China has intensified claims that it faced a serious “terrorist” threat in Xinjiang as Beijing remained locked in a stand-off with western capitals over its sweeping security clampdown on Muslim minorities in the region.
CGTN, the international arm of China’s state broadcaster, on Friday aired the final episode in a four-part documentary series that sought to justify the government’s policies by blaming international terrorist groups for violence in the region.
Beijing has detained more than 1m Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, prompting the US, UK, EU and Canada to imposed co-ordinated sanctions against Chinese officials. Washington regards Beijing’s policies as “genocide”.
It has also stoked nationalistic consumer boycotts against western apparel brands, including Swedish retailer H&M, which had expressed concern over reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.
Western politicians and international scholars of Xinjiang have argued that Beijing’s claims of a “terrorist” threat are exaggerated. Many cited the lack of evidence for orchestrated attacks in the region, instead suggesting that incidents could just as easily be explained by simmering ethnic tensions and local anger over discriminatory policies.
Washington last year removed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group that China blames for violence in Xinjiang, from its terror list after concluding that there was “no credible evidence” that it still existed. ETIM had been added to the watchlist in 2004, in a move seen by analysts as a US effort to secure China’s support for the “war on terror”.
Beijing has ramped up efforts to combat doubts about its justification for the crackdown in Xinjiang with a propaganda drive that has suggested there were hundreds of attacks in the region prior to the security clampdown launched in 2016.
The CGTN documentary series, which began in 2019, interviewed police from Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, about a 2014 attack in which two sports-utility vehicles killed 39 in a crowded market using homemade bombs. The officers claimed the attacks must have been planned by an unspecified organisation.
The final part of the series set out why China has imprisoned Uyghur officials and academics who compiled Uyghur-language textbooks in the 2010s for life. The books promoted “separatism” by failing to include pictures of China’s national flag and including what it called “fictional” stories about Han Chinese soldiers attacking Uyghur women.
Adrian Zenz, a US-based scholar at Victims for Communism Memorial Foundation, an advocacy group, wrote on Twitter that many of the interviews in the documentary appeared to be “forced confessions”.
“[CGTN] drags Uyghur intellectuals out of prison and makes them confess on camera, with shaven heads and in prison clothes, that the school textbooks they edited reflected the fact that Uyghurs also have cultural heritage outside of China,” he wrote. “[The] documentary should be submitted as evidence for cultural extinction to the Uyghur genocide tribunal.”