#BannedByBeijing: Monitoring Chinese censorship abroad

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”117061″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Threats to free speech and free expression come in many guises. In the year since I’ve joined the team at Index, I’ve used this blog to highlight issues as diverse as journalists being assassinated in Afghanistan to the threats of new British legislation on online harms.

One of recurring themes of my blogs has been the way in which authoritarian regimes and groups use every tool at their disposal to repress their populations. From Belarus to Myanmar, from Modi to Trump, we’ve seen global leaders act against their own populations to hold onto power and stop dissent.

For an organisation such as Index it would be easy to think that our job was solely to highlight the worst excesses of these despots, to shine a spotlight on their actions and to celebrate the work and activities of those inspirational people who stand up against this tyranny. And of course, that’s exactly what we were founded to do. But as the world moves on and technology and finance facilitate new ways of communicating to the world, Index also has a responsibility to investigate, analyse and expose the impact of some countries beyond their borders.

Over the course of the last year, Index’s attention has been drawn to the fact that there have been multiple high-profile examples of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) using its influence beyond its border in order to manipulate the world’s view of China and what it means to be Chinese:

Since the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in June 2020, universities in the UK and in the US have reportedly had to change the way they teach certain courses – grading papers by number not name, asking students to present anonymised work of others so nothing can be attributed to an individual student and limited debate in lectures. All in order to make sure that the students are protected, and their families aren’t targeted at home in China.

In September 2020 Disney released a new film – Mulan. This film not only represents Mulan as Han Chinese rather than Mongolian as she likely was in the legend, but it was also filmed, in part, in Xinjiang province, home of the persecuted Uighur community. Seemingly an effort to change the narrative on the ongoing Uighur genocide happening in Xinjiang.

In October 2020, a scheduled exhibition on Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire in Nantes, France was postponed – not because of Covid19 but because the CCP reportedly attempted to change the narrative of the exhibition, attempting to rewrite history.

It is clear that the CCP is using soft (sharp) power in a concerted effort to censor dissent and to create a narrative that is in keeping with Xi Jinping’s vision in an effort to secure international  support for the CCP, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. We have no idea how strategic or vast this level of censorship is. What we do know is that it is happening across Europe and beyond.

It is in this vein that I’m delighted to be able to tell you about a new workstream for Index:

#BannedbyBeijing will seek to analyse and expose the extent to which China is trying to manipulate the conversation abroad.

Next week I’m delighted that we have an amazing panel to get the ball rolling and to establish how big an issue this is.

So join Mareike Ohlberg, Tom Tugendhat MP, Edward Lucas and our Chair Trevor Phillips, on Wednesday as they start this vital conversation. You can sign up here >> https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/banned-by-beijing-is-china-censoring-europe-tickets-162403107065[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“The CCP will one day fall” – Ma Jian’s words give us hope


“When governments collaborate with totalitarian regimes committing atrocities, they grow richer, they get faster technology. But when they slowly discover that freedom of speech is growing smaller then this wealth, this technology, is meaningless”

 Ma Jian


Even in the middle of a global pandemic there has been one country that has broken through the news cycle – China. The acts of the Chinese government in recent years are a true cause for global concern. From Hong Kong to Tibet, from Xinjiang to Inner Mongolia we are all witnessing the actions of an authoritarian regime, one that seemingly thinks little of human rights or of its citizens. To the outside observer the Chinese government seems more interested in quashing dissent, re-writing history and bending the rest of the world to fit its narrative, than it does on embracing core human values.

Index has written extensively over many years about the impact of this within China, the effect on media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom online. We’ve highlighted the work of incredibly brave dissidents demanding democracy in Hong Kong. We’ve featured the words of Uighur poets, the writings and musings of Ai Weiwei and the amazing work of organisations like GreatFire who every day challenge the firewall that the Chinese government has erected, restricting their citizens access to global information.

But the Chinese government is more than an authoritarian government. It is a government built on the ideology and infrastructure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This year marks the centenary of the CCP and in the latest edition of Index on Censorship magazine we’ve focused on the impact of the CCP both at home and abroad. Of the many features in our special report, what is most touching, at least for me, are the beautiful words of Ma Jian, the acclaimed writer in exile. Ma Jian reflects on the impact of the CCP on his life and why he has to live in exile.

When Index on Censorship was launched, one of our founders, Stephen Spender, was adamant that it was going to be more than a frustration sheet, we were going to be a home for amazing writing that inspired and moved us. Ma Jian’s words did exactly that, which he did once again when he spoke at the launch of the magazine on Wednesday.

His personal testimony will haunt me, his words were beautiful and reminded me once again of the vital importance of our work. Please take a minute to read Ma Jian in his own words, he will inspire you.

And to enter the bank holiday on a positive note, a few more words of hope from Ma Jian.

“The CCP will one day fall because it is not in tune with the values of humanity.”

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Xinjiang: “I have no regrets on speaking out”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116480″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Last week, the Chinese government outlined sanctions against nine British individuals and three organisations for daring to speak out about what is going on in Xinjiang.

Those affected by the sanctions are former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Nus Ghani from the business select committee, Neil O’Brien, head of the Conservative policy board and China Research Group officer, Tim Loughton of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, crossbench peer David Alton, Labour peer Helena Kennedy QC and barrister Geoffrey Nice.

The only individual not from the political sphere is Dr Joanne Smith Finley, Reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University.

The organisations include the China Research Group, the Conservative Human Rights Commission and Essex Court Chambers.

China made the move after the British government imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials and one organisation last Monday: Zhu Hailun, former secretary of the political and legal affairs committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR); Wang Junzheng, deputy secretary of the party committee of XUAR; Wang Mingshan, secretary of the political and legal affairs committee of XUAR; Chen Mingguo, vice chairman of the government of the XUAR, and director of the XUAR public security department; and the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps – a state-run organisation responsible for security and policing in the region.

A statement from Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien on behalf of the China Research Group said, “Ultimately this is just an attempt to distract from the international condemnation of Beijing’s increasingly grave human rights violations against the Uyghurs. This is a response to the coordinated sanctions agreed by democratic nations on those responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. This is the first time Beijing has targeted elected politicians in the UK with sanctions and shows they are increasingly pushing boundaries.

“It is tempting to laugh off this measure as a diplomatic tantrum. But in reality it is profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping.”

Commenting on China’s decision, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics. If Beijing want to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to verify the truth.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims.  Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”

Newcastle University academic Dr Joanne Smith Finley believes she has been sanctioned because of her “ongoing research speaking the truth about human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang”

“In short, for having a conscience and standing up for social justice,” she said.

She said, “That the Chinese authorities should resort to imposing sanctions on UK politicians, legal chambers, and a sole academic is disappointing, depressing and wholly counter-productive.”

Dr Smith Finley has studied China for many years.

“I began my journey to become a ‘China Hand’ in 1987, when I enrolled at Leeds University to read modern Chinese studies. My first year spent in Beijing in 1988-89 – during which I also experienced the ‘Tianan’men incident’ – ensured that China entered my bloodstream forever, and the city became my second home,” she said. “I later focused on the situation in the Uyghur homeland (aka Xinjiang), to which I made a series of field trips, long- and short-term-, between 1995 and 2018.”

Dr Smith Finley said since taking up her post at Newcastle University in 2000, she has worked tirelessly to introduce students from the UK, Europe and beyond to the world of Chinese society and politics.

“I have prepared successive student cohorts for their immersion in Chinese culture, and have visited our students each year in situ across five Chinese cities,” she said.

“When China applies political sanctions to me, it thus stands to lose an erstwhile ally,” she said. “Since 2014, I have watched in horror the policy changes that led to an atmosphere of intimidation and terror across China’s peripheries, affecting first Tibet and Xinjiang, and now also Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia.”

“In Xinjiang, the situation has reached crisis point, with many scholars, activists and legal observers concluding that we are seeing the perpetration of crimes against humanity and the beginnings of a slow genocide. In such a context, I would lack academic and moral integrity were I not to share the audio-visual, observational and interview data I have obtained over the past three decades.”

“I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced. I would like to give my deep thanks to my institution, Newcastle University, for its staunch support for my work and its ongoing commitment to academic freedom, social justice and inter-ethnic equality.”

Following the announcement of sanctions against Dr Smith Finley, more than 400 academics have written an open letter to The Times in support, asserting their commitment to academic freedom and calling on the Government and all UK universities to do likewise.

There are increasing demands from human rights activists to take action over China’s ‘soft genocide’ in Xinjiang. Tit-for-tat sanctions will not resolve the issue. That will take much firmer action from governments, organisations and individuals who are complicit in the subjugation of the Uyghurs, by buying Chinese products and accepting money built on their suffering.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”85″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Why what is happening in Hong Kong and Xinjiang is not an internal affair


Yang Xiaoguang

It will not surprise you to know that I think words are important. Both in terms of what they tell you and what they don’t. When words come from a diplomat, a person who is trained to be civil and to not give too much away, from someone who is literally paid to give the official line, then their words can be even more insightful.

Which is why I think it is important to read the words of Yang Xiaoguang, chargé d’affaires of the Chinese embassy in the UK (right), from an interview he did yesterday morning on the BBC’s Today programme.

When questioned about the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the ‘patriots governing Hong Kong’ resolution, which was passed unanimously by the National People’s Congress on Thursday, he said:

Different definition about democracy.

In Hong Kong, we have seen too many political frictions.

The aim is to ensure that patriots have the industry power of Hong Kong so that it will be good for the long run of governance. For the benefit of the whole of the Chinese people.  

This is an internal affair.

And when challenged on the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang he said:

British Bias Corporation.

Too much fake news.

Genocide doesn’t exist in Xinjiang.

We are bringing economic development and stability in Xinjiang.

Taken at face value this completely counterfactual narrative could be plausible. Until facts get in the way.

You cannot dismiss images of Uighur men in lines at a train station, waiting to go to the ‘re-education’ camps as fake news. You cannot claim that China has a different definition of democracy when they signed up to the original plans for one country, two systems. And you cannot claim that you are acting for the benefit of the people of Hong Kong and China when you implement a new National Security Law and arrest over 100 leading democracy campaigners, including 47 charged with subversion last week for daring to hold election primaries in Hong Kong.

There is a genocide happening today in Xinjiang province as I type. The few witnesses who have managed to escape have told consistent stories. The images of the queues and of the camps have been verified. The US and Canada recognise these actions as acts of genocide.

In Hong Kong, we’ve looked on in horror as the CCP have moved in, asserting their authority with the National Security Law. We’ve watched as social media accounts have disappeared, as activists have been arrested, as journalists have been silenced and as the BBC World Service was banned.

The CCP seemingly no longer cares what the world thinks. It is has made a strategic calculation that it’s economic might protects it from global condemnation. That a propaganda campaign against public broadcasters like the BBC will be successful. That no one is brave enough to challenge them.

But brave the world must be. People are dying. People are being arrested. People are disappearing. On our watch.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]