China Neican: Xinjiang, Chinese Australians, CGTN in UK, CICIR, and "feminisation"

6 February 2021

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1. Abuses of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang

Tursunay Ziawudun is a Uyghur woman who spent nine months in internment camps in Xinjiang. She recounted her personal experience to the BBC. Warning: the details in this article are distressing and contains references to rape and torture. Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman, also recounted shocking experiences. Moreover, the BBC report contains testimonies by other women made to the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

We should take their harrowing accounts with the utmost seriousness. We should have serious concerns for the wellbeing of those people held in the camps, even if it’s almost impossible to verify some allegations due to restrictions imposed by Beijing in Xinjiang. Human rights abuses are inevitable in a system that dehumanises inmates and doesn't adequately safeguard their rights.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Governments and organisations from around the world should pressure Beijing to stop its oppressive policies in Xinjiang. And governments of countries professing liberal values should prioritise human rights, both at home and abroad.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. International relations operate on the basis of power. For example, a group of countries (led by the US) partially justified their war in Afghanistan on human rights grounds. But many in that group turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, such as those committed by Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, many of us today think of the Allies’ role in World War II as fighting against Nazi Germany’s genocidal and racist ideology. But this was not the main reason for fighting in the first place. In fact, fascist views were common on both sides of the war.

So what can we do about the situation in Xinjiang? First, we should protect and give refuge to those who have escaped from Xinjiang. Second, we should try to influence Beijing’s cost-benefit calculus by raising the cost of its oppression. This means prioritising human rights relative to other material interests with respect to China, such as diplomatic and economic relations. Third, we should be consistent in our advocacy for human rights both at home and abroad.

The ongoing social and cultural destruction in Xinjiang is a tragedy; there is no doubt. Every victim of the abuse of state power is no different from you or me. They are not a number or pawns in some greater game — they are human beings that deserve to live in safety and dignity.

2. “Negative feelings” towards Chinese people

The Scanlon Foundation released its Mapping Social Cohesion 2020 Report, based on national surveys conducted in Australia in July and November 2020. There are some very worrying results relating to the view of Australians towards Chinese people, including:

  • Almost half (47 per cent) of Australians have negative feelings towards Chinese people. Other minorities, including Iraqis (49 per cent), Sudanese (49  per cent), and Lebanese (42 per cent), were also seen negatively.

  • Negative perceptions of Chinese people in Australia jumped to 47 per cent in 2020 from 11 per cent in 2010-2012.

  • 27 per cent of Chinese Australians experienced racism, and a further 20 per cent declined to answer.

  • 59 per cent of Chinese Australians said racism was a big problem.

Note that while the wording of the survey asks about perceptions towards “Chinese nationals”, we highly doubt that most Australians could differentiate groups of people with Chinese ancestry living in Australia. Therefore, we take the results to mean that the negative attitudes towards all Chinese people, including Chinese Australians, are at alarming levels.

That’s right, folks, almost half of Australians have negative feelings towards us — and that was before we even opened our mouths! 

The media reporting around pandemic likely played a significant role. For example, early in the pandemic, Sydney’s highest-circulating daily newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, had “CHINA KIDS STAY HOME” in big font as its front-page headline. Australian media reporting on China issues, including some sensationalist reporting around CCP influence and influence, likely contributed as well.

Many of us would agree that in criticising Beijing we should take care to not drive xenophobia towards Chinese people. Even Senator Eric Abetz, who racially profiled Chinese Australians in a senate inquiry, claims that he was only standing against the CCP.

Yet we are seeing irresponsible reporting and commentary continue day-after-day, despite the evidence piling up that they are fanning racism towards people of Chinese ancestry. In fact, often it is those that call for separating Chinese people from the CCP who are targeting ethnic Chinese students, researchers, and politicians. To some, Chinese Australians are just collateral damages in a fight against the CCP. And if the fight against the CCP meant some people might be racially discriminated against, well, then they can only blame the CCP. 

This narrative allows political leaders and commentators to wiggle out of blame even as they fan the fire, wittingly or otherwise. But anti-Chinese racism existed in Australia before the founding of the CCP. In fact, it was the major motivation behind the Federation of Australia in 1901. The rise of CCP meant that the Yellow Peril, the China Invasion, and Fu Manchu have suddenly become more respectable in discourse.

Racism in Australia makes it harder to deal with its China challenge. But more fundamentally, it goes against the liberal values that most Australians subscribe to. These are the values trampled upon in places like Xinjiang, and now tested in democracies such as Australia.

3. UK revokes CGTN’s licence

UK communications regulator Ofcom revoked China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) licence this week after a 12 months investigation. Ofcom’s notice of revocation states:

we have determined that [CGTN Corporation] could not currently be granted a broadcasting licence as it would be disqualified under the [Broadcasting Act 1990]. This is because CGTNC is both controlled by and an associate of an organisation, namely CCTV, which, as a result of its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party...is a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature and/or is controlled by a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature.

Essentially, under UK law, media outlets are disqualified from broadcasting if they are controlled by a political party. CGTN is very obviously controlled by the CCP.

On a related note, Ofcom found last year that CGTN breached the regulator’s Broadcasting Code due to bias in covering the Hong Kong protests. There are, in fact, three ongoing Ofcom fairness and privacy investigations into CGTN. We don’t know whether and how these cases affected the latest decision, but they highlight rising concern about CGTN activities, including its political agenda and airing of forced confessions.

A number of other countries in which CGTN operates have similar legal prohibitions against the control of media by political parties. It remains to be seen whether the Ofcom decision will have a bearing in other jurisdictions.

Putting this development in a bilateral context, the UK has increasingly come into friction with Beijing across a range of issues in recent years, including Hong Kong, Xinjiang, foreign investment, and foreign interference. Public opinion in the UK has turned decisively against Beijing. A recent Pew Survey saw negative views on China among the British jump to a historical high of 74 per cent in 2020 from 35 per cent in 2018.

Shortly after Ofcom’s announcement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Ministry fired back with a notice condemning BBC reporting on China. It demanded that the BBC “abandon ideological bias”, “stop deliberately smearing and attacking China,” and “apologise for its China-related fake news”. The notice mentions possible further measures against the BBC. 

Now, there is a real possibility that Beijing may retaliate against the UK by targeting the BBC, for example, by expelling BBC journalists or kicking the organisation out of China altogether. 

Beijing has repeatedly characterised foreign media reporting, especially on the human rights situation in China, as products of bias or lies. 

Beijing’s dislike for media freedom is palpable regardless of what we may think about the quality of China reporting by foreign media organisations in China.

In 2020 China and the US fought a media war that led to the expulsion of many Chinese and US journalists. The two last reporters working for Australian media also left China last year fearing for their safety. 

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4. Views from CICIR

China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) is one of the most influential international policy think tanks in the Chinese party-state system. Established in 1965 at the order of Zhou Enlai, CICIR is affiliated with the Ministry of State Security. It works under the direction of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission (中央外事工作委员会), the body headed by Xi Jinping that overseeing China’s foreign policy. 

By looking at the views of CICIR researchers, we can get some sense of the kind of advice presented to CCP leadership by the experts. 

Here we look at a recent article by Chen Xiangyang (陈向阳) and Wang Lei (王磊) titled “International outlook for 2021” (2021年国际形势展望). Chen is the Director of CICIR’s Institute of World Political Studies, and Wang is a researcher at the same institute. Here is their prediction in a nutshell:

In 2021, the world will enter a period of turmoil and transformation under the [continuing] pandemic. Major global challenges are piling up and global governance continues to be under pressure. The international landscape is quietly changing and the global fighting against the pandemic is forging multipolarity. Great power competition and cooperation is undergoing complex restructuring. The shadow of the epidemic is overlapping with geopolitical competition in a world where many regions are in a state of unrest. China’s diplomacy should take the initiative and shape a favourable external environment.

2021年,世界在新冠疫情之下步入动荡变革期。重大全球性挑战扎堆,全球治理持续承压;国际格局悄然生变,全球战疫锻造多极;大国竞合复杂重组;疫情阴影叠加地缘博弈,多个地区动荡不安;中国外交主动塑造有利外部环境。

Chen and Wang make five key observations/predictions for 2021: 

First, major global challenges are piling up and global governance will continue to be under added strain from the pandemic, especially in areas such as public health, food security, climate change, terrorism, cybersecurity and other non-traditional security challenges.

Second, the international landscape is quietly changing as the global fight against COVID is accelerating a change towards multipolarity. China will make steady progress and take a greater leadership role in global governance.

Third, the new US administration will “come to its senses” as major power competition and cooperation become more complex. The US may be able to repair the transatlantic rift to a limited extent; US-Russia confrontation may escalate under Biden. US-China relations will normalise to an extent but there would be no fundamental change of China policy under Biden:

In the face of China's accelerated rise, the US has been intensifying its competition with China and its efforts to suppress China have become a bipartisan consensus between Democrats and Republicans, the Biden administration may change its approach to China, but the essence will remain the same.

On the one hand, tensions are expected to ease as China and the US gradually resume people-to-people exchanges and cooperate to address global challenges such as climate change and the global pandemic; on the other hand, there is limited scope for Biden to improve US-China relations, and the US still sees China as its “biggest competitor”, perhaps even more so than Trump in some areas. The Biden team is inclined to be more flexible and to join forces with Europe, Japan and other allies to put pressure on China in multilateral arenas such as the United Nation and on international trade and economic rules.

面对中国加速崛起,美不断强化“对华竞争”,着力打压中国成为民主与共和两党共识,拜登政府的对华策略或有手法上的改变,但本质不变。

一方面,中美有望逐步恢复人文交流、合作应对气候变化和疫情等全球性挑战,双方紧张关系可望有所缓和;但另一方面,拜登上台对改善中美关系的空间有限,美仍视中国为“最大竞争对手”,在某些领域或比特朗普更甚。拜登团队倾向于以更灵活手段,在联合国等多边舞台和国际经贸规则问题上,联手欧洲、日本等盟友共同对中国施压。

Fourth, several regions are in a state of unrest as the epidemic interacts with geopolitical competition. Regions including the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe are at elevated risks.

Fifth and finally, China will improve its international position by taking a greater global leadership role, engaging in “multipolar diplomacy”, and frustrate the US plans to contain China.

The picture painting by Chen and Wang is a world in flux in which China is increasingly taking a central role in global affairs despite challenges, including US efforts to contain China. It is an optimistic picture that ignores the many weaknesses of China. But this is a picture that is broadly consistent with mainstream thinking by Chinese thinkers.

5. “Feminisation of young men”

China’s Ministry of Education this week responded to a proposal from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on “preventing the feminisation of male teenagers” (关于防止男性青少年女性化的提案). The Ministry’s response indicates that it really thinks “feminisation” is an actual problem.

At China Neican, we support all gender identities and all forms of gender expression by everyone.

The Ministry’s response triggered strong reactions on Chinese social media. Most of them were critical of the government, questioning why so-called “feminisation” was a problem at all. But some believe that it is a problem, and point to the ubiquity of “little fresh meat” celebrities as the culprit.

The Ministry’s response was to increase physical education and provide better mental health support. Those are good suggestions as they are badly needed for students in China. But we think the intolerance towards gender identities, which led to these proposed measures, is deplorable. 

In any case, unless the incentives can be changed significantly, we doubt the push for more physical education would make a difference. Many teachers, parents and students see physical education as taking time away from preparing for gaokao (college entrance exam).

Concerns around “feminisation” of men are not confined to China. Many socially conservatives around the world believe in rigid gender roles and expressions. Beliefs in rigid gender roles and stereotypes can lead to social ills such as violence against women.

China Story

  • Gerald Roche, Australia is Not Being Invaded: Australia has a real history of invasion and genocide. Australian settlers continue to fail to confront and address this history. In part, we do this by imaging that we are being invaded and wiped out. This false sense of catastrophic victimhood lies at the heart of the idea that Australia is being invaded by China.

  • Vishesh Agarwal, Dancing with the dragon: A book review of Geoff Raby’s recent book China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order.

Chinoiserie

  • An Anatomy of Trump’s Appeal to Chinese Liberals: A Conversation with Teng Biao covers the prevalence of reductionist thinking, the popular appeal of political Machiavellianism, and the cultivated belief in social Darwinism: it would not be entirely unexpected if, when one day free elections become a political reality in China, the leader chosen by the Chinese people may not be a cool-headed liberal-minded political sage as many China observers in the West expect, but a Trump-like, homegrown Chinese populist.

  • Elsa Kania and Lorand Laskai, Myths and Realities of China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy: Certain clichés and common caricatures about China can prove highly problematic, especially when used to justify arguments for policies that could be damaging to American competitiveness in the long term. Any mischaracterizations of Chinese strategy or capabilities, including by playing into Chinese government messaging propaganda that U.S. policy debates and responses are unreasonable or motivated by protectionism, can be counterproductive in ways that risk alienating U.S. allies and partners.

  • Te Ping Chen, Chinese Culture Doesn’t Belong to the Chinese Government:
    Clarissa Wei, an American food writer based in Taipei, says that when she first started writing about Chinese food a decade ago, the topic seemed innocuous. Lately, though, her work has encountered a backlash, with some critics accusing her of being part of Beijing’s soft-power push. “It feels when you say ‘Chinese culture’ too strongly, it almost feels like a dirty word,” Ms. Wei says.