Eyewitness Xinjiang: the reality vs. U.S. propaganda

The author is a co-director of the International Action Center and a contributing editor to Workers World newspaper. A slightly abridged version of this article was published in Global Times.

U.S. imperialism’s hostility to China is increasing — with military threats, new rounds of sanctions and increasingly wild fabrications. The media have been saturated with allegations of human rights abuses, forced labor, religious persecution and “genocide” — especially of Uygur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. 

Sara Flounders, Lee Siu Hin and Arjae Red in front of Id Kah Mosque, built in 1442 in Kashgar, with a capacity to hold 20,000 for prayer. Despite fraudulent U.S. reports of destruction of Islamic culture in Xinjiang they saw numerous mosques and Islamic centers.

Voice of Asia News, based in Houston, Texas, recently denounced as “Chinese propaganda” a favorable report issued by the Arab League — a confederation founded in 1945 and now composed of 22 Arab nations — about their delegation’s visit to Xinjiang. While the narrative that China is destroying mosques and Islamic centers is continually pushed in the imperialist media, no Arab or Muslim countries have joined in these targeted attacks.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Xinjiang and see the reality. 

Just before COVID-19 caused a shutdown of world travel in 2019, the Council of Foreign Ministers under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) made a fact-finding trip to the region and then endorsed and commended China’s treatment of its Muslim citizens. (hongkongfp.com, March 3, 2019) With 57 member states, the OIC is one of the largest intergovernmental bodies in the world. Voice of America News also attacked these OIC findings. 

In June 2021, more than 90 countries made joint or separate statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council in support of China’s policy in Xinjiang. 

For VOA News to arrogantly lecture the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on human rights reeks of racist hypocrisy. The U.S. claims to be a protector of the Muslim population of China’s Xinjiang province. But it omits any mention of U.S. wars, sanctions, drone attacks and coups against the Arab and Muslim countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.  

Perhaps VOA News hopes to divert attention from the dramatic decline of 6.6 years in the life expectancy of Indigenous people in the U.S., from 71.8 years in 2019 to only 65.2 years by the end of 2021. For those living on Indigenous reservations, life expectancy is a shocking 52 years for women and 48 years for men. 

Useful for these U.S. media attacks are the Campaign for Uyghurs, World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project. These organizations are all U.S.-funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Of course, VOA News is an agency of the U.S. government and a recipient of NED funding, established to disseminate U.S. propaganda. 

My visit to Xinjiang

I had an opportunity to visit the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) days before the Arab League delegation. The China/U.S. Solidarity Network organized the visit to provide a more realistic picture of this vast and quickly modernizing, multiethnic region. 

Xinjiang was the center of the ancient Silk Road, the historic trade route that connected Eastern Asia to Central and South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Today it is a major hub in China’s ambitious Belt and Road trade program. 

Xinjiang has significant oil and mineral reserves and is currently China’s largest natural gas producing region. The province — although the largest in geographic area — is sparsely populated, with less than 2% of China’s 1.4 billion people. Some 60% of Xinjiang’s 25 million people belong to 13 ethnic minorities.

The two major cities we visited — Urumqi and Kashgar — are over 870 miles apart. We visited fully mechanized farms surrounding these cities. 

Torrents of U.S. media reports had told us to expect cities under martial law, with military forces of occupation and heavily armed police on every corner. The Indigenous population, especially the Uygur people, were described as an impoverished and isolated population, either forced into slave labor and backbreaking work in the fields or locked inside concentration camps.

Coming from the New York City area, I expected a police force of at least equal size. The NYC police force is the world’s eighth-largest armed body. The U.S. has the world’s largest prison population, at 2.2 million. On our return, reports of “Stop and Frisk” programs centered on Black and Brown youth dominated the media. “Too many people in New York City are stopped, searched and frisked illegally, federal monitor says.” (abc7ny.com, June 5)

Vibrant communities, zero ‘slave labor’

Dancers at the grand bazaar in Urumqi, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Jan. 23, 2023. Credit: Photo: Xinhua, Global Times

What we saw in Xinjiang were vibrant cities — Kashgar and Urumqi — full of tens of thousands of tourists and a local population of many nationalities. Huge and colorful marketplaces and bazaars, almost all run by Uygur families, stretched for blocks. Busy subway lines crossed the cities. Everywhere we saw food markets brimming with inexpensive produce. Restaurants, numerous cafes and street food stalls were packed with local people. In the evenings, the streets were lively and full.

Numerous international studies, ignored in the Western media, back up our observations.

The illiteracy rate in Xinjiang has fallen to 2.66%, lower than China’s impressive 2.85% national average. Before the 1949 Chinese Revolution, illiteracy was 80% throughout China and more than 90% in Tibet and Xinjiang. Today, 97.51% of small children are in preschool programs. Some 98.82% of the youth are enrolled in senior high schools in Xinjiang. (tinyurl.com/bdfyxn29

Over the past 60 years, the Uygur population has increased from 2.2 million to about 12 million, and average life expectancy has grown from 30 to 75 years. 

Drives through the countryside revealed fully mechanized agriculture with tractors, planters, drone sprayers, irrigation canals and acres of plastic-topped greenhouses. We saw no fields with workers doing hand labor — hoeing, picking or trimming. This is confirmed in numerous reports and many photos. The mechanization of cotton production is at 90%. (tinyurl.com/37s3e7e9)

In Kashgar, the 15th-century Idkah Mosque houses up to 20,000 worshipers. It is only one of the many Islamic centers and mosques that we saw while walking the city streets and in several villages. Tall, slender minarets and dome-shaped roofs seemed to be a part of every block.

We met with Uygur people working in food stalls, small groceries and farms. People of many nationalities are construction workers, truck drivers, animal herders, veterinarians, teachers and retirees. Many of them described how government subsidies and training programs had dramatically improved their living conditions and life opportunities.

Sara Flounders

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