China’s COVID-19 disinformation push, aided by Canadian group, raises concerns about next pandemic

More on Chinese government disinformation efforts:

It’s safe to say China’s foreign ministry does not often pay much attention to obscure Canadian research organizations run by conspiracy theorists.

But earlier this month the ministry’s spokesman tweeted in English not once but three times about two surprising articles from the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalisation.

“This is so astonishing that it changed many things I used to believe in,” Lijian Zhao wrote to 500,000 followers on a social-media platform his fellow Chinese are banned from using. “Please retweet to let more people know about it.”

The “astonishing” piece suggested that COVID-19 did not originate in Wuhan, China, as Chinese and other scientists have reported, but was brought to Wuhan by American soldiers last November.

This is so astonishing

Despite the dubious source, Zhao tweeted about another article on the institute’s website — a hotbed of 911-deniers and champions of Vladimir Putin’s worldview — and then tweeted “it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent!”.

Beijing and its media outlets did not stop there. They’ve also suggested recently the virus might have originated in Italy, and that a Wuhan doctor arrested after raising the alarm about the new virus — only to later die from it — was a Communist Party hero, not an inconvenient whistleblower silenced by the state.

Only a couple of months ago, China was pilloried for initially covering up and then underplaying the newly emerging coronavirus.

But as it emerges from a strict lockdown and claims to have snuffed out local transmission of COVID-19, the regime is casting the pandemic in a dramatically new light. It’s one that reflects brightly on the government of President Xi Jinping — and raises worrisome questions about the likelihood of China making changes that might prevent the next pandemic.

“The Chinese Communist Party sees itself as engaged in a global competition over the narrative surrounding COVID-19, its origins and government responses,” says Julian Gewirtz, Harvard-affiliated author of Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China.

“The disinformation, the conspiracy theory peddling and the wild and unsubstantiated accusations are prime examples.”

China’s role in the beginnings of the pandemic has, of course, become political fodder in the United States, where President Donald Trump insists on ignoring the medical name of the new disease, calling it the “Chinese virus” instead.

Increased reports of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the U.S. have followed. China is a convenient scapegoat now that the U.S. actually has more COVID-19 cases, a soaring death toll and overwhelmed hospitals in some places.

Meanwhile, China has received widespread praise for its eventual, aggressive response to the new virus, imposing a massive quarantine around the epicenter in Wuhan that helped at least slow the virus’s spread elsewhere. Chinese scientists have also been key in isolating the pathogen and mapping out its unique qualities.

The origins of the pandemic are a complex question best left to scientists, said China’s embassy to Canada in an email response to National Post questions.

“People of the world have all witnessed that it is under the leadership of the CPC (Communist Party of China) that the Chinese people achieved independence, freedom and liberation and made enormous progress in national development,” said the mission’s statement. “It is also under the leadership of the CPC that the Chinese nation united as one and speedily fought against COVID-19, buying precious time for the global response.”

The Chinese Communist Party sees itself as engaged in a global competition over the narrative surrounding COVID-19, its origins and government responses

But beyond name-calling by the U.S. and chest-thumping by China, there are clear reasons to look toward Beijing and its part in the expanding crisis, reasons that could determine if the world faces a similar calamity in the near future.

While the precise genesis of the disease is still something of a question mark, the current consensus reflects the conclusions of a group of 34 Chinese researchers, and one Australian, in the journal Lancet late last month.

The coronavirus, like others of its type, seems to have originated in bats, then jumped to live animals sold at a market in Wuhan, the specific culprit likely being an odd beast called a pangolin, and from there to humans, their paper concluded. Microbiologist David Kelvin of Dalhousie University, who has had a longstanding collaboration with researchers in Shantou, China, agrees.

It’s not totally implausible that it might have been circulating in humans earlier somewhere else — like Italy, he said. A “sero-prevalance” study that tested banked blood samples from well before the start of the pandemic might determine if there’s anything to the theory.

But, he said, “the data right now suggest that the origins are Chinese.”

In that regard, COVID-19 has obvious parallels.

The 2003 SARS virus, to which the new virus is closely related, is thought to have originated in bats, then leapt to animals sold at live markets in China’s Guangdong province — probably the civet cat — and on to people.

The H7N9 influenza virus, which has caused a string of relatively small but deadly epidemics in China, likewise moved from bats to wild fowl and then domestic poultry bought live by consumers, Kelvin said.

Wild animal sales were ordered stopped after SARS, then re-emerged. Beijing has now banned trade in live wild animals like the pangolin for food, though apparently not for use in traditional medicine.

Live wild game sales in China and other countries must be ended completely, otherwise “we predict with confidence that COVID-19 will not be the last viral pandemic,” virologist Nathan Wolf and “Guns, Germs and Steel” author Jared Diamond wrote in a recent op-ed article.

Some want a crackdown to go further. Wet markets, generally, even if just selling domestic animals, should be closed, says Kelvin.

Meanwhile, another human factor also seemed key to the spread of COVID-19. As doctors in Wuhan first became aware in December of patients suffering a mystery pneumonia — and infecting health-care workers — some put out the word to colleagues. But then eight of them, including ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, were brought in by police and accused of spreading false rumours. Li died from COVID-19 in February.

When officials publicly acknowledged the emergence of a novel pathogen, they at first played down its seriousness, questioning whether it could be transmitted between humans. A holiday banquet of 40,000 people went ahead in Wuhan on Jan. 13.

The Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto Internet watchdog, later reported that a Chinese live-streaming platform started blocking key words related to the outbreak in late December, with broader censorship following that.

Wuhan was eventually sealed off from the world on Jan. 23, inside a cordon sanitaire of unprecedented scale. Amid the initial suppression, virus carriers had already left the transportation hub in droves. The first Canadian case, a traveller who had visited the city, surfaced Jan. 26.

The emergence of COVID-19 was at first a public-relations disaster for China, an emerging superpower keen to bolster its international influence and prestige.

Then it began trying to change the conversation, and the pandemic’s core facts.

Among the first, startling examples was Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao’s posts earlier this month.

One of the Montreal centre’s articles he tweeted about suggested that American soldiers who visited the World Military Games in Wuhan in December might have brought over the virus. Another suggested they caught the bug from a shuttered U.S. disease lab.

The centre’s website, globalresearch.ca, is replete with such conspiracy theories, including claims that Al Qaeda and the 911 attacks were an American invention, that the U.S. manipulates the weather as a potential weapon of mass destruction and vaccines are “genetic poisons.”

The website earlier came to the attention of the Latvia-based Strategic Communications Centre (StratCom), a NATO-affiliated thinktank, because of its consistent dissemination of articles reflecting Kremlin propaganda. A recent piece suggested NATO was preparing to attack Russia.

Those articles tend to reflect disinformation that was originally spread by Russian operatives. Then, to bolster the legitimacy of the dubious reports in a sort of “information laundering,” the Canadian items are quoted back by Kremlin-controlled media, Janis Sarts, StratCom’s director, said in an interview Friday.

“When Russia needs to refer to a Western source, this is typically the site that is quoted,” he said.

In a similar vein, the site’s articles on COVID-19 quote extensively from the Chinese Communist party’s Global Times, only to be later cited by a Beijing official.

For those not convinced the pandemic originated in the U.S., state-controlled media like the Global Times and CGTN have proffered another suggestion: that it began last November in Italy.

We have not seen the last Li Wenliang

But when Italian newspaper Il Foglio reached the supposed Italian source for one such report, the pharmacology professor told the outlet “it’s propaganda. The virus is from Wuhan. Science has no doubt about that.”

Then there is the reinvention of Li Wenliang’s tragic story. His death triggered an outpouring of public grief and anger at authorities “unlike anything else I can remember,” said Gerwitz.

That was before the regime claimed him as one of its own. Local police were punished for unfairly persecuting him and official organs described him as a loyal party member.

So how does all this bode for the future? If another new virus emerges within its borders, will China be more transparent, allowing public health to quickly and definitively stop the germ before it spreads? Will traditional food commerce be changed for good?

Gerwitz says all countries, and particularly his own, need to be held accountable for how they handled the pandemic, which has killed over 1,000 Americans under a president who also once downplayed its gravity.

As for China, though, he’s not overly optimistic.

Rather than make the necessary changes, Beijing may see the crisis as a reason to intensify even further its surveillance and control of the population.

“We have not seen the last Li Wenliang,” Gerwitz said of the doctor whistleblower. “The question his case raises is whether the next Li Wenliang will even have the opportunity to send that first message.”

Source: China’s COVID-19 disinformation push, aided by Canadian group, raises concerns about next pandemic

‘They see my blue eyes then jump back’ – China sees a new wave of xenophobia

Of note:

Over the past few weeks, as Chinese health officials reported new “imported” coronavirus cases almost every day, foreigners living in the country have noticed a change. They have been turned away from restaurants, shops, gyms and hotels, subjected to further screening, yelled at by locals and avoided in public spaces.

“I’m walking past someone, then they see my blue eyes and jump a foot back,” said Andrew Hoban, 33, who is originally from Ireland and lives in Shanghai.

Experiences range from socially awkward to xenophobic. An American walking with a group of foreigners in a park in Beijing saw a woman grab her child and run the other way. Others have described being called “foreign trash”. A recent online article, under an image of ship stacked with refuse being pushed away from China’s coast, was headlined: “Beware of a second outbreak started by foreign garbage.”

Terry Glavin: COVID-19: Beware the wartime propaganda as we battle this plague

On the lack of checks and balances regarding Chinese government propaganda:

It’s a terribly imperfect metaphor, and it’s already something of a cliché, but fair enough, too. The global struggle with the disaster of the coronavirus that first emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan is, without question, something very much like war. And almost everybody who’s saying so is relying on pretty well the same formulation.

U.S. President Donald Trump has lately fashioned himself as a ‘wartime president,” determined to defeat a “horrible, invisible enemy.” French President Emmanuel Macron: “We are at war. The enemy is invisible and it requires our general mobilization.” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “We are at war with an enemy that is invisible, but not invincible.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “This is a battle for public health … We are at war with an invisible enemy.”

So yes, fair enough. But we should be very careful that we don’t allow the confines of approved terminology and the banalities of official diction to leave us unmoored from the objective realities of the crisis we’ve all found ourselves stumbling through. Because that’s how colossally stupid public policy mistakes get made. It’s also how the powerful get away with occluding the truth and telling outright lies.

It’s how the powerful get away with occluding the truth

The official exertions dozens of nation states are taking to deal with the calamity of the virus are of the kind that are ordinarily made only in wartime. After all, in Canada’s case the statutory antecedent of the Emergencies Act, which Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is quite sensibly considering as a “last resort,” is the War Measures Act, which was invoked only once after the Second World War, during the October Crisis of 1970.

Naming the enemy precisely would help. And this is where things have already got off to a shabby and slightly sinister start.

Strictly speaking, the enemy is not COVID-19, as the disease has come to be named by the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases group, “covi” being the short form of coronavirus, and ‘d” for disease, and 19 for 2019. It’s true enough that the herculean medical research efforts required to find effective treatments for the disease, and of course to develop a vaccine — an undertaking which is expected to take at least a year to complete — should put us all on a war footing. And that effort deserves the rapid marshalling of public resources and whatever measures are necessary to keep our hospitals from crashing and ensuring the safety and security of public health workers.

But the “invisible enemy” that’s showing up in the speeches of presidents and prime ministers, the thing that has forced wartime-type lockdowns and curfews and social mobilization, is the virus that causes the disease. The virus was named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses. The SARS bit in the name comes from the virus’s genetic relation to the virus associated with the SARS outbreak of 2003.

It was perfectly sensible that “Wuhan virus” immediately and quite innocently emerged in the language of common speech, in China and elsewhere, But nobody wants their hometown named after a killer virus, and WHO guidelines are averse to the association of viruses with specific countries. So SARS-CoV-2 it was, and not “China virus.” For naming purposes it didn’t and shouldn’t have mattered that 99 per cent of all the eruptions from the virus at the time were occurring in China.

But then the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machinery kicked in. Faced with a population disaffected to a degree without precedent since the time of the nationwide pro-democracy insurrections that were crushed in the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, the CCP’s braintrust began to circulate lurid fictions to the effect that the virus didn’t originate in China at all, but was rather somehow smuggled into Wuhan by the U.S military.

The CCP’s braintrust began to circulate lurid fictions to the effect that the virus didn’t originate in China at all

The CCP was also keen on following Xi Jinping’s Feb. 3 instruction to recast China’s police-state efficiencies as the solution to the world’s hardships, and to recast Xi himself as a global medical-supply benefactor rather than the cold-blooded villain sensible people understand him to be. Because of all this, the regime’s state media and several senior propaganda ministry officials and diplomats were particularly determined to lay in an ambuscade for Trump over his use of the provocatively vulgar term “China virus.”

This all may seem trivial and petty, but it’s worth taking a moment here to notice a couple of things about the way wartime propaganda works.

The first thing is the classic strategy of exploiting divisions and anxieties in an enemy population in order to weaken public resolve and undermine the enemy’s leadership. If you don’t think the CCP sees the U.S.-led global order and the institutions of liberal democracy as the enemy, you simply haven’t been paying attention. And if you don’t think the Chinese Communist Party intends to exploit the coronavirus disaster as an opportunity to advance its interests against its enemies around the world, you’re not taking the CCP at its own word.

It’s the democratic world’s ill luck that the inflammation of domestic divisions and anxieties just happens to be both the cause and the purpose of Trumpism itself, and a significant body of American opinion will not grant Trump the time of day. Neither does it help matters that the Americans are in the bitter throes of an election year, when they all tend to give the impression of being at one another’s throats at the best of times.

The second thing is that controlling the terminology of the conflict and the subversion of vocabulary are crude wartime propaganda methodologies, and Beijing is taking matters to absurd extremes, with its ambassadors around the world instructing everyone in what we are allowed to say and how we are allowed to say it.

China’s embassy in Peru, for instance, has initiated a thuggish attack on the celebrated Peruvian novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, a former president of PEN International, owing to a March 14 essay Llosa wrote in the Spanish national newspaper El Pais. Llosa merely noted that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, and that the Chinese authorities had suppressed early efforts to alert the public about the disease — a catastrophic error that a free society would not so readily make.

The embassy went so far as to deny that the virus even originated in China, and admonished Llosa for having the cheek to criticize the Chinese government. Immediately, Llosa’s novels started getting pulled from China’s e-book platforms.

Every reasonable person understands that Donald Trump is a buffoon, but his torrents of false claims and imbecilities are routinely fact-checked and corrected by a robust American news media, and sometimes even by Trump’s own officials. The Chinese people enjoy no such liberties and China’s brutal state-capitalist system allows no such corrections. With the world divided more or less into two camps, with Xi Jinping on one side and Donald Trump on the other, any retreat into a facile “both-sidesism” would be a mistake the democratic world can’t afford to make.

We’ve had quite enough of that already, to disastrous result, and it would be the height of folly to try to salvage the relics of a broken global order that treated China like a normal country. That world is gone. Besides, it would be a peacetime activity, and as crude as the metaphor is, the predicament we face at the moment, in this time of plague, is very much like war.

Source: Terry Glavin: COVID-19: Beware the wartime propaganda as we battle this plague

Kolga: Criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of coronavirus is not racism

Good distinction between criticism of the Chinese government and Chinese citizens:

When we criticize the actions of governments run by autocrats and dictators, like those in Russia and China, we must bear in mind that it is not the citizens who are responsible for their government’s abuse and negligence; they are in fact, the greatest victims of it.

When we criticize the actions of governments run by autocrats and dictators, like those in Russia and China, we must bear in mind that it is not the citizens who are responsible for their government’s abuse and negligence; they are in fact, the greatest victims of it.

For instance, the Chinese people bear no responsibility for their government’s illegitimate imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Hussein Celil. It is also the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) criminal negligence that directly contributed to the mass outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, and the ensuing pandemic we face today. In fact, I very much doubt the families of China’s COVID-19 victims are celebrating their government’s actions today.

When we criticize the actions of these governments, we must be very specific and accurate in directing our criticism towards those who are in power. In the case of China, it is the Communist Party that holds exclusive decision-making power, and in Russia, the Putin regime. In both cases, the people of these nations have no meaningful say in the decision-making process of their governments, and face arrest and imprisonment for criticizing them.

By generalizing our disapproval and outrage towards the citizens of these regimes, we risk hurting and stigmatizing these communities, and that plays directly into the disinformation warfare tactics that such regimes are engaged in against the Western world, including accusations of “racism.”

Authoritarian regimes frequently label foreign criticism of their policies as “racist” as a way to delegitimize them and polarize debate. By wrapping themselves in ethno-nationalist rhetoric, these regimes often claim that a critique of their actions is equivalent to a critique of the people itself; this heightens the need to be precise with our language and aware of the propaganda efforts of authoritarian regimes. It’s a tried and true tactic in the authoritarian playbook.

China’s former ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, accused the Canadian government of “white supremacy” last year, when Canada demanded the release of its citizens who had been arbitrarily detained in China, in retaliation after Canada complied with a U.S. extradition request for Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou.

Last week, the E.U. published a report that warned Vladimir Putin is seeking to use the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize Western nations and undermine our alliances. The report states that the Russian government’s cynical disinformation attack is designed to “aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries, specifically by undermining public trust in national health care systems, thus preventing an effective response to the outbreak.”

In the apparent absence of any evidence that would disprove the E.U. claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pskov accused the E.U. of “Russophobia” in an effort to intimidate European policy-makers, critics and media into silence.

The same tactic has been used by the Russian government to discredit Canadian political leaders, like Chrystia Freeland, whose Ukrainian background has been cited as tainting her judgment. Putin critics, like myself, have also been labelledRussophobic” for advocating for Canadian Magnitsky human rights legislation, a law that was lauded as the most pro-Russian measure that any Western government could take, according to assassinated Russian pro-democracy opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.

Yet the concerns of Canadians who are worried about ethnic communities being stigmatized by the global pandemic must not be dismissed either. As the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin has pointed out, President Trump’s recent reference to COVID-19 being a “Chinese virus” is “simplistic but technically accurate,” and plays into the hands of Chinese Communist Party propagandists, who in turn use this to provoke anti-Trump and anti-Western sentiments.

Leading U.S.-based Chinese human rights activist Jianli Yang told me that he “may not like the term ‘Chinese virus’ that President Trump has been using in the past few days,” but he doesn’t believe “it is intended by him for any racist meaning.” He believes that Trump was using the term to counter the Chinese government’s attempts to “divert responsibility for its mishandling of the outbreak which has resulted in this global pandemic.”

Yang believes that “there should be and must be a moment when all, victimized individuals and countries, come together to hold the CCP regime accountable.”

Here in Canada, we can be fairly certain that our governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, at all three levels of government, have been shaped by our sensitivity to potential accusations of racism by Chinese government propaganda. Why else did Canada refrain from limiting travel from Hubei and China, only to close off virtually all foreign travel mere weeks later?

Canada is not alone in facing such foul accusations.

In Sweden, a former, long-serving Swedish MP, Gunnar Hökmark, wrote in a recent opinion piece that “China’s leaders should apologize to the world for epidemics coming from China because of the dictatorship’s failure to address food safety, animal standards, and because its repression of truth and the freedom of its own citizens.” China’s ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou condemned the statement and accused Hökmark of “stigmatizing” China. China’s ambassador also went on to criticize Hökmark, his colleague Patrik Oksanen and their think tank, the Stockholm Free World Forum, for being part of an “anti-China political machine” and for “attacking, slandering and stigmatizing China.”

Canadians and our government must take great care to avoid generalizations that risk stigmatizing Canadians of Chinese heritage, or any other community, whose governments engage in similar repressive behaviour, including the Russian and Iranian regimes. However, we must also be alert to regime propagandists who seek to dismiss and silence legitimate criticism of their actions when they smear critics with false accusations of “racism.”

As Jianli Yang underlined for me, “the Chinese Communist regime is not justified in accusing anyone of racism, who criticize its early-stage covering up of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the latest information (disinformation) war against other countries.”

Source: Criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of coronavirus is not racism

‘I Thought It Would Be Safe’: Uighurs In Turkey Now Fear China’s Long Arm

Long read on yet another unsavoury aspect of the Chinese and Turkish regimes:

Abdurehim Imin Parach often looks over his shoulder when he walks around Istanbul. He worries that he is being followed, just as he was last year when two Turkish plainclothes policemen escorted him out of a restaurant in the city and told him he was under arrest.

“They didn’t say why they were arresting me,” says Parach, 44, an ethnic Uighur who landed in Turkey more than five years ago after fleeing his home in China’s Xinjiang region. “At the police station they tried to get me to sign a statement saying I was a terrorist. They beat me, but I wouldn’t sign it. Then they sent me to a deportation center.”

It was a cold, dark building hundreds of miles away from Istanbul. Parach says he met at least 20 other Uighurs there, all expecting to be deported.

Then, after three months, he was released without explanation. Turkish authorities urged him not to speak out against China.

Parach suspects China was behind his arrest. He has criticized China’s treatment of his people for years and had to flee the country after repeated detentions.

“When you stand against China,” he says, “you are a threat wherever you are.”

China’s government considers many members of the Uighur ethnic minority to be “terrorists” and “separatists.” It has imprisoned them on a mass scale and has turned Xinjiang into one of the world’s most tightly controlled police states.

As a result, many Uighurs have fled to Turkey, which they have traditionally viewed as a refuge and an advocate for their rights. Now, many Uighurs in Istanbul tell NPR they fear China is pressuring Turkey to threaten them.

Parach believes he was targeted after he published a book of poetry describing China’s oppression of Uighurs. In a quiet corner of a spicy-noodles diner, he unzips his backpack and pulls out the book, Breathing in Exile. The book’s cover includes a moody drawing of Tian Shan (or in Uighur, Tengri Tagh) the Central Asian mountain range that’s known as the “mountains of heaven.”

He flips to a verse describing how Uighurs feel: lost, dislocated, swallowed up by the night. The verse translates roughly as: “We await a thundering so great/that it shatters stars/that it awakens fate/to save us from a void of eternal scars.”

The book came out in December 2018 as China was making international headlines for imprisoning more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in reeducation camps to counter what it calls extremist ideologies.

Two months later, the Turkish plainclothes police officers arrested him. Parach was shocked and confused. His book criticized China, not Turkey.

“I’m not sure if China is putting pressure directly on the Turkish government to control Uighurs here,” Parach says, “or if Chinese agents have infiltrated Turkish society to frame us as terrorists.”

NPR spoke to more than a dozen Uighurs in Istanbul who detailed how Turkish police arrested them and sent them to deportation centers, sometimes for months, without telling them why. One Uighur activist in Turkey says he has counted at least 200 such detentions since January 2019, while a lawyer says he has assisted more than 400 Uighurs arrested in the past year.

All those interviewed suspect China’s involvement in the detentions. Most declined to give their full names out of fear they would be targeted again.

A woman in her mid-40s says she was dragged out of her home in the middle of the night as her terrified children watched. A father of three says Turkish authorities imprisoned him along with his entire family, including his young children. Another man was hustled out of his tea shop in front of his confused customers.

The Uighur activist tracking detentions is named Anwar. He says he has been arrested himself — twice, most recently last October when Turkish police plucked him off the Istanbul metro as he was heading to work.

“They didn’t ask any questions except, ‘Do you want to call the Chinese Embassy?’ ” says Anwar, 27, a wiry, blunt-talking father of two.

He didn’t call the Chinese Embassy, but he suspects that authorities in China somehow found out about the arrest right away. A couple of hours after his detention, his parents in Xinjiang called his wife in Turkey to tell her about it, he says.

Activists later promoted Anwar’s case on social media and hired a lawyer who helped him get out of migrant detention after a few days. Uighurs who can’t afford lawyers are not so lucky and can languish in detention centers for months, he says.

Anwar often pickets outside the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, dressed in prison garb and declaring that East Turkestan, as the Uighurs call Xinjiang, must be free.

Since his release, Turkish authorities have warned Anwar to stop protesting so loudly against China. He says he’s trying to understand how the long arm of Beijing could have reached Turkey, where at least 35,000 Uighurs live, according to local leaders.

“I thought it would be safe in Turkey,” he says. “But I have nightmares every night that the next time I’m arrested, I will be deported to China.”

“A second home”

Uighurs have sought refuge in Turkey for decades. They speak a Turkic language and, like Turks, they practice Islam.

In 1952, the Turkish government offered asylum to Uighurs who were fleeing Xinjiang after its takeover by Chinese Communists. Turkey has granted some form of temporary or permanent residency to Uighur exiles since then.

Ismail Cengiz’s father arrived in Turkey in 1953. He had been forced out of his home in Kashgar, a city in far-western China that was on the Silk Road trade route once connecting the country to the Middle East and Europe.

“My father always talked about our home in Kashgar,” says Cengiz, 60, a graying, talkative man in black-rimmed glasses. “It made me long for it.”

Born and raised in Turkey, Cengiz advocates for independence for East Turkestan. Some in the community in Istanbul call him “prime minister,” and he is often seen at Uighur cafes and restaurants in the city, glad-handing imams and business owners.

“Uighurs really do see Turkey as a second home,” Cengiz says. “We want to believe that [the government] would never allow Uighurs to be sent back to China. But what’s happening to the newcomers is making them nervous.”

Many Uighurs arriving in Turkey since 2014 have struggled to get Turkish residency permits, Cengiz says. Many of them have expired Chinese passports.

“If they try to renew the passports at the Chinese Consulate, the Chinese rip them up,” Cengiz says. “Then they hand out documents that allow only for a one-way return to China. After these Nazi-style camps [in Xinjiang], no one wants to go back.”

He clicks open his briefcase and takes out a thick folder with photos of Uighurs missing in China, including some who have Turkish citizenship. There’s also a list of Uighurs who have been detained by Turkish police.

“Everyone needs to know what’s happening to us,” he says.

Whenever Cengiz hears about Turkish police arresting Uighurs, he says he writes letters to the immigration service and makes calls to lawmakers and the Interior Ministry. He appeals to the sense of solidarity Turks are said to feel with Muslims around the world.

“I tell them Uighurs have fled their ancestral home out of fear,” he says. “They should not have to deal with more fear here in their second home.”

Many Uighurs in Turkey live in two Istanbul neighborhoods, Zeytinburnu and Sefakoy. Walk around and you will see Uighur mothers in headscarves and full-face veils pushing their children on playground swings as grandfathers with long white beards pray in nearby mosques. There are Uighur-language schools, boxing clubs, bakeries and cafes scented with saffron-and-cardamom tea. Clothing shops sell red embroidered dresses, ankle-length vests and T-shirts printed with a drawing of a ghijek, a type of fiddle. Bookstores stock Uighur works banned in China, including Parach’s poems.

The baby-blue flag of East Turkestan is on every wall. It features the same white crescent and star as Turkey’s red flag.

A suspicious call before an arrest

Both flags hang at a cultural center where Aminah Mamatimin meets other Uighur women whose families are missing in China.

Mamatimin, a 29-year-old mother of five, says that until now the relative safety of Turkey has allowed her to publicly mourn her husband and children, who have been missing in China since January 2017.

She was pregnant with her fifth child when she flew to Turkey with her toddler daughter in 2016. Her husband was supposed to follow with their three older children after closing down his business, but Chinese police arrested him on the charge of “investing in terrorism,” Mamatimin says, after he sent her money in Turkey. Then he and the children disappeared. She flips through a poster-size scrapbook of their photos.

Mamatimin has heard that her children were hauled off to Chinese military-style schools surrounded by barbed wire. She worries that Fatima, her frail, sickly 8-year-old daughter, won’t survive there.

“Fatima’s the one who needs me the most,” says Mamatimin, her voice breaking as she flips through her scrapbook. “She’s anxious and sometimes wets the bed. She’s so shy she won’t even speak up when she’s hungry. I keep wondering: Is she getting enough to eat? Is she cold? Is she afraid?”

Downstairs at the cultural center, Uighur women run a busy bazaar selling fresh dumplings, dried noodles and colorful skullcaps. A veiled woman steps out of the crowd, holding the hands of two little girls in matching bowl cuts and cherry-print dresses.

She gives her name as Asma and her age, 33, but she is too afraid for her safety to reveal her full name. She unlocks the door to a friend’s spice shop, which is closed for the day, and sits down to recount a call she got late last year.

The screen on her cellphone showed a Chinese area code. The man on the line identified himself as a police officer in Xinjiang, where several of Asma’s relatives have been forced into camps and prison. She can’t confirm that the man was, in fact, a Chinese official, but leaked classified Chinese government documents show that Beijing has made a concerted effort to spy on Uighurs no matter where they are.

“He knew everything about us,” she says, referring to herself and her husband. “He even sent us photos of our families in China. The man told me we had to spy on other Uighurs. He said: If you don’t, you don’t know what bad things might happen to you.”

Asma refused to cooperate. A couple of months after that call, Turkish police detained her husband in his tea shop in Zeytinburnu and sent him to a deportation center.

Her husband, who declined to give his name, was released after a few weeks. He told NPR that he was so rattled by the arrest that he closed down his shop.

“I have to prove I am Uighur”

NPR confirmed that Turkey deported at least four Uighurs last summer to Tajikistan.

The deportees had lived in the central Turkish city of Kayseri. They included Zinnetgul Tursun and her two toddler daughters.

Her sister, Jennetgul, who spoke to NPR by phone from her home in Saudi Arabia, remembers her sister calling her last summer from a deportation center in Turkey’s west-coast city of Izmir.

“She kept saying, ‘You have to bring documents that I am Uighur. I have to prove I am Uighur,’ ” Jennetgul says.

She didn’t have the documents her sister needed. A few days later, she lost touch with Zinnetgul. A month later, she heard from their mother in China.

“She had my sister’s children and said that the Chinese police had arrested my sister,” Jennetgul says. “And then the nightmare began.”

Jennetgul has pleaded with Turkish officials to help locate her sister. She says she’s heard nothing.

“It’s so difficult for me to accept that Turkey did this,” she says. “Turkey, the land that is like our home, where the people are like our own.”

Turkey’s migration office claims Zinnetgul Tursun entered Syria illegally and didn’t have valid documents proving she’s Uighur — charges her sister denies.

In the past, Turkey has cited security as a reason to arrest migrants, including Uighurs. In 2014, Chinese state media said about 300 Uighurs had joined the Islamic State. Three years later, when an Uzbek gunman loyal to ISIS killed 39 people at a popular Istanbul nightclub during New Year’s celebrations, Turkish authorities arrested several Uighurs with suspected extremist ties as part of the investigation into the mass shooting.

“After that tragedy,” says Ragip Kutay Karaca, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Aydin University, “the authorities began arresting Uighurs with even the slightest connection to Syria.”

Parach, the poet, found himself swept up in this dragnet. His then-11-year-old son, Shehidulla, disappeared in 2014, the same year they both arrived in Turkey. Parach spent years calling Uighur militants in Iraq and Syria in an effort to locate and retrieve his child. In 2017, Turkish authorities arrested Parach on suspicion of terrorism for making those calls.

“I didn’t blame them for arresting me then,” he says. “It made sense.”

Parach learned that Shehidulla likely died in a suicide bombing that the boy may have set off himself. He says he’s devastated that his son died “with terrorists.”

The poet’s wife, Buhelchem Memet, had talked her husband and son into fleeing to Turkey while she stayed in Xinjiang with their five other children. She hoped her husband could secure a residency permit in Turkey and bring over the rest of the family. But she was soon imprisoned in China. Late last year, Parach heard from someone in the same prison that his wife had died there.

In China’s good graces

Just five years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan declared that he would always keep Turkey’s doors open for Uighur refugees. Last February, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called China’s Xinjiang camps “a great embarrassment for humanity.”

But when Erdogan visited Beijing last summer to boost ties with China, he told reporters that those who “exploited” the Uighur issue are undermining Beijing-Ankara relations. Since then, he has been silent on the issue.

“China, for Turkey, is quite an important economic partner,” says Cevdet Yilmaz, the vice chairman and foreign policy chief of the ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP. “We have a big trade volume with China. We hope that we can also sell our goods to the rising middle class of China.”

In 2018, as Turkey’s lira was plummeting, in part because of U.S. sanctions, China gave Turkey a $3.6 billion loan. Chinese investors are also financing a third suspension bridge across the Bosporus in Istanbul, though concern about the new coronavirus pandemic has led to project delays.

Yilmaz, 52, who has held senior posts in Erdogan’s administration, says the government is pushing to attract more Chinese tourists and investors. Turkey also wants greater involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s vast global trade and infrastructure project.

“We are in the middle corridor of this project, and we want to work with China to develop it because it will be useful for Turkey,” says Yilmaz, during an interview with NPR his office in the AKP’s fortress-like headquarters in the Turkish capital, Ankara. “We are in between east and west. And if there is more trade between Europe and China, Turkey will benefit.”

He denies Beijing is pressuring Ankara to send back Uighurs. He says he doesn’t know the specifics about Uighur arrests in Turkey and referred questions to the Interior Ministry, which did not respond to NPR’s requests for comment.

“We don’t have any specific policy against Uighur people,” Yilmaz says. “It is about the overall security of Turkey and international cooperation on security.”

He says that Turkey supports China’s territorial integrity and frowns upon Uighur separatism.

“We believe Uighur people should solve their problems, if they have any, with Chinese authorities,” Yilmaz says. “We don’t want to see these issues to be used to harm our relations with China.”

He adds, “We expect [Uighurs] to be a bridge between Turkey and China, rather than a divisive issue.”

Yavuz Onay, the vice chairman of the Turkish-Chinese Business Council in Turkey, says he flies regularly to Beijing to attract investors to Turkey.

Onay insists that Uighurs are not oppressed in China and he approves of the controversial Xinjiang camps where Uighurs are imprisoned. “China gives them free education and takes care of them there,” he says. “They must stop complaining. It’s not good for Turkey.”

Pressure on exiles

Human rights groups say China has already pressured several countries to intimidate, detain and deport Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups. There are signs of this happening in Egypt, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and a number of other countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Ali Akber Mohammad, a 43-year-old Uighur cleric, says he was chased out of Egypt. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has pushed to attract billions of dollars in Chinese investment and tourism. In 2017, Egyptian police raided the homes of Uighurs living in Egypt. Mohammad managed to flee to Turkey.

“When I first arrived, Turkey felt so safe,” Mohammad says. “But in the last few months, everything has started to change. The Turkish police are arresting Uighurs, are interrogating Uighurs. This is why I left Egypt. … Now, where do we go?”

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, says Beijing wants Uighurs back in China in order to silence them.

“They don’t want witnesses. They don’t want people who can to talk to the degree of political, cultural, religious repression that’s taking place in Xinjiang simply because it’s shocking and beyond the pale,” he says.

Bequelin says the Chinese do not want Uighurs to secure the kind of worldwide sympathy enjoyed by Tibetans, another oppressed ethnic group in China.

“And that is one of the reasons why they’ve played the Muslim card so much,” he says. “China tars the Uighurs as terrorists.”

For decades, the Chinese government has blamed violent attacks in China on militant Uighur separatists who are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The crackdown expanded in 2009, when nearly 200 people died during Uighur protests against state-sponsored Han Chinese migration into Xinjiang. Many Uighurs fled to avoid imprisonment.

Beijing pressures countries to repatriate Uighurs so “they can be kept under tight monitoring, to reduce what [China] sees as a threat, both real and potential, to the country’s national security,” says Chien-peng Chung, a politics professor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and an expert on ethnic nationalism in China.

“We can’t live like this”

Bequelin of Amnesty International says the ground is shifting for Uighurs in Turkey. “The government seems more and more inclined to pacify Beijing by taking stronger measures against Uighurs,” he says, “but that’s not going to be popular with Turkish people.”

Turks see Uighurs as “their brothers and sisters,” says Karaca, the professor at Istanbul Aydin University. In December, thousands of Turks marched in Istanbul, calling Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and chanting, “Murderer China, get out of East Turkestan.”

Abdul Kadir Osman, who was a doctor in Xinjiang but now makes a living baking walnut-encrusted flatbread in Istanbul, says he appreciates the support but knows its limits. “The Turkish government will do what’s best for itself, not for us,” says Osman, 45.

Osman is one of thousands of Uighurs to whom Turkey has denied residency papers, local leaders say. Without residency permits, Uighurs risk getting deported. Osman says he sees Uighurs in this situation getting arrested every day.

“It’s stressful to walk outside of my home, even when I’m with my entire family,” Osman says. “Running errands is a nightmare. I’m afraid to take public transportation, in case the police are there.”

Another baker, a man who gives his name as Abdulla, says he’s also stranded in Turkey with an expired Chinese passport and no residency papers. He was arrested and sent to a deportation center in 2018 for reasons he still doesn’t understand.

Now that the arrests seem to have stepped up, he says, he’s a nervous wreck. He can’t sleep. He has headaches. He worries that his family will go hungry if he’s arrested again. He has nightmares that he will be deported like Zinnetgul Tursun.

“It’s hard to live like this,” he says, “so we are trying to move to a safe place.”

Like many Uighur exiles in Turkey, he’s making plans to flee with his family to Western Europe. He’s heard people there don’t like refugees or Muslims — but he does hope they might stand up to China.

Source: ‘I Thought It Would Be Safe’: Uighurs In Turkey Now Fear China’s Long Arm

Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Of note:

Sonia Zhao had to lie, in effect, when she left China to teach Mandarin at an Ontario university.

The contract she signed with the Beijing-run Confucius Institute indicated that Falun Gong practitioners – people like her – were barred from the job. But she kept her beliefs secret and hoped she could find more freedom in Canada. It was not to be.

She says she was trained beforehand to spin Beijing’s line if students asked about Tibet and other taboo topics, while Chinese staff at McMaster University’s branch of the institute made clear Falun Gong was poison. After a year, she quit and sought asylum here, becoming perhaps the world’s first Confucius Institute whistle-blower.

“I think they’re aiming to build a really beautiful, healthy image (of China) among those students,” Zhao said about the institute’s ultimate purpose. She believes Canada should have nothing to do with the agency. “It isn’t worth it to give up your freedom of speech or freedom even of thinking just to learn about a different language or culture.”

Her experience in 2011 did lead McMaster to end its relationship with the institute, a division of China’s education ministry that pays for Mandarin-language and cultural programs worldwide – and has long been embroiled in controversy. Advocates call the organization a generously funded cultural bridge, critics decry it as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese propaganda and influence.

But 10 other universities, colleges and boards of education across Canada still host their own Confucius outlets. And a National Post survey of the closely guarded contracts they signed found little in them that might prevent the kind of censorship and discriminatory hiring highlighted by Zhao.

Only one of seven agreements obtained by the Post includes any protection for academic freedom.

Several of the contracts indicate the local institutes must accept the agency headquarters’ assessment of “teaching quality.” One at the University of Waterloo-affiliated Renison College says any disagreements about running the institute should be referred to the Beijing headquarters, called Hanban.

Almost all bar the institutes from contravening Canadian or Chinese law, the latter routinely excoriated for its abuse of basic human rights. They also require compliance with the institute’s own constitution and bylaws. To this day, Hanban’s website says overseas teachers must have “no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations,” a clear violation of Canadian constitutional and rights law.

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., even pledged to find a “prominent location” to erect a statue of Confucius to advertise the institute’s presence.

“I would say (Confucius headquarters) have absolute control,” said lawyer Clive Ansley  after reviewing some of the contracts. The former China studies professor practiced for several years in the country. “Any decision on what they call teaching quality, teaching materials, it’s all going to be made by Hanban.”

Ivy Li of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said she was struck by the different roles set out in the contracts she perused at the Post’s request.

The Canadian hosts agree to provide office and classroom space and a steady supply of students, and in some cases to promote the program. Most of the contracts also say the Canadian school will provide funding, directly or in kind, at least equal to what the Chinese government contributes.

Hanban, the contracts stipulate, supplies the content – Mandarin teachers, textbooks, course software and other educational materials, which Li said come with Beijing’s particular spin.

“Even purely from a business point of view, it’s a very bad deal,” she charged. “Our universities are being used as a platform to promote (China’s) message, and that message is disinformation.”

But administrators here argue that despite what the contracts suggest, China does not actually interfere in the arrangements – arrangements they argue are an important conduit between the two nations. Meanwhile, they say, political issues never arise in the type of activities – from language training to Tai Chi – the institutes oversee.

“We have not had any pressure from China to do anything other than enhance cultural understanding,” said Lorne Parker, an assistant superintendent with the Edmonton public school division. “We are looking at our relationship with (Confucius Institute) as building a cultural bridge and not a wall. You can have more influence … by having those bridges.”

Launched in 2004, Confucius has opened 540 branches around the world. Unlike Alliance Francaise, the Goethe Institute and other cultural-outreach groups funded by some European states, it is an actual department of government and embeds itself, uniquely, inside foreign educational bodies.

The organization is hosted in Canada by two school boards – Coquitlam, B.C., and Edmonton – plus two colleges – Montreal’s Dawson and Toronto’s Seneca – and six universities – Saint Mary’s, Carleton, Waterloo, Brock, Regina and Saskatchewan.

The official stated goal is to teach Mandarin and spread the good word about Chinese culture and traditions. But even Xu Lin, Hanban’s director general, has said Confucius Institutes are “an important part of our soft power.”

“We want to expand China’s influence. This relies on our instructors, Confucius Institutes and language,” she told a conference in Beijing.

After a burst of expansion in Canada, there has been some retrenchment in recent years. Both McMaster and Quebec’s Sherbrooke University shut down their institutes amid controversy, while New Brunswick is in the process of closing the Confucius program run through one of its school districts. Toronto’s board killed the institute in 2014 just as it was about to launch. The B.C. Institute of Technology’s branch has been suspended.

But the program appears to be going strong elsewhere. To understand what the remaining hosts agreed to in exchange for Beijing’s largesse, the Post asked all for copies of the contracts they signed.

Three refused. Carleton University and Seneca College offered no reason for the denial; St. Mary’s University in Halifax said its contract is “with an external organization, and is a record that is not publicly available.” A university spokesman suggested the Post file a freedom of information request, a process that typically takes months, with no guarantee of success.

In fact, several of the Confucius contracts contain non-disclosure clauses.

Other schools said they had secured Hanban’s permission to release their agreements, or the documents had already been disclosed to local media after freedom of information applications.

All set up an arrangement between the Canadian educational facility and a partner college in China, with a director appointed from each side and a board to oversee the institute. In almost every case, Hanban agrees to supply Mandarin teachers, as many as 3,000 textbooks and other teaching material. Some mention start-up funding from Beijing of $150,000 to $250,000.

China provides about 15 teachers at a time to the Edmonton school district, though they act as “supports” in Mandarin classes that are led by the board’s own staff, said Parker.

“We received about a million dollars’ worth of books and materials from Hanban,” Bob Lajoie of the Coquitlam School District enthused to filmmaker Doris Liu in her documentary In the name of Confucius.

The nature of those books is a concern for some institute critics. Terry Russell, a senior scholar in China studies at the University of Manitoba, said institute texts he’s seen talk of Tibet being “liberated” by China and Taiwan forming part of the country.

“The perspective that is set out in the teaching materials is very much the Chinese perspective,” he said.

Most of the contracts also contain a clause that says “the institute must accept the assessment of the headquarters (Hanban) on the teaching quality.”

It suggests a degree of control by Beijing that director general Xu spelled out openly in an interview previously posted on the organization’s website.

“We haven’t lost education sovereignty,” Xu said. “It’s like the foreign universities work for us.”

Zhao said training before she left China was clear: never mention sensitive topics and if asked about them, offer Beijing’s standard line, that “Tibet is part of China and the government is treating them nicely, that Taiwan is part of China.”

When she and other Confucius teachers at McMaster watched and discussed the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet – a critical look at China’s treatment of the region – their Chinese director said “if we kept talking about those things or watching those things, we need to write a report about our thinking because our minds, our thoughts are not following the Communist party.Institute staff immediately tossed in the garbage a Falun Gong pamphlet brought in by a student, she said.

But Edmonton’s Parker said Hanban does not assess the teaching work there, and suggested the clause was included only to ensure the agency’s teachers provide good-quality instruction.

A Coquitlam spokesman said that its Confucius staff are hired locally, without the agency’s input, and Hanban has never visited the district to perform assessments.

Institute administrators in Canada also deny having to abide by any aspect of Chinese law or Hanban rules, despite what the contracts say.

“I’m not aware of any of those restrictions,” Parker said when asked about the Falun Gong teacher ban.

But if some Canadian Confucius partners dismiss any suggestion of undue influence from China, and their contracts erect limited firewalls against potential Beijing meddling, there is at least one exception.

When the University of Saskatchewan renewed its agreement with Hanban in 2016, it managed to include a provision that said the institute’s activities “will respect academic freedom and transparency, as well as University of Saskatchewan institutional values, priorities and policies.”

Without that caveat, the contract would not have been extended, Karen Chad, the university’s vice-president research, said in a statement.

But critics of the Confucius Institute question whether it will have much impact. To achieve its goals, they say, the institute has never needed to overtly propagate Chinese propaganda. It has taught Mandarin and presented Chinese culture in a way that simply avoids mention of religious persecution, censorship and other topics unflattering to the Communist regime.

“The Canadians get duped as they most often do when they deal with the government of China. They get duped into thinking these things are just cultural institutions and ‘Hey it’s a good idea to have a lot of Canadians learning Mandarin,’ ” said Ansley. “That’s not the Chinese goal at all … The goal is soft power, to promote a favourable image of China in the minds of Canadians.”

Source: Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

China’s Proposed Immigration Changes Spark Xenophobic Backlash Online

Of note, not to mention Chinese government repression of minorities such as the Yuighurs:

While China is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s Ministry of Justice has sparked another controversy over some proposed changes in China’s immigration policy. The policy proposed by Chinese officials has been slammed by Chinese internet users on the country’s social media outlets WeChat and Weibo since the ministry began seeking public consultations through departmental websites and social media in late February.According to the proposed clauses listed by the Chinese Ministry Of Justice, the new legislation aims to attract high-income foreign nationals to permanently live in China. In order to qualify, applicants need to have made major contributions to China’s science, technologies, sports, or cultural sectors. Experts in specific subjects may also qualify for permanent residence status in China. Foreign nationals whose incomes are six times higher than local residents can also apply after working in China for four consecutive years, or eight consecutive years if their incomes are less than six times but more than three times the average income of local residents.

The latest proposed changes to China’s immigration system are designed to attract a limited number of experts, specialists, and high-income individuals who can contribute significantly to China. Yet Chinese internet users are not showing any signs of support. There were more than 70,000 comments under the original Ministry of Justice Weibo post, which later got censored because of the backlash. The ministry closed down comments on the post announcing the legislative proposal for granting permanent resident status to foreign nationals. According to reports from the Beijing News, the topic generated billions of reads on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is attempting to win back some support on this issue from the public through its state media outlets. Following the online anger, China Daily issued an op-ed about the importance of attracting foreign talents to develop the country’s economy and technology. CGTN, another English-language state media outlet, also published an op-ed calling for “a more open and inclusive society.” However, the overwhelming voices of dissent are dominating the spotlight.

Immigration has always been a challenging issue in Chinese society. The CCP’s past policies and records are making it difficult for the Chinese government to argue in favor of immigration, even for the purpose of attracting elite talents from other countries. According to an Initium News report, the majority of people in Chinese society believe that foreign nationals have been granted privileges and special status that they do not deserve. Some critics point out the unequal treatment between local Chinese and foreign nationals, accusing the Chinese government of opening up immigration while still having population planning policies to restrict the number of children Chinese nationals can have.

It is also important to note the prevalence of hatred and racism among the voices speaking against China’s plan to attract foreign talents. From questioning the loyalties of individuals from a different race to propagating stereotypes about other ethnic groups, many internet users seem to be opposing the Chinese government’s immigration proposals not because of the potential impacts of the policies, but rather because of racial biases and prejudices. Such attitudes are all too common. In 2017, a Chinese legislator attempted to bring up a proposal to conduct stringent and swift measures to eliminate the black communities in China’s Guangdong province. Pan Qinglin, a member of China’s Political Consultative Conference, claimed that “Africans have a high rate of AIDS and the Ebola virus.” Pan further suggested that China will change from a “yellow country” to a “yellow and black country” if black communities continue to exist in China.

While some argue that those reactions are rooted in the country’s closed cultural background, it is obvious that China’s propaganda strategy has also played a huge part in fueling nationalism and anti-foreign sentiments. In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping added the importance of promoting “cultural confidence” as a major propaganda theme. The cultural confidence portion began to advocate for stronger recognition of China’s cultural strength and traditional values. Adding to the propaganda efforts promoting the country’s political system, the CCP’s messages have been actively instigating nationalism that shows little respect for other cultures around the world.

In 2018, a short program show on China’s CCTV Chinese Spring Festival Gala had an actress dressed in blackface. Ironically designed to demonstrate China’s positive influence in Africa, the skit featured several disturbing scenes that sparked controversies. In addition to having a Chinese actress in blackface and wearing fake buttocks, the program also made cast members of African descent dress in animal costumes to perform “African dances.”

China Central Television, also known as CCTV, is one of the most important propaganda outlets in China. Its annual Spring Festival Gala is recognized as an essential channel to set out the country’s core propaganda messages of the year.

This was not the only occasion where the Chinese government found its representations to be endorsing racism. In July 2019, Chinese diplomat Zhao Lijian made inappropriate comments about black and Hispanic communities in the United States on Twitter: “If you’re in Washington, D.C., you know the white never go” to certain a part of the city “because it’s an area for the black & Latin.” Zhao later deleted the tweet after getting called out for his racist remarks. Instead of getting fired or receiving any kind of disciplinary measures, Zhao was later promoted by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now serves as the ministry’s new spokesperson.

From greenlighting a show that featured blackface and enhanced biases on national state media to promoting a diplomatic official who openly propagates hatred against other ethnic groups, it is evident that the Chinese government is fueling the country’s propaganda message with a narrow-minded nationalism at the cost of respecting equality and justice. It should not be a surprise, then, that many Chinese are outraged at the idea of allowing foreigners of different races and ethnicities to become permanent residents in China.

Through years of promoting nationalism and unity, Chinese propaganda has in fact put up a significant barrier for its government to implement effective immigration policies to attract foreign talents to reside and work in the country. While China often praises its own political system for being efficient and effective, its propaganda strategies are now, ironically, impeding the government’s own legislative agenda.

Source: China’s Proposed Immigration Changes Spark Xenophobic Backlash Online

Why Did the Coronavirus Outbreak Start in China? Let’s talk about the cultural causes of this epidemic.

Culture, whether food or political, matters:

The new coronavirus disease has a name now: COVID-19. That took a while. The virus’s genome was sequenced within two weeks or so of its appearance, but for many weeks more, we didn’t know what to call it or the disease it causes.

For a time, in some quarters, the disease went by “Wuhan pneumonia,” after the city in central China where the first human infections were detected. But guidelines from the World Health Organization, which christened COVID-19 recently, discourage naming diseases after locations or people, among other things, to avoid “unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities.”

Indeed. On Jan. 29, an Australian tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch featured on its front page a red face mask stamped with “Chinese Virus Pandamonium”: The emphasis on “panda” was the paper’s doing, so the misspelling it highlighted presumably was deliberate, too. A Chinese student in Melbourne protested in an op-ed in another paper, “This virus is not ‘Chinese.’

Of course, the virus isn’t Chinese, even if its origin eventually is traced back to a cave in China; nor is the disease that it causes.

Epidemics, on the other hand, are often societal or political — much like famines are usually man-made, even though droughts occur naturally.

As far as the current outbreak goes, two cultural factors help explain how the natural occurrence of a single virus infecting a single mammal could have cascaded into a global health crisis. And now for the controversial aspect of this argument: Both of those factors are quintessentially, though not uniquely, Chinese.

The first is China’s long, long history of punishing the messenger.

A doctor who had flagged on social media the risk of a possible viral outbreak was among several people summoned by the police in Wuhan in early January and warned not to spread rumors. He died recently after being infected with COVID-19.

Similarly, the epidemic of SARS — which is caused by another coronavirus — that broke out in southern China in late 2002 was covered up by local authorities for more than a month, and the surgeon who first sounded the alarm was held in military detention for 45 days.

In 2008, a scandal erupted over tainted baby formula, after major Chinese producers were found to have added melamine to milk powder. (Six infants died; 54,000 had to be hospitalized). Four years later the whistle-blower credited with first exposing the problem was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances.

These are recent examples, but that doesn’t mean they should be pinned solely on the Chinese Communist Party: The practice of punishing whoever brings embarrassing truths has been the order of the day since at least the time of Confucius, in the sixth century B.C.

The sage took a page from an even more ancient tract, “The Classic of Poetry” (also known as “The Book of Songs”), a collection of songs and poems dating to the 10th century B.C. or before, and adopted a rule from it: “To Manifest the Way, First Keep Your Body Safe.” (明哲保身) That may sound innocuous enough, until you consider the fate of one of Confucius’s beloved students, Zi Lu (子路), also known as Zhong You (仲由), after he ran afoul of the precept: For trying to rebuke a usurper in a power struggle between feudal lords, he was killed and his body was minced. (It is said that Confucius never ate ground meat again.)

In the third century, the maxim took on some literary flair and a cynical didactic twist in an essay on fate by the philosopher Li Kang (李康): “The tree that grows taller than the forest will be truncated by gales” (木秀于林,風必催之). This, in turn, eventually gave rise to the more familiar modern adage, “The shot hits the bird that pokes its head out” (槍打出頭鳥).

Admittedly, China’s rulers occasionally solicit honest views from their subjects — but only of a certain kind or usually for a limited time. Mao Zedong, in his “Hundred Flowers” or “Big Voices, Big Gripes” (大鳴大放) campaign of late 1956 and early 1957, called for the facts and critical opinions to be freely proffered. A few months later came the Anti-Rightist Movement (反右運動) — during which hundreds of thousands of educated people who had spoken out were sent to jail, forced into exile or subjected to years of mistreatment, their careers and families destroyed.

Punishing people who speak the truth has been a standard practice of China’s ruling elite for more than two millenniums and is an established means of coercing stability. It is not an invention of modern China under the Communists — although the party, true to form, has perfected the practice. And now, muzzling the messenger has helped spread the deadly COVID-19, which has infected some 75,000 people.

A second cultural factor behind the epidemic are traditional Chinese beliefs about the powers of certain foods, which have encouraged some hazardous habits. There is, in particular, the aspect of Chinese eating culture known as “jinbu,” (進補) meaning, roughly, to fill the void. Some of its practices are folklorish or esoteric, but even among Chinese people who don’t follow them, the concept is pervasive.

It is better to cure a disease with food than medicine, so starts the holistic theory. Illnesses result when the body is depleted of blood and energy — though not the kind of blood and energy studied in biology and physics, but a mystic version.

For men, it is most important to fill the energy void, which is related to virility and sexual prowess; for women, the stress is on replacing blood, which improves beauty and fertility. Rare plants and animals from the wild are thought to bring the best replenishment, especially when eaten fresh or raw. Winter is said to be the season when the body needs more jinbu” foods. (Could that help explain why both SARS and the current epidemic broke out during that time of year?)

Hard-core believers in “jinbu” seem to buy into this notion, too: “Like-shapes eaten strengthen like-shapes” (以形補形), with the word “shapes” sometimes referring to human organs and their functions. Adherents count as favorites a long list of exotic foods — whose methods of procurement or preparation can be outright cruel, with some simply too revolting to describe here.

I’ve seen snakes and the penises of bulls or horses — great for men, the theory goes — on offer at restaurants in many cities in southern China. Bats, which are thought to be the original source of both the current coronavirus and the SARS virus, are said to be good for restoring eyesight — especially the animals’ granular feces, called “sands of nocturnal shine” (夜明砂). Gallbladders and bile harvested from live bears are good for treating jaundice; tiger bone is for erections.

More mundane yet no less popular is the palm civet (果子狸), a small, wild quadruped suspected of having passed on the SARS virus to humans. When stewed with snake meat, it is said to cure insomnia.

Less wealthy people might turn to dog meat — preferably a dog that has been chased around before being slaughtered, because some people believe that more “jinbu” benefits are reaped from eating an animal whose blood and energy ran high. Similarly, it is thought that animals killed just before serving are more “jinbu” potent, which is one reason the more exotic offerings in wet markets tend to be sold alive — also making them more potent vectors for any virus they might carry.

Eating exotic wildlife has long been endorsed by scholars and elevated to mystical heights, including in the medical treatise “The Inner Bible of the Yellow Emperor” (黃帝内經), written some 2,000 years ago and still revered by many health-conscious Chinese today. Beliefs surrounding the health benefits of certain wildlife foods — which are discussed in newspaper columns and on numerous dedicated internet sites, as well as taught in China’s medical schools — permeate the culture.

True, these practices are not legion across China. Nor are they uniquely Chinese: Many peoples in many other countries eat exotic foods, too. But what is notable about China is that these beliefs about the special powers of some foods have been accepted, are now a given, even among people who do not put them into practice. They have become firmly embedded in the Chinese collective consciousness.

And so there are strong reasons to say that the current outbreak of COVID-19 has been aided by two fundamentally Chinese cultural practices. This may be discomfiting to hear; the notion might even strike some people as offensive. But it is necessary to investigate all the causes behind this deadly epidemic, whatever their nature — because if we don’t, we will only be inviting the next one.

Yi-Zheng Lian, a commentator on Hong Kong and Asian affairs, is a professor of economics at Yamanashi Gakuin University in Japan and a contributing Opinion writer.

Source: Why Did the Coronavirus Outbreak Start in China?

China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Silly piece, divorced from reality: For Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusFor Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been offering to send experts to China, but no invitation has come. The World Health Organization appears to be facing the same cold shoulder.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. But two days later, an even more surprising statement: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked the European Union to provide medical supplies to fight the epidemic unfolding in China.

This was highly unusual – top Chinese officials are not particularly known for their willingness to ask for international aid. But it points to the gravity and severity of the situation.

China is grappling with a severe public health challenge that is now outpacing the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003. As of today, more than 31,000 people in 28 countries and territories have been diagnosed with the new virus. The vast majority of those cases have emerged in China, where more than 600 people have died.

After 2019-nCoV was identified as originating in the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government took extraordinary measures to contain the outbreak. Wuhan and 13 surrounding cities have been locked down since Jan. 23 in a quarantine that affects more than 40 million people. It might be hard for Canadians to imagine this feat, but consider that Canada’s entire population is about 37 million.

However, the biggest challenge China faces is on the front lines. Doctors and nurses are racing against the clock and struggling to treat thousands of patients with dwindling supplies. Somehow, they are standing firm despite a shortage of hospital beds, staff, medicine and protective gear – even for themselves. Many doctors have worked throughout the day without drinking, eating or going to the bathroom simply to avoid replacing their protective suits. One doctor we know wore his son’s goggles to work for protection.

That the Chinese medical community is in mourning only heightens the anxiety. Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist who was among the first to identify the disease, passed away Friday.

Canada has confirmed five cases of its own – three in Ontario, two in British Columbia – but it has been acting vigorously and vigilantly, monitoring the situation, providing travel advice and evacuating Canadians in China. It’s remarkably brave of Ottawa to follow the WHO’s recommendation not to ban Chinese and other international travellers from China from entering the country. Furthermore, as acts of racism against the Chinese-Canadian community increase, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made statements criticizing anti-Chinese sentiments and misinformation about the coronavirus. “This,” he said, “is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”

These are admirable steps. But it is our belief that Canadians will only be truly safe when China wins its battle. And history may offer a good example of what Canada can still do to achieve this goal.

In the late 1930s, Canadian physician Norman Bethune brought modern medicine to rural China. He was credited with saving thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and for this he is revered even today in China. His story confirms the most effective way to save lives: supplying Canadian medical treatment to China.

Doing so will require three courses of action. First, we would urge Ottawa to continue demonstrating respectful concern and vigorous support as China combats this virus during this critical period. Secondly, we would recommend the Canadian government play a vital role in facilitating the procurement of medical supplies for hospitals in affected regions. Trade-promotion agencies can help by adding a medical-supplies section to their information portals to connect qualified Canadian suppliers with Chinese buyers. Thirdly, we would encourage Canadian health-care professionals and specialists to work with Chinese and international experts in developing treatments and a vaccine.

Ottawa and Beijing have had their differences. A prominent Chinese executive is facing extradition to the U.S., while two Canadian citizens remain in jail in China and a crippling import ban hurts Canadian canola farmers. But Canadians remain highly respected and liked in China – in no small part because of the legacy of people like Dr. Bethune.

There is a Chinese saying: “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” We hope we can focus on our shared humanity and give Chinese medical workers and citizens a hand during this extremely difficult time – for their sake, in the name of selflessness, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune.

Kenny Zhang is a Fudan University alumnus, Jenny Li is a graduate of Hubei University, ChiChi Wang is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia and Zhenyu Cheng is a Wuhan University alumnus. All are residents of Canada.

Source: China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Corpses and mob violence: How China’s social media echo chamber fuels coronavirus fears

Of note:

Corpses lie on the ground near hospitals. People kill their pets for fear the animals will spread disease. Mobs chase down people without masks and angrily force them to cover up.

These are the scenes flooding social media in China as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus that has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.

But how much of what the Chinese people and international observers are seeing on social media is true?

Public mistrust of government authorities in China has reached such a severe level, observers say, that many Chinese people have turned to alternative online sources of information — often of questionable veracity.

“Many Chinese people are well aware of the government’s long track record of censoring information about threats to public health,” said Sarah Cook, director of the China Media Bulletin at human rights research group Freedom House.

“This fuels deep mistrust in official updates and undermines efforts to reduce fear and anxiety,” she told The Star.

There’s history to the earned mistrust. In the first few months of the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Chinese government tried to keep it a secret. By the time the new virus was publicly reported, five people had died and hundreds had already fallen ill. It was a health disaster that led to heaps of global backlash, and China sacked its health minister and the mayor of Beijing in apparent contrition about the mishandling.

While central government authorities in Beijing were much quicker to publicly report the new coronavirus, the local Wuhan city government initially censored the first reports of a new illness emerging in the city last December. Medical experts said in a research paper published in The Lancet that they’ve found new evidence that the origin of the outbreak may not have been a seafood market in Wuhan as the Chinese government reported, and the first human infections may have occurred in November.

Li Wang is among those glued to social media.

The economics researcher at the University of New Brunswick and former Canadian student is currently on lockdown in Wuhan after flying home to visit family during Lunar New Year.

To pass the time, he was one of millions of Chinese glued to their screens watching a livestream of a hospital being built in ten days to house patients that have overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals. The government says a crew of 7,000 worked around the clock to build the 1,000-bed hospital, and vowed to build another this week.

“Everyone is afraid to go outside … Almost everyone I have talked to online are panicked,” Wang said. Because he is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, he’s not able to board the chartered flight Canada is sending to bring back Canadians from the city.

China’s control of social media is a factor that adds to the confusion. Many people are familiar with mainland China’s “Great Firewall,” the internet censorship apparatus that automatically blocks international social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as well as many news outlets and the entire suite of Google services.

Chinese authorities are continually developing and fine-tuning their ability to censor social media posts on domestic websites such as the Twitter-like Weibo blogging platform. They even have the ability to surveil and automatically block parts of private conservations on chat apps such as WeChat.

WeChat is the preferred platform for many in China during the coronavirus outbreak because the chat groups there tend to be small or medium-sized groups where some users know each other personally.

“People are getting at least some information from individuals they personally know and trust (on WeChat typically), but that doesn’t make them insusceptible from the spread of false information,” said Cook.

“But for those who personally know the original source — say a relative who is a nurse in Wuhan — her information will likely appear very credible and believable to them and possibly rightly so.”

However, like all social media platforms, the quality of what a user sees depends on the quality of the people they have in their circles. A WeChat user who is friends with many doctors and nurses would likely get more reliable information.

Perhaps aware of the communication challenges government control over the scarce number of independent media outlets in China has seemed to lighten over the past several weeks.

As a result, members of the public in China are turning to respected Chinese publications like Caixin to read quality journalism about the outbreak. The magazine recently published a four-part series produced by dozens of journalistsincluding a detailed account of the Wuhan government’s coverup of the crisis.

So are the images on social media real?

Yuri Qin, an editor at the Berkeley-based China Digital Times, a bilingual website that monitors the Chinese internet, says that unfortunately, some of the horrible videos and photographs might be real, although they are difficult to verify.

“Authorities in Wuhan have imposed some brutal measures to prevent the spread, and because of the panic some people are cruel to each other and sometimes they use extreme means to drive out or detain suspected carriers of the disease,” Qin told The Star in an email.

She says the loss of credibility of the local government has seemed to exacerbate paranoia and fear among citizens of Wuhan.

However, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that among the hundreds of millions of Chinese social media users, some have retained their sense of humour even during a health crisis. Some videos that have gone viral are jokes, and likely stem from people trying to make the best of their situations.

What are some reliable sources of English-language translations of Chinese social media posts on coronavirus?

The China Digital Times verifies and translates blog posts and diary entries from people living in China dealing with the coronavirus enforced quarantines and health checks.

The website What’s on Weibo tracks and analyses viral social media posts on China’s most popular platforms.

Bill Bishop’s Sinocism newsletter regularly compiles and comments on Chinese-language media sources on a variety of news topics.

Source: Corpses and mob violence: How China’s social media echo chamber fuels coronavirus fears