Chinese State Media, Others Highlight Contrasting U.S. Stances on Xinjiang, Gaza

Several China-focused scholars and other observers have argued that continued American diplomatic, financial, and military support to Israel for its war in Gaza, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s finding that there is a plausible case that Israel’s conduct constitutes genocide, has weakened U.S. credibility on Xinjiang. The U.S. government has argued that the Chinese government is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the region. The Chinese government and state media have also picked up on this contrast, their criticism of the U.S. role in the war emboldened by what Human Rights Watch has termed “America’s hypocrisy” over human rights.

At Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) last week, Nader Hashemi and James Millward analyzed the similarities between Xinjiang and Gaza and highlighted inconsistencies toward them from both the West and the Global South, amid a growing number of articles echoing the same theme. They emphasized: “Comparing events in Xinjiang and Gaza not only illuminates this hypocrisy and double standard, but reveals the hole at the heart of the supposedly rules-based international order“:

In subjecting the native people of Palestine and the Uyghur region to occupation, colonization and settler-colonial projects, the new states of Israel and the People’s Republic of China were each seeking what they saw as redemption and relief: from the Holocaust of Jews in Europe and a “Century of Humiliation” in China. New occupiers of the land appealed to ancient history to justify policies that undermined the rights of indigenous populations to live in their historic homeland, in the case of Palestinians, or to live free as Uyghurs, in Xinjiang.

Resistance, sometimes violent, led to state repression, which produced more resistance in a cycle that lasted decades. State repression was often justified in the name of fighting terrorism or religious extremism.

Today, Uyghurs in China and Palestinians in Israel are, at best, second-class citizens. Between one million to two million Uyghurs are held in internment camps and prisons across Xinjiang, many for so-called “reeducation” in an ominous echo of the concentration camps of World War II. More than two million Palestinians are trapped in besieged and blockaded Gaza, and three million more Palestinians live under apartheid rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. An estimated six million more Palestinians living as permanent refugees in diaspora are unable to return home, like the hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs similarly scattered around the world.

[…] Clearly geopolitics, business interests, domestic politics and other such supposedly “pragmatic” considerations have inflicted too many political leaders with a cynical blindness to mass suffering, leading them to violate the global norms they rhetorically claim to uphold. The concept of universal human rights falls apart when it isn’t applied equally and consistently across the board. [Source]

The “hole at the heart of the supposedly rules-based international order” has been particularly noticeable to non-Western countries. At the China-Global South Project on Friday, Congolese editor Christian-Geraud Neema wrote a blistering column about the U.S. stance on Gaza titled, “How the West Continues to Legitimize the Chinese Narrative in Africa”:

How do they not realize in Washington, Brussels, or London that, day after day, they lose any legitimacy by questioning the presence or influence of countries like China or Russia in the Global South? How do they not realize that it is becoming impossible to believe in their “benevolence” towards poor Africans like us facing the “yellow peril”, while they deliberately turn a blind eye to women and children and other innocent victims of Gaza?

[…] How many more Palestinians have to die for Biden to pick up the phone and tell Netanyahu, enough is enough?!!! What is the threshold that must be reached for the Western world — policeman of humanist values and standards of enlightened knowledge — to decide to actually put an end to this carnage?

We, the countries of the Global South, are watching and taking note. We no longer harbor illusions about the reality of the international system and its structural imbalance which only seems to serve the interests of a limited number.

[… I]n the meantime, we will listen a little more closely when Beijing says that it is time to reform the international system… [French]

Recent press conferences by U.S. officials have highlighted the contrasting American stances on Xinjiang and Gaza, and promptly been amplified by Chinese state-media actors. After Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked why he believes that China’s treatment of Uyghurs constitutes genocide but Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza does not, he deflected by saying that “we have been very clear.” Chinese state-affiliated commentators were quick to criticize. At a press conference the same week, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked why the U.S. was not doing more to pressure Israel. He replied, “The U.S. does not dictate to Israel what it must do, just like the U.S. does not dictate to any country what it must do.” (Miller had previously urged China to “cease its genocide and crimes against humanity.”) When one reporter quipped, “Unless you invade them,” Miller laughed, adding, “Good one.” The incident was amplified by a CGTN journalist on Twitter. 

Other American officials have taken similarly selective positions. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on the CCP, has denounced the “Uyghur genocide” and in doing so invoked a question about how one would act if living through the Holocaust. In a recent letter to Biden, on the other hand, he led 30 colleagues in stating: “We strongly urge you to focus on leveraging every available diplomatic, economic, and military tool to support Israel’s victory […] on whatever timeline Israel’s military commanders determine necessary.” Meanwhile, 41 U.N. experts have warned that any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately.

Marco Rubio is the only American co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which affirms that its members subscribe to the principle of a “free, open, and rules-based international order that supports human dignity.” While he has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of the “genocide in Xinjiang,” he recently demanded a federal investigation into U.S. government employees whom he accused of insubordination because they called for a cease-fire in Gaza. This week he criticized a Dutch court decision that prevented shipments of military equipment to Israel, arguing that it “could endanger the national security of the United States and our ally, Israel. It also threatens to set a dangerous precedent for foreign activists and courts to stymie U.S. and allied military operations through ‘lawfare.’”

Last month, Rubio was part of an overwhelming majority of U.S. senators who voted against a resolution that would require the State Department to produce a report examining whether Israel has committed human rights violations in its campaign in Gaza. This report was intended to better inform Congress in its ongoing provision of security assistance to Israel. Actions such as these have fueled Chinese state media narratives that the U.S. cares less about human rights than about military-industrial profit and “the hegemony of the West.” One Global Times headline last month read, “Gaza crisis exposes last fig leaf of US double standards.”

On Sunday, Aaron Bushnell, an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, self-immolated in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest “what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” the “genocide” in Gaza in which he “will no longer be complicit.” His last words were “Free Palestine!” The Global Times later published an article titled, “Aaron Bushnell’s death points to US extreme, fundamentally ill foreign policy.” Xinhua also highlighted arguments that U.S. media outlets had “diluted and decontextualized” Bushnell’s protest:

An Al Jazeera opinion piece published Monday criticized U.S. corporate media for a “diluted and decontextualized” report of Bushnell’s self-immolation, including framing his protest as violating U.S. military regulations.

Such titles include The New York Times’ “Man Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in Washington, Air Force Says” (updated Monday evening EST), Politico’s “Air Force member dies after setting himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy” (updated Monday 10:55 a.m. EST, 1555 GMT), CNN’s “US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington” (updated Sunday 9:12 p.m. EST, 0212 GMT Monday).

The Washington Post has changed their Bushnell story title from “Who was Aaron Bushnell, the U.S. airman who set himself on fire?” in the update Monday 8:16 p.m. EST (0116 GMT Tuesday) to “Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past” two hours later. [Source]

Former editor-in-chief of the Global Times Hu Xijin and other Chinese state-media-affiliated figures also drew attention to the tone of U.S. media coverage on Twitter.

Bushnell’s last Facebook post employed similar rhetorical questions to those in Mike Gallagher’s denunciation of genocide in Xinjiang, redirected toward U.S. policy towards Gaza: “Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? […] What would I do if my country was committing a genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.” Bushnell’s post was widely shared on Weibo, where many comments sympathized with him and praised his sense of justice and bravery. A comment under one Weibo post read, “It is clear that the American people and the grandpas in the White House are two completely different things.” Another comment under that post took a more sarcastic tone, mocking American claims of moral superiority: “Chinese officials should publish a memorial to Aaron Bushnell, the American man of conscience who protested genocide. This kind of propaganda war should be launched.”

When it comes to self-immolations by Tibetans protesting government oppression, the official Chinese response has been different. After popular singer Tsewang Norbu self-immolated in March 2022, news of the incident was stifled within China, his Weibo account was suspended, the comment sections on all his posts were locked, and a chat room-style hashtag dedicated to the singer was also deleted from the platform. In other cases of Tibetan self-immolation, authorities have blocked internet communications to stop the spread of information, refused to return the victim’s body to their family, placed family members under strict surveillance, and implemented heavy security clampdowns.

Continued U.S. support for Israel despite the human rights crisis in Gaza has provided room for China to position itself as a defender of Gaza. South China Morning Post quoted Razan Shawamreh, a doctoral researcher of international relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University: “The Palestinian sense of marginalisation and vulnerability, stemming from US policies that support Israel’s crimes, have prompted them to find potential alternatives for support and solidarity, and they find it in China.” Last week, China sharply criticized the third U.S. veto of a U.N. resolution for a cease-fire, calling it “a green light to the continued slaughter.” This week, China’s representative to the ICJ went well beyond attacking Israel’s own conduct and appeared to defend that of Hamas, stating that the “Palestinian people’s use of force to resist foreign oppression and complete the establishment of an independent state is an inalienable right,” and that “[a]rmed struggle in this context is distinguished from acts of terrorism.”

Hongda Fan, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, wrote that since China has “rarely emphasised the Palestinian people’s right to use force to resist Israel,” these statements reveal an escalation in its support for Palestine, though not a fundamental change in stance. However, these statements may bring renewed attention to China’s own inconsistencies, given that China rejects the legitimacy of armed resistance in Xinjiang and Tibet, uses the guise of antiterrorism to justify its policies in Xinjiang, and does not accept the idea of a two-state solution in Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, Chinese state media continue to emphasize the U.S. government’s contrasting positions on Xinjiang and Gaza, and portray them as worse than any perceived inconsistencies by the Chinese government. The headline from a Global Times article on Tuesday read, “US politicians and media endlessly cry about human rights only when it suits their political agenda.”


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