China observers react to OHCHR's Xinjiang report
A cotton field in Dolatbag Town of Bachu County, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, October 30, 2018. /Xinhua

A cotton field in Dolatbag Town of Bachu County, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, October 30, 2018. /Xinhua

A slew of online commentators who extensively study China have spoken out against a report on the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region released last week by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

The "assessment" was produced after UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet paid a visit to Xinjiang in May, where her delegation organized what she said were "unsupervised" and "open" meetings with people from different sectors in the Chinese region.

The report, which made no mention of "genocide" accusations perpetuated by the West, said China may have committed "crimes against humanity". However, many China watchers have outright dismissed the report, citing reasons such as the lack and dubiety of sources.

Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, questioned the report's methodology and tweeted that only 23 of the 40 interviews mentioned by the report "were Uyghurs & 3rd party research from ASPI [Australian Strategic Policy Institute] & BBC."

The Xinjiang report "uses a flawed methodology," he said in a tweet. "How did they choose interviewees? It'd be like interviewing Trump & his sons about whether Biden is doing a good job. I've interviewed hundreds of Uygurs, UN only 23. Why so few?"

"As a qualitative market research professional, if I released a report based off 40 interviews, I'd be fired for malfeasance by my clients," he added.

Nury Vittachi, a journalist and author, cited his mentor in Fleet Street who said that "if your news story hung on the word 'may,' it wasn't a news story." 

"You can literally claim anything because it's a non-assertion," he tweeted. "Elon Musk may be an alien. China criticism may be funded by Western arms-makers. Wait. That one's true."

In a blog post, Jerry Grey, an Australian blogger, pointed to the high number of uses of "may," "might" and "could" in the report. "To any informed reader, this suggests huge elements of doubt."  

"There are allegations and there are suggestions but the degree of proof required to say with certainty hasn't been met," he wrote.

Daniel Dumbrill, a content creator known for his online videos about China, questioned the report's quotation of Nathan Ruser as "a China expert," noting the researcher at the ASPI who has been accused by many China observers of making incorrect conclusions based on cursory observations.

"This isn't something I'd be bragging about if you want people to take this report seriously," Dumbrill wrote in a tweet.

Michael Parenti, a political scientist at Yale University, also alluded to the report's "questionable sources, for example the ASPI, a propaganda arm of the western military industrial complex." 

Other elements in the report that Parenti said stood out included the unidentifiable nature of the organizations who did the interviews and the repeated talking points of "mosque demolitions," to which Parenti countered that "Xinjiang has one of the highest mosque density in the world."

"All in all this seems like a basic rehash of the existing Western narrative (expansive claims based on unverifiable sources, subjective interpretation of Chinese law, and 'unofficial' translations of purported Chinese documents) packaged up in a more formal template," he wrote on Twitter.

China has strongly opposed the report, which Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said was "a patchwork of disinformation politically driven by the U.S. and few Western forces aiming at containing China with lies on Xinjiang."

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