China organised a trip to Xinjiang for foreign media last week to defend its policies in the region following mounting international criticism of alleged human rights abuses.
About 10 foreign media including Associated Press (AP) and TV Tokyo were invited to the region in the country's far west, the South China Morning Post has learned.
According to a report by AP, Xu Guixiang, deputy head of the Communist Party's publicity department in Xinjiang, met the media group in the city of Turpan, outside a location that had been identified previously by an unnamed Australian think tank as a re-education centre. AP said the Chinese government asserted that the building housed a veterans affairs bureau and other offices, but did not state whether visiting media were shown inside.
AP quoted Xu as saying that a motion passed by the British parliament - declaring that Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide - was "totally groundless", and that "hard-won stability" was bringing growing prosperity to the region.
TV Tokyo was the only Japanese outlet to join the media tour. Its reporter visited a textile company with 5,000 employees that was sanctioned by the United States over the alleged use of forced labour. The company claimed that there was no forced labour, saying that sanctions had affected transactions with American and Japanese firms. In addition, TV Tokyo visited a cotton cultivation site.
"Both the government and farmers emphasised the progress of automation and emphasised that forced labour does not exist here either," TV Tokyo's report said.
Many people who were asked about alleged human rights abuses did not respond, but some said that "Han Chinese and ethnic minorities are one family", TV Tokyo said.
This was not the first time Chinese authorities had invited foreign media to Xinjiang.
In January 2019, a group of foreign media, including Reuters and Russian state-run news agency TASS, visited camps in Xinjiang. Foreign governments, the United Nations and researchers have said an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in such camps, described by Beijing as "vocational training" centres.
Beijing has cited visits by NBC in 2019 and the BBC in 2020 as evidence that it does not bar foreign media from Xinjiang. However, the BBC reported that during its visit, its staff were prevented from filming, questioned and followed. China labelled its coverage "fake news".
"I encourage you to see more of the region and present the image of the real Xinjiang to the world," Le Yucheng, China's foreign vice-minister, told AP on April 16, before the media trip.
More than 1,200 people from over 100 countries and regions, including officials from international organisations, diplomats, journalists and religious leaders, have visited Xinjiang since the end of 2018, according to official statistics.
Le told AP there was a condition that people should travel to Xinjiang as visitors, not investigators.
"We have invited Western diplomats to Xinjiang, but they are still reluctant to accept our invitation," Le was quoted by AP as saying. "I wonder what are they afraid of? We welcome them to come and visit Xinjiang, and they should come as visitors, not as investigators.
"We welcome friends to visit us. But if they come into the house as if this is their own place and search up and down for the so-called evidence of crimes, then of course they won't be welcomed. Nor do they have the right to behave like that, do they?"
Inviting diplomats and foreign media is seen by Beijing as a way to dispel suspicion and counter what it says are groundless reports by some Western media.
"Beijing believes that organising this kind of journalist delegation is effective, but I don't think so," Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, said.
"I believe many things are concealed, including the removal of some facilities. I don't think the visiting group can get what they want to see, or be satisfied with what they could see.
"No one believes the truth can be obtained through an officially organised visit. It seems Beijing has a very naive propaganda-based approach to coverage of Xinjiang."
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