French Professor Christian Mestre, Honorary Dean of the Strasbourg Law Faculty and Ethics Officer of the Strasbourg EuroMetropolis, stepped down from his post on February 26, 2021. An investigative report published in French paper LePoint he was also a teacher at Chongqing University and used his influence in academia in the service of China.
In September 2019, China’s state media Global Times had reported that Mestre had visited Northern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, not as a tourist but to ‘participate’ in the International Seminar on Counter-terrorism, De-radicalization and Human Rights Protection with experts from other countries. Global Times reported that Mestre had there claimed that he wished France and other European countries would adopt similar ‘counter-terrorism and de-radicalization’ methods adopted by China.
Downplaying the atrocities carried out by Chinese government on Uyghur Muslims, Global Times quoted Mestre as saying that ‘these people are not in jail, but being put through compulsory training’. He claimed that there is no such ‘model’ in France and that France should learn from these ‘schools’.
The LePoint report shows how China gives credibility to its own image amongst the world as well as its own people. The report does not cast aspersions on the University of Strasbourg as being influenced by Beijing but how Beijing does it sneakily through certain professors or leaders.
As per reports, experts believe that China has, through the years, tried to influence certain intellectuals in civil societies. French writer Maxime Vivas has been one such French intellectual used by China to further its propaganda. Vivas has published a book Ouïghours, pour en finir avec les fake news (Uygurs, to put an end to the fake news) wherein he has dismissed the genocide allegations on China.
In an interview published by Global Times, he claimed that he based his book on the two weeks he spent twice in 2016 and 2018. He claimed that during his 2 two-week long visits to Xinjiang, he saw mosques, theatres, museums and that the Chinese government is ‘preventing deadly terrorist attacks’ by following these strict measures. He also claimed that the reports on concentration camps, extermination camps and genocide of Uyghur Muslims in China are ‘hyped’ by Western media. He also refuted media reports on forced labour camps in Xinjiang.
Recently, China banned the British public broadcaster BBC over ‘fake news’ for reporting on the atrocities carried out by Chinese government on Uyghurs.
Experts say that the goal to have such people trying to influence perception is to convince the Chinese population abroad that there is support for the communist regime. This will help in creating networks which are favourable to the Chinese interest.
Another report suggests that China has undertaken the ‘warrior wolf diplomacy’ under which the Chinese diplomats defend China’s national interest in confrontational ways. During the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, Chinese diplomats took this confrontational approach to respond to any criticism coming their way.
If someone claims that China’s exports are toxic, then stop wearing China-made masks and protective gowns, or using China-exported ventilators. This way you will stay clear from the virus. Political virus is more terrible than #COVID19!— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 20, 2020
China’s spokesperson for Foreign Ministry Lijian Zhao last year had hit out on those criticising Chinese export as toxic and asked them not to wear China-made masks and protective gear while treating Chinese coronavirus. Here, it is important to note that multiple countries eventually did not use the poor quality and reused masks China had sent as diplomatic move. Further, even in the vaccine, many countries are wary of using the Chinese vaccines because of lack of data available for the same.
In fact, he had even claimed that it was the US Army that brought the Chinese virus to China.
Similar tactics also seem to be used by China for whitewashing the atrocities on Uyghur Muslims. China has claimed that those scholars who are calling out China’s atrocities against Uyghur Muslims are ‘spies’ working for the US intel agency. Chinese government officials have taken to social media to call reports on Uyghur Muslims as ‘fake news’.
Let's watch the wedding of a young couple of the Uyghur nationality of Xinjiang, China. Are they really under the so-called oppression under the CPC? People there are happy with their lives. Learn more about Xinjiang, don't make anymore fake, untrustable reports. https://t.co/wMIi7SFhTs— Zhang Heqing (@zhang_heqing) July 14, 2020
The Chinese have been denying the atrocities on Uyghur Muslims the way they have been denying its responsibility of the Coronavirus pandemic. With the combined power of influencing intellectuals and prominent people and getting into confrontational mode, China is trying to influence the global perception and whitewashing its atrocities.