The US House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act on December 3, legislation which calls for the Donald Trump administration to impose sanctions against China over allegations that Beijing has detained millions of Muslim-majority Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.
To drum up support for the sanctions bill, Western governments and media outlets have portrayed the People’s Republic as a human rights violator on par with Nazi Germany. Republican Rep. Chris Smith, for instance, denounced the Chinese government for what he called the “mass internment of millions on a scale not seen since the Holocaust,” in “modern-day concentration camps.”
The claim that China has detained millions of ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region is repeated with increasing frequency, but little scrutiny is ever applied. Yet a closer look at the figure and how it was obtained reveals a serious deficiency in data.
While this extraordinary claim is treated as unassailable in the West, it is, in fact, based on two highly dubious “studies.”
The first, by the US government-backed Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, formed its estimate by interviewing a grand total of eight people.
The second study relied on flimsy media reports and speculation. It was authored by Adrian Zenz, a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports “scriptural spanking” of children, and believes he is “led by God” on a “mission” against China.
As Washington ratchets up pressure on China, Zenz has been lifted out of obscurity and transformed almost overnight into a go-to pundit on Xinjiang. He has testified before Congress, providing commentary in outlets from the Wall Street Journal to Democracy Now!, and delivering expert quotes in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ recent “China Cables” report. His Twitter bio notes that he is “moving across the Atlantic” from his native Germany.
Before Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal questioned Zenz about his religious “mission,” at a recent event about Xinjiang inside the US Capitol, he had received almost entirely uncritical promotion from Western media.
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, which first popularized the “millions detained” figure, has also been able to operate without a hint of media scrutiny.