Amid growing tensions between China and the West, the Chinese propaganda machine has found another battleground to take revenge against the United States and other Western countries. On March 24, the Communist Party youth wing condemned H&M on Chinese social media for its sanctions against Xinjiang cotton. Meanwhile, state-backed Chinese media also urged consumers to boycott other international apparel brands like Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo, etc. for the same reason. This boycott campaign against foreign clothing brands quickly caught on in all Chinese social networking platforms, and it is evident that China is experiencing a new nationalist upsurge in the fight against the West. During this crisis, the Chinese government antagonistically ramped up its propaganda machine to defend itself against Western criticism of human rights violations in Xinjiang.
From the COVID-19 pandemic to the cotton crisis in Xinjiang, China’s diplomatic department and diplomats have aggressively struck back against Western criticism in a confrontational manner. and this type of diplomatic practice is also known as another name, “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy”. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the wolf warrior diplomacy has guided the official rhetoric of state propaganda, and it is evident that the practice of the Chinese propaganda organs also served the wolf warrior style rhetoric.
Last month, the United States, the European Union and other allies imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights issues in Xinjiang. These coordinated efforts are not only the first sanctions against China for the US administration under the Biden presidency, but also the first time the EU has imposed such punitive measures on Beijing since cracking down on Tiananmen Square in 1989. In response to Western pressure, the Chinese government firmly denied the accusations made by Western countries and immediately retaliated to sanction Western politicians, officials and scholars. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying even struck back to denounce Western human rights records with examples of US slavery and Western colonialism through history.
Hua’s reaction shows, to some extent, that the CCP leadership has decided to have strong control over the narrative on Xinjiang issues and to fight back against the West by resorting to the diplomacy of the Chinese wolf warriors. and other party organs and propaganda machines are rapidly following the direction at the same time. Since the Xinjiang issue is currently the main battlefield and therefore the Communist Party’s youth wing and Chinese media have had the incentives to carry out the boycott campaigns immediately after the Western sanctions, regardless of whether their operations were led by the central party leadership or not.
Although the perspective of boycott campaigns coincides with the CCP’s stance, the Chinese government does not seem willing to campaign openly. In fact, China is still focused on manipulating public opinion at home and abroad. Great efforts were made to increase the propaganda of the wolf warriors and to redesign Western criticism with several toolkits. In particular, the Chinese propaganda apparatus performs the hard and soft techniques at the same time.
Regarding the harsh techniques, the Chinese government has aggressively condemned Western criticism, responding on the one hand that the international allegations were all based on lies. At a recent press conference, Hua played a YouTube video of a China-based British Youtuber describing the criticism of Xinjiang issues as the tales of anti-China propaganda and disinformation from the West. She also recently showed another video clip with a Canadian vlogger also based in China, and gave a speech that the real ambition of the United States is for China’s interests in Xinjiang. Most of these video clips have been re-uploaded to the YouTube channel by the China Global Television Network (CGTN) and widely shared on social media platforms by other government-sponsored media companies and Chinese officials (including Hua Chunying himself) to promote Wolf’s impact intensify warrior propaganda.
On the other hand, the Chinese propaganda machine has started to spread the image that every Uighur person leads a happy life under the rule of the CCP. At a joint press conference held by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the local government of Xinjiang in February, some Uighur women claimed that there are no forced labor or detention camps in Xinjiang. In addition to overseas online influencers, several local Uighur YouTubers have posted some videos showing the daily work of farmers and harvesting cotton in Xinjiang. A Uighur YouTuber even said, as a resident of Xinjiang, that Western coverage of Xinjian is absolutely not true. That said, these stories and videos reflect the rise of Chinese patriotism amid the cotton crisis.
While there is no critical evidence that these Western online influencers and YouTubers have close ties with the Chinese authorities, it’s not difficult to see that the Chinese government knows exactly how to use these to reinforce their official rhetoric .
The strategies of the Chinese propaganda apparatus exemplify an old Chinese proverb: “Learn from the West in order to counter them”. In this Xinjiang-themed propaganda war, the Chinese wolf warrior propaganda works on almost all major Western social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Their messages and videos are in English, as are the western online influencers who advocate supporting China – and it uses the tactic of labeling any criticism of international society as fake news in order to convince international audiences that the Western allegations are based solely on unsubstantiated information.
Most importantly, the Chinese government is rephrasing the narratives of Western criticism and simplifying the criticism into defamation of China and all Chinese in order to divert international allegations regarding human rights issues. In addition, it can further legitimize its rule and repressive policies in Xinjiang via national nationalism. In summary, China’s framework strategies in the propaganda war show that it is aimed at manipulating public opinion on a global scale, and China’s rhetoric is the true telling of stories in Xinjiang. The Chinese government wishes to emphasize that China has its own definition of human rights and that the United States and other Western countries should pay more attention to their human rights records and not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
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