to a series of tunnels that “connects to the entire neighbourhood”.

How many homes could link to extensive tunnel networks beneath entire neighbourhoods, with China’s authoritarian officials blissfully unaware of their existence?

According to Crikey, she fled to a rural part of China to avoid detection. Surely the one place an LGBTQI+ person is going to stand out is a small town.

The story names multiple schools suspected of being fronts for prison-like detention centres. It reports all have connections to the Chinese government. School education in China is provided free by the government, so of course every school has “connections” to the government.

Courtesy of ASPI, the Shandong Wangkang Education Training School, in China’s east, is identified as a “re-education camp” and there is link to its website. That website reports the school treats children, voluntarily admitted by their parents, for internet addiction. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is classified right across medical literature as a mental disorder. Australia has a number of IAD treatment clinics, and it is widely regarded as a gateway disorder to gambling addiction—a fact Australia’s all powerful poker machine lobby would be all over.

Save for the Crikey article, there is a not a single reference on Google to this school being a re-education camp or otherwise. The only reference, anywhere in the world, to this being a “horror” camp guilty of mass “torture” is ASPI.

Another “re-education” camp is the Nan Ying Vocation High School where young students are “handcuffed”, subject to regular beatings, sleep deprivation and torture. Once again, save for ASPI’s claim, zero references to such treatment can be found on the internet.

ASPI’s view from above

Canetti’s story mentions, and quickly glosses over, the fact there is not a single photograph of the alleged network of torture camps. This despite his identification of at least half a dozen re-education schools allegedly having (mis)treated more than 13,000 students.

Enter ASPI’s satellite detection team providing a sinister looking satellite image of a school in Shandong province, with analyst Nathan Ruser claiming it bears the hallmarks of “highly securitised” camps elsewhere in China.

ASPI’s ‘proprietary’ image is of Weifang city in Shandong, satellite imagery of which can easily be found on Google Maps. In order to hammer home the point Crikey links its satellite image to a Chinese website showing a video of a building compound that appears entirely congruous with ASPI’s image.

There are no barbed wire fences or watchtowers, rather tree-lined pathways, manicured gardens, spacious classrooms, a 400-metre athletics track and a full-sized football pitch.

A number of these schools do operate as quasi junior military academies, which is no proof of ASPI’s claimed torture. The United States operates more than 80 military schools and academies, half of which are explicitly identified as being for troubled youth.

No link to reality

Claims made in the Crikey report are ‘substantiated’ with numerous web links, some Chinese, others mostly from US-based or funded groups.

In one instance the article points readers to reports from two local Chinese government websites, lifting what Crikey asserts are direct quotes about a crackdown on “illegal transgender people”, neither of those reports has any such mentions.

Yet another decoupling from reality is a line about, “A 2017 national survey [on transgender people in China]”. The first words of the attached weblink are, “There are currently no national surveys.”

This three-part series is not a serious investigation, rather looks more like a concerted effort from ASPI to peddle lies and half-truths, prey on the anxieties of LGBTQI+ people, and use them as vehicle to attack the Chinese government.

It’s de rigueur for ASPI, Crikey should know much better.

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