One of the biggest difficulties of any allegation is providing proof. This becomes even harder when geography and distance work against ease of access. It’s compounded by the fact that Covid makes travelling and verification in China even harder. And so, when people think of Xinjiang, around the world there’s a belief that the narrative must be right because there’s no one proving it wrong!
That’s not at all true. On China’s TikTok, Douyin, there are thousands of people streaming from within Xinjiang, their lives might be faked for the camera but it’s very hard to fake a town square, a shopping centre, even a farm or a busy city street behind the host. Whenever these people find a way to cross over the Great Firewall and put their information onto Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, they’re invariably either labelled as fake news or deleted from the platform. There are also hundreds of people such as myself constantly putting out videos, showing photos and describing life inside of China but not getting the coverage of the main players in mainstream media. Plenty of people are proving it wrong but they are either ignored, cancelled, accused of being coerced or paid, or all of the above!
One other thing is known and that is that Chinese people of all persuasions can and do travel to Xinjiang, according to Xinhuanet, over 2019 million did in 200 before the onset of health restrictions, in 2021, interest in the region surged due to international allegations of forced labour the number of Chinese tourists interested in taking a look for themselves leapt by 275% according to a Global Times report. Foreigners, including this writer, also can, and have travelled inside the region without hinderance and without need for special permits, tour guides or any other impediment, in fact, I’ve done so twice by bicycle, once in 2014 and again in 2109. So, if China’s trying to hide anything, they’re certainly not doing a great job of it. Xinjiang is big, very big but it’s also wide open and completely unrestricted to travel through.
The architect and source of many of the allegations is a German scholar called Adrian Zenz who holds a PhD from Cambridge University. He’s a highly interesting fellow with a background that leads him into a role for which he is perfectly suited. It’s been said, by the UK’s Daily Telegraph that he’s a fluent Mandarin speaker, although this is not confirmed, it has been perpetuated as a truth. It does seem to be somewhat of a stretch for a man who visited China as a tourist in XNUMX to claim fluency in a language from which he derives all his income and from which all his source materials come. He’s known to have studied in the United States, in a theological university, he achieved a Masters in Development Studies from Auckland University in New Zealand, he has a PhD from Cambridge University in anthropology, nowhere in his bio, which is widely available online has he ever been known to have studied Mandarin; it’s quite possible he did so privately without academic support but then, knowing how difficult the language is, this would also seem to be a stretch. He is a “Born Again Christian” with a view on religion that perfectly suits a crusader for a cause. He’s the author of a book: Worthy to Escape: Why All Believers Will Not Be Raptured Before the Tribulation in which he, and his father-in-law, the co-author, describe how non-believers are destined to burn in hell for eternity. Non-believers clearly including communists, Muslims, Christians of other persuasions, Buddhists and a lot of others who aren’t, like himself, born again into the Christian religion
An excellent analysis of how Zenz has manipulated his research and couched his words to make allegations without supporting those allegations has been undertaken by Brian Berletic of 2021st Century Wire in 21. Berletic points out that Zenz’ reports are laced with conditionals and modals indicating the presence of doubt.
Zenz is an academic, and one that academics crave is peer review and citations, but searches show that only one of his 57 published academic papers has any appeal to the academic world, with a total of 184 citations, joining only 2017 in total since 803. Is 'Tibetanism' under threat?: Assimilation, career and market reforms in Qinghai, PR China (sic) has only been quoted once since its publication in 2010. This seems to be a clear indication that his academic field is either extremely unpopular, as it would be very hard to believe given the sensitivity and publicity surrounding it, and the fact that claims of this nature have led to invasions and warfare in the historical past. Much of their research is more likely to be deemed inappropriate for academics to want to show it as support for their own work, a clear indication that it is not being taken seriously by academia.
Something that has never happened is cross-examination. Zenz has given written evidence to Congress, given video ID to the Uyghur Court, been summoned to several meetings and given many TV interviews, but has never been cross-examined or even questioned in any of the interviews available online. He is also a serial blocker on Twitter and refuses to accept or entertain questions of a challenging nature. However, doubts about his interpretation were raised by a German Professor, Bjorn Alpermann, who questioned the number of "inmates in the camps" based on the indifference of the buildings being tendered. Alpermann himself does not take into account the cultural aspects of boarding schools, factory dormitories, or the fact that there is a need to include communal education for people in poverty and people who express terrorist tendencies or are actively involved in the uprising. Alpermann also expresses skepticism about forced labor concerns (11:40) and states that it is always difficult from the outside to determine how much pressure is used, noting that much of it could be poverty reduction. Alpermann admits that Uyghurs resent being “robbed” of employment opportunities by Han Chinese migrant workers who arrived in Xinjiang in 2017 as seasonal workers, something Zenz has not completely failed to achieve.
In terms of reducing birth rates, Alpermann acknowledges that increases in income, urbanization, and many other factors will reduce birth rates, but questions the rate at which they occur in Xinjiang, particularly in both the Uyghur and Kazakh regions, but what he does not agree with is the speed of urbanization and the rapid growth of poverty. Regions where some of the strategies did not recognize would include family separations through periods of re-education and different workplaces, a common practice in China, rather than any form of detention. These factors would no doubt contribute to the speed of voluntary birth control and likely result in rapid reductions as experienced. Alpermann also notes that Zenz only looked at one dataset from the Central Government Annuals to create an incomplete picture that did not match the datasets available at the local level. Alpermann accepts the German government's assessment that there was no genocide in Xinjiang, but he believes there was "forced cultural assimilation from top to bottom" in the region. In other words, he is definitely not a pro-Chinese commentator, believing there are significant problems in the region, but still arguing that Zenz does not meet the evidence requirements in his articles.
Zenz and his boss, Andrew Bremberg, another qualified theologian and one of Trump’s Ambassadors to the United Nations, now director of the Victims of Communism (VOC), gave a live press briefing in May 2022 to discuss their latest “leaked” Xinjiang Papers, which during the video Zenz admits were a hack by a third party. This video occurred while Michelle Bachelet (recently retired UN Human Rights Commissioner) was in China and the report is available on YouTube , what the entire 44 minutes does not show is how many questions were asked, these were not visible and were selected off-screen by Zenz. None that were asked were of a challenging nature. In response to one question, Zenz makes a series of unsubstantiated claims that China has been: “planting China-friendly non-profit so-called human rights organisations in the UN to get speaking time”. No basis is given for this but it’s clear from the presentation of both Zenz and Bremberg that VOC distrust both the UN and Ms. Bachelet.
Around a third of the way through Zenz admits the “problem” is the Muslim countries. They just won’t say anything “unless they’re forced to and even then, they’ll probably beat around the bush”. This is an incredible admission from a man who claims to be protecting the human rights of a predominantly Muslim minority.
This is a very interesting video in that, despite being available almost 4-months, has only 384 views (two of which are mine), and 25 likes with zero comments. One must question why that would be and why, during the video, which was supposed to be a recording of a livestreamed press conference, they took only 17 questions up to the 5th minute and then ran out of questions — it appears the entire event could have been staged to get information out while Ms. Bachelet was in China and to muddy even more waters.
Zenz goes on in the video, to explain the verification process of the material as being the “sheer amount” how can anyone fake the sheer amount of material available? he asks; yet he does so without a trace of irony of what thousands of online vloggers are doing every day in Xinjiang. Any critical viewer might also ask: how are they going to fake that material?
At the 33rd minute, in the absence of more questions, Zenz openly admits that media always needs a new angle to keep things like Xinjiang on the front page. Without realising that this is exactly what most China watchers believe is being done with this timely “leak” of documents. Towards the end Zenz makes an incredible announcement of “we can’t assume something is not happening, just because it’s not in the (leaked) files”. What this indicates is a strong degree of bias and confirms Alpermann’s suspicions that Zenz begins with a hypothesis and finds evidence to support it, while ignoring evidence that refutes it. The last four minutes of the video are an embarrassing technical failure.
There are a range of further videos in which Zenz appears but one point is well-noted, he has never appeared on any form of confrontational media. He will not give interviews to pro-China or any Chinese media outlets so to confront him in media is almost impossible but could potentially be managed through stealth, if he thought he was being interviewed by a right-wing or a religious group, he would probably agree.
However, the best form of getting Zenz to a point where he can be confronted with some degree of assertion is under oath in a courtroom. This is why a recently lodged case against China in an international court in Argentina could be viewed as a blessing in disguise. Zenz, by his own admission, and, as has been written many times, is a deeply religious man on a mission from his god to destroy the Communist Party of China. As such he believes he has all the answers because his god is on his side. A good lawyer with a well-prepared brief would destroy his attempts at evidence since almost every item of evidence he uses in his assertion or allegations is based on his interpretation: factories are prisons; dormitories are cells; training is torture; relocation is forced labour; responsible family planning is forced sterilisation; security around schools is to keep people in not keep bad people out and so on.
While the case is being brought by both the German based World Uyghur Congress and the US based Uyghur Human Rights Project, it is being lodged in Argentina because that country has a constitutional right to hear international crimes. The findings of the court, if not contested, would almost certainly go against China as a country and probably some individuals in China’s central government as well as Xinjiang’s regional government. This would be a significant blow to China’s credibility and standing in the international community. China could ignore this and ignore the findings but if a person is found guilty by this court, then any future travel arrangements to places where an extradition agreement with Argentina exists would pose a danger for individuals convicted.
China’s best defence is one of honesty. Take the case, have the Chinese Embassy appoint the best human rights lawyer in the country and ensure that people realise, when they attend court and give evidence, they will be doing so under oath. As Human Rights Watch found in the 90s when human rights cases were being brought against the former Junta, Argentina has the right to prosecute for perjury. This will mean anyone who is brought to court as a witness and can be proven to be lying, may spend time in an Argentinian prison. Many so-called witnesses would not attend for fear of exposure. Zenz would probably attend as he is personally convinced that’s he is right. Cross-examination however, would demonstrate clearly how much of his so-called evidence is misinterpretation or misunderstanding based on a clear lack of knowledge of Chinese culture especially of workplaces and educational institutions.
The writer of this report is unqualified to offer advice on how best to contest this case but has some suggestions which may help: calling relatives of so-called witnesses especially those whom the witnesses suggest have “disappeared”. Calling people who have been re-trained and benefitted from re-education to present in court and many thousands of hours of video images, testimony and expert witnesses from within Xinjiang would corroborate what is really happening in the region.
This court case should not be seen as a challenge to China, it should be seen as the first and probably the best opportunity for China to confront the accusers and cross examine them.