The Chinese embassy effort to convince us all that Xinjiang is the land of milk and honey, a promised land of paradise for Muslim Uighurs, had one great virtue. It was a retro production full of nostalgia for the old Soviet propaganda efforts in the long decades of the Cold War.
It ran for the sub-Fidel Castro length of two hours, featured declarative propaganda videos, live officials responding to but not answering questions, and direct testimony from grateful Uighurs thanking the Chinese Communist Party for its benevolence.
One strong point of traditional communist propaganda is that it never lacks audacity.
You are all welcome to come and see us in Xinjiang, the assembled press were told. This claim is made at the very same time as the Chinese government is systematically running Western media out of Beijing, with the BBC’s long standing correspondent recently leaving under gross pressure.
The Beijing authorities’ complaint about him was his reporting on Xinjiang.
It is almost impossible for an independent journalist to get to Xinjiang, and once there almost impossible to move around freely.
Nonetheless, the effort was not without its value and taught us perhaps three things.
The first is that the government in Beijing is clearly feeling serious reputational pressure over the international response to its depredations in Xinjiang.
It is worth reflecting that the campaign for human rights for Muslims in Xinjiang is not being led by the world’s Muslims, but by the reviled West, allegedly guilty as it is of systemic racism, unconscious bias, Islamophobia, neo-colonialism, imperial attitudes and all the rest.
The Muslim world has hardly had a word to say about the fate of its co-religionists in Xinjiang. It has been those pesky Westerners — with their culturally insensitive ideas about universal human rights actually applying universally, yes even to Muslims in Xinjiang — who have had the most to say about this issue. And especially the Americans. Truly the cunning perfidy of the CIA knows no bounds.
But all joking aside, plainly Beijing is unhappy that the world is noticing Xinjiang.
Second, even before the birth of its wolf-warrior diplomacy, Beijing has always been very clumsy in dealing directly with public opinion in a democracy. It’s hard to believe anyone could think such crude propaganda efforts would be effective.
Which leads us to the third reflection. Communist diplomacy in a Cold War mentality, in a time of paranoid nationalism, is not really diplomacy at all, because it’s not really directed at foreigners. It is, rather, a way for officials to show head office that they are ideologically sound and suitably enthusiastic in their tasks.
It is not likely to convince but it is something to learn from nonetheless.