How China is Selling Its Muslim Genocide to the Arab World
As evidence of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) systemic human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang has grown, Beijing’s disinformation and propaganda machines are working harder to deny and obscure the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) culpability in these mass atrocities. Under the “Xinjiang is a wonderful place” slogan, the PRC spent the better part of 2021 holding a series of press conferences and leveraging unlabeled government affiliates on social media to convince Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere of its propagandistic narratives about Xinjiang. Our team at Miburo, a disinformation research and analysis company, has tracked these conferences and their targets in the past year, finding that dozens of countries have been targeted with overt and covert propaganda that whitewashes the genocide in Xinjiang.
Egypt has been a notable target of the PRC’s influence campaign. In addition to several CCP officials, the conferences featured high-profile Egyptian officials and a hand-picked member of the Uyghur community from Xinjiang who delivered carefully scripted remarks. Marcel Samir, an al-Tagammu’ party MP, complained the United States had “ignored the achievements of” the PRC in Xinjiang. Al Ahram journalist Mahmoud Sa’d Diab used his speech at the event to extol the virtue of Xinjiang’s cotton, cheeses, and fruits—ignoring the well-documented evidence of forced labor in the region. Diab and Al Ahram are symptoms of China’s particularly successful courtship of Egyptian media; sponsored vacations and the inclusion of Al Ahram as a member of Beijing’s Belt and Road News Network (BRNN) evince the CCP’s charm offensive in Egypt and beyond.
Beijing also relies on a growing number of unlabeled government-affiliated social media influencers to spread the CCP’s Xinjiang propaganda online. Our team at Miburo discovered that these influencers have extensive reach: They produce content in 38 languages to target over 180 countries and boast over 67 million followers. Fayhaa Wang, a Chinese lifestyle influencer who speaks fluent Arabic, is among them. Until recently, Wang remained unlabeled as an employee of Chinese state media on most major social media platforms, misleading her more than 1.5 million followers while giving the impression that she was an independent voice. In fact, she is an employee of China Radio International (CRI), a state-owned outlet that is a key pillar of China’s Grand Overseas Propaganda campaign (大外宣). Last May, after attending a “Stories from the Xinjiang Citizens” press briefing, Wang proclaimed that the event’s discussion “points to a lack of ‘genocide’ which has been alleged by some Western media.” The post is still up on her social media profile.
The PRC has used this playbook with some success in several Muslim-majority nations, such as Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey. Both private and public sector stakeholders must take steps to address it. Social media companies must label PRC state media and affiliates on their platforms; civil society organizations in the Muslim and Arab world need to ramp up pressure on both businesses and governments to speak out against the CCP’s ongoing atrocities against the Uyghurs; and lawmakers in liberal democracies can live up to their foundational values by continuing to publicize evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Without these countermeasures, there is scant hope of ending mass atrocity in Xinjiang or of curbing Beijing’s attempts to rewrite history in real time.
Nick Monaco (@_NickMonaco) is Chief Innovation Officer and Director of China Research, and Colin Eide (@_Eide) is Director of Analysis and leads Middle East and North Africa research at Miburo. The above is adapted from a Forum Power 3.0 essay “How China is Selling its Muslim Genocide to the Arab World.”
–Nick Monaco and Colin Eide, Miburo