US-based China scholar Adrian Zenz, who researches human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet regions, has hit back at claims by Xinjiang University academic Lin Fangfei that he had fabricated statistics and deliberately smeared China in a report about mass sterilisation and birth control in the region.
Zenz published a report in June with the US think tank Jamestown Foundation which claimed the dramatic reduction of natural birth rate growth in some areas of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region coincided with government-driven sterilisation and long-term birth control campaign for Uygur women.
Beijing has been accused by human rights groups of having detained 1 million Uygurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps, with some subjected to forced labour.
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Lin, an associate professor from Xinjiang University’s school of politics and public administration, published a paper in September that disputed findings in Zenz’s report, such as Xinjiang’s drop in natural population growth rate and the majority of China’s intrauterine devices (IUDs), a long-term birth control, were fitted in Xinjiang in 2018.
The paper attributed these to changing preferences among Uygur women, such as deciding to have children later or using more birth control.
Lin’s paper was picked up by Chinese state media including broadcaster CCTV to discredit Zenz’s work.
However, Zenz said it was a Chinese government tactic to use the guise of academia to attack something that propaganda has not been able to take on.
“If there was a significant mistake in one of the documents I quoted, I’m sure the Chinese government and Lin would have immediately discussed it extensively. It’s a verification of what they have not talked about, such as the sterilisation targets … that they have not commented on that is essentially a confirmation of the accuracy,” he said.
Government documents showed that China sterilised a combined total of 2,557 people per 100,000 of the total population between 1998 and 2018.
But in a single year, Hotan city in southern Xinjiang scheduled 7,322 sterilisations per 100,000 while Guma county scheduled 2,998 per 100,000, according to Zenz.
The Jamestown Foundation report also found the natural population growth of the two largest Uygur prefectures, Kashgar and Hotan, fell by 84 per cent between 2015 and 2018, and declined further in several minority regions in 2019.
China’s annual health statistics revealed that 80 per cent of China’s net added intrauterine devices in 2018 were fitted in Xinjiang, while the region’s population made up less than 2 per cent that of the country.
Lin claimed this figure was inaccurate but her argument did not take into account the number of IUDs removed in the same year. Many provinces in China actually saw a higher number of IUDs removed than fitted, while Xinjiang’s number of IUDs removed was made up less than a third of the number fitted.
Zenz said these changes were too drastic to have happened naturally in the space of a few years, and witness accounts of those who experienced the campaign said it was forced or coerced.
The drop in population growth rates also coincided with Beijing intensifying the securitisation of Xinjiang. “These sorts of changes typically occur over the space of a decade or longer,” Zenz said. “These are processes that takes several decades maybe 20, 30 years, to see a generational change.”
“They coincide exactly with the campaign of mass internment and sterilisation. These so-called ‘preferences’, to marry later or not to have children, that’s the point of the re-education campaign. It is supposed to produce dramatic changes in a short time that could normally take a generational more,” he said.
Zenz published a full statement responding to Lin’s paper on his own website.
Lin Fangfei and the school of politics and public administration did not respond to requests for comment. A faculty member referred the Post to Xinjiang University’s propaganda department, but it has yet to respond.
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This article US-based researcher hits back at Chinese academic over Xinjiang first appeared on South China Morning Post