China is using a recent visit by an Arab League delegation to Xinjiang to highlight what it says is support of its policies in the region. Experts, however, say the praise that Beijing has reportedly received from diplomats and officials who took part in the trip is nothing more than "Chinese propaganda" and an attempt to whitewash human rights violations there.
China’s treatment of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is a major source of international concern. Western countries have raised allegations of forced labor, religious persecution and some, including the United States, have classified what is happening in Xinjiang as genocide, an accusation Beijing denies.
State media reports and remarks from Chinese officials about the delegation’s visit have portrayed the trip as an outright rejection of what it called Western "accusations of ethnic genocide."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that during the Xinjiang visit from May 30-June 2, members of the Arab League delegation expressed their appreciation for China's efforts in Xinjiang and praised the region’s development and stability.
"During their trip, the delegation traveled to Urumqi and Kashgar, where they visited mosques, Islamic institutes, local enterprises, old towns and an exhibition on counterterrorism and de-radicalization, performed prayers in mosques with the locals and got a firsthand experience of their happy life," Wang said at a press briefing in Beijing earlier this week.
"Arab countries have commended the care that Muslims in Xinjiang and people of other ethnic minority groups have received and expressed their firm support for China’s effort to promote Xinjiang’s development and ensure its stability."
According to Wang, Arab countries have always held a just position on Xinjiang.
"What the Arab League delegation has seen with their own eyes in Xinjiang once again shows that truth will always prevail, and those who seek to smear China by manipulating Xinjiang-related issues will not have their way," Wang said.
The Arab League, founded in 1945, is a confederation of 22 Arab nations aiming to improve coordination on common interests. Its charter promotes cooperation, renounces violence, and mediates disputes, but lacks enforcement mechanisms.
Critics point out that the apparent endorsement of China's policies by the Arab League delegation is at odds with the findings and conclusions of the U.N. human rights office, which has highlighted serious human rights violations in Xinjiang.
In a post on Twitter, Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow and director in China studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, called the visit a "terrible betrayal."
Last year, the U.N. human rights office released an assessment of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, concluding that China's actions against Uyghurs and other minority groups may amount to crimes against humanity.
The assessment highlighted various human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detention, forced labor, cultural assimilation, surveillance, and restrictions on religious and linguistic freedoms.
According to Abdulhakim Idris, director of the Washington-based Center for Uyghur Studies, the Arab League delegation's visit and support of China’s actions in Xinjiang is part of a Chinese propaganda campaign to conceal its mistreatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
"This visit is the last example of the Chinese Communist Regime's propaganda efforts to hide the Uyghur Genocide in East Turkistan from the world public opinion," Idris told VOA in an email, using the name East Turkistan, Uyghurs’ preferred name for the region.
Chinese media outlets Xinhua and the Global Times reported that the delegation's visit to Xinjiang contradicted Western media portrayals.
The Chinese reports said that the Arab League delegation praised China’s achievements in Xinjiang in upholding human rights, particularly highlighting China’s "anti-terrorism" efforts in the region.
"The group visited a number of locations in Xinjiang and said that the region does not match what is portrayed by Western media, and it boasts harmony and stability, a rapidly growing economy and a colorful and prosperous culture, with residents living and working in peace and contentment," Xinhua said.
The visit garnered attention primarily from Chinese state media outlets such as China Daily, China Central Television, Xinhua and the Global Times. Chinese embassies and diplomats shared excerpts from those reports on Twitter. The Arab League did not mention the visit on its website or social media platforms.
However, Idris said the statements made by the delegation should be considered in the context of economic and diplomatic ties between their countries and China.
"Today, China has made many countries from both the Arab world and the Muslim regions dependent on it, both economically and diplomatically," Idris said.
These countries are unable to respond as expected in terms of human rights and democracy due to their economic reliance on China. Instead, they favor the explanations provided by the Chinese government, he added.