Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 9 March 2021


China Backs Lawsuits Against German Researcher for Xinjiang Abuse Claims

Bloomberg News
  • China Foreign Ministry backs lawsuits over Adrian Zenz reports
  • Legal challenges show rights claims ‘rattling them,’ Zenz says
A map of Xinjiang in Kashgar, Xinjiang autonomous region, China.
A map of Xinjiang in Kashgar, Xinjiang autonomous region, China. Source: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

China endorsed a series of lawsuits against a German researcher central to claims of abuses in Xinjiang, in the latest move to push back against foreign allegations of forced labor in the region.

The suits seek apologies and financial compensation from the researcher, Adrian Zenz, according to the state-run news site Tianshannet, which reported the cases Monday. Specifically, the plaintiffs dispute a report Zenz authored for the Washington-based Center for Global Policy in December, in which he said hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang were “being forced to pick cotton by hand.”

The lawsuits were later endorsed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who blamed Zenz for the Western backlash over Xinjiang. “Some politicians have chosen to believe his words,” Zhao told a regular news briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

Zenz said the legal action didn’t bother him and showed his research was getting noticed. “It’s really rattling them,” Zenz said by telephone from the U.S., where he lives. “It’s important to see that my research is having a real impact.”

China has been ramping up efforts to counter foreign criticism over its Xinjiang policies, which have prompted a U.S. ban on cotton products from the region and spurred calls for a boycott of next year’s Winter Games in Beijing. Zenz, whose 2018 research was among the first to show that the government had detained more than 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims in the region, has been a leading target of government criticism.

Genocide Claims

Zenz is a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which was set up by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1993. Chinese officials have repeatedly denied Zenz’s claims, denouncing him as a “fake scholar” and accusing him of working with U.S. intelligence agencies.

Much of Zenz’s research has been corroborated by other scholars and independent media outlets. A United Nations committee confronted China over his estimates in 2018, and the U.S. government and Dutch parliament have recently deemed Beijing’s policies in the region “genocide.”

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed such claims as “preposterous” in his annual news briefing. “It is just a rumor fabricated with ulterior motives and a lie through and through,” Wang said.

Zenz said that he believed the lawsuits could bring more attention to the issue. “It would actually be a welcome opportunity to actually look at the topic in detail and look at the evidence in detail, because the evidence is really strong,” he said.

— With assistance by Colum Murphy

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