In a statement to French President François Hollande, President Xi Jinping strongly condemned the Paris attacks of November 13, both personally and as China’s president, offering his sympathy to the victims and their families and promising to work with the international community to fight terrorism and make the world safer for all.
Even before the Paris attacks, on November 9, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters that “it is imperative that we give full play to the coordinating role of the UN to pool together counter-terrorism actions by different parties. There should be no practice of double standards nor linking of terrorism with any specific ethnic groups or religions.”
On November 16, he further commented, “the Chinese side believes that joint efforts are needed to address both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism. Double standards should be abandoned. All sides should give full play to the leading role of the UN and form a united front against terrorism.”
The motive behind these references to a “double standard” became clear when Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who also denounced double standards, referenced the East Turkestan Islamic Movement — a sentiment echoed by Xi himself.
“By denouncing double standards the Chinese government is asking the international community to accept wholesale their claims of terrorism,” remarked Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Asia. “But we know these claims are very problematic, they are very politicized and they go far beyond anti-state violence or violence against civilians to include peaceful dissent and so on.”
He added that China has lost credibility by repeatedly exaggerating or even manufacturing reports of terrorist attacks, and that the mere support of Xinjiang or Tibetan independence, whether peaceful or not, is considered by the Chinese government an act of terrorism.
In fact, in 2003 the China’s Ministry of Public Security released a list of terrorist organizations that included the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, East Turkestan Liberation Organization, and the World Uyghur Youth Congress.
The World Uyghur Youth Congress, which receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, is lead by the activist Rebiya Kadeer. After the July 2009 Urumqi riots, which left 197 dead, the state news agency Xinhua published a letter allegedly penned by one dozen of Kadeer’s relatives, which read:
Because of you, many innocent people of all ethnic groups lost their lives in Urumqi on July 5, with huge damage of properties, shops and vehicles … please think about the happiness of us and your grandchildren. Don’t destroy our happy life here. Don’t follow the provocation from some people in other countries.
But according to Phelim Kine, who is currently deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, “what is striking is that the language is boilerplate propaganda department phrasing.” In other words, the letter was likely written by Chinese officials.
Also on the Ministry of Public Security’s 2003 list of terrorist organizations was the East Turkestan Information Center, which publishes reports on human rights abuses against Uyghurs.
On November 20, journalist Chang Ping wrote an editorial, originally published in Chinese in Deutsche Welle, in which he noted that state police recently killed 17 in Xinjiang, including women and children. He went on to comment:
It is precisely because Western media do hold China to the same standard as other countries that they are so critical in their coverage. China’s government is always yammering on about how China’s ‘national circumstances’ are unique. What is this if not a desire that the West holds China to a separate standard?
He then explained how the recent raid in Xinjiang was reportedly a counter-terrorism attack, targeting those responsible for the September mine attack in Aksu, which left 40 dead. The government censored reports of the raid and later only released information through Xinhua, Chang writes.
Chang then asks us to imagine how the world might react if the French government handled the Paris attacks in the way that the Chinese government handled the Aksu attacks, censoring all reporting, including reports of death tolls.
“It should be obvious to everyone,” he says, “that Western media would have criticized the French government with at least the same intensity as the criticisms leveled against China in the case of Xinjiang. In all probability, the blowback from the attempted restrictions would precipitate an end to the current French administration.”
Acknowledging a “stupor of nationalism” that emerged in the West following 9/11, Chang also points to the existence of “a more critical and reflective tone,” one that argues against aggregating Muslim identity, whereas Chinese media continue to group terrorists and peaceful separatists together.
In other words, until the Chinese government gives its media the same freedom to cover such events, and its people the same basic human rights that terrorism exists to violate, Beijing has no right to speak of a double standard.