An Australian academic has been hauled over the coals for citing an anonymous report replete with factual inconsistencies, which she said “debunked” assertions that China is committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Professor Jane Golley, who heads the Australian National University’s Centre for China, stirred a furore when she cited an anonymous report in a speech at the National Press Club last week to claim that the reports of 1 million Uyghur Muslims been corralled and interned at “re-education camps” in Xinjiang province were most likely overstated.
“Just last week I received a scholarly article that debunks much of what you have read in the Western media on this topic, including the figure of one million Uighurs in detention camps, the pervasive use of forced labour, and of calling it genocide,” she had said in her speech.
Following her comments which amounted to absolving China of committing atrocities against minorities, a raft of people on social media website slammed the academician for casting doubts over the grave human rights committed by China and insulting the victims who endured Beijing’s unbridled repression.
Ms Golley’s reference to an anonymous report to speak in favour of China raised several eyebrows, including that of Liberal Senator James Paterson, who chairs the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee. Paterson said he was very surprised that Professor Golley had to cite an anonymous article, which he said was “clearly not up to academic standards” during her press club address.
Ms Golley’s attempt to acquit China of any wrongdoing in Xinjiang against the Uyghur population comes at a time when Australia and China are at loggerheads over the origins of the coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Relations between the two countries have gone south after Australia sought an impartial and fair probe into the virus’s origins. Since then, China has ratcheted up its aggression against Australia and banned imports from the country to teach it a lesson.
Anonymous report claims forced sterilisation in China a part of “Family Planning”, says 1 million of Uyghurs detained is highly exaggerated
The academic paper that was cited by Ms Golley during her speech at the National Press Club understated the forced female sterilisation in Xinjiang, and raised questions on whether it could be called “family planning”. The paper also refuted allegations of Uyghur genocide and claims regarding the detention of over 1 million Uyghur Muslims in detention camps.
The paper said that the forced sterilisation camps were not necessarily designed for Uyghurs in particular or “intended to stop them from having children”.
It also tried to downplay the serious allegations of concentration camps being run in Xinjiang by the Chinese Communist Party. The paper termed them as “political re-education” and “deradicalisation” camps, adding that “vocational training has probably been offered to a greater number of people than political re-education”. It appealed to the west to temperate its trenchant criticism of the camps and have a more “normal critical discussion” to the issue.
“With China now such an emotive topic for many in the West, the chances of a more rational and objective discussion of Xinjiang look slim…But the authors hope that this paper may at least encourage the resumption of normal critical discussion about this most important of topics,” it said.
Ms Golley defends herself, says she has no doubts of Chinese persecution of Uyghur Muslims
On Monday this week, an emotional Golley told The Australian she feels “persecuted and misinterpreted” and stated that she feels extremely concerned that her statements had offended Uyghur Muslims who were undoubtedly suffering at the hands of “increasing repressive Chinese government”.
However, she added that she found some of the arguments in the anonymous report, including its disagreement with the number of Uyghur Muslims detained in labour camps “convincing”—or “worthy enough to necessitate further consideration”.
In her interview with The Australian, Golley conceded that she is not an expert on Xinjiang, and therefore cannot vouch for the authenticity of the claims made in the anonymous report. Ms Golley added she didn’t mean to say what she had said and should have used a word such as “challenged” rather than “debunked”.
“I don’t claim any certainty about the facts that might obtain in Xinjiang. But I think we need to be able to discuss them openly, without being subject to personal abuse. That’s what free speech and academic freedom are all about,” Ms Golley said in her defence to The Australian.