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OpinionLetters to the EditorLetter to the Editor: Uighurs, disinformation, and US media coverage

Letter to the Editor: Uighurs, disinformation, and US media coverage

Foreign Correspondent Reese Erlich responds to criticism of his piece on Chinese repression and US media coverage


48hills is soliciting Letters to the Editor from our readers for publication consideration. Share a story, thought, poem—or simply go off (creatively, please). Due to volume of submissions we regret we cannot respond to or publish all letters. Letters may be edited for length and style.  Submit yours here.

RE: “Foreign Correspondent: What’s really going on with the Uighurs?

48 Hills,

It is truly astonishing that you published this article. Was there any fact-checking involved here? The Uighurs are facing serious abuse and oppression, documented by many well-known human rights organizations and reputable news sources, based on first-hand accounts (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55794071) and satellite imagery evidence (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/China_hidden_camps).

To focus on just one of the many unsupported arguments in this article, the claim that “that figure was based on interviews with eight Uighurs” is completely untrue (https://qz.com/1599393/how-researchers-estimate-1-million-uyghurs-are-detained-in-xinjiang/) – several organizations collected evidence though different methodologies to get to the 1-million-detainee figure. 

I welcome investigative journalism to uncover hidden motives and add context to gray areas. The Uighur camps are not a gray area. This article directly contributes to disinformation and actively harms productive discussions about how to stop human rights abuses.

—S Pepin

Photo by Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich responds:

Responding to this and other comments to 48 Hills, I sharply disagree with the mainstream media articles, which recycle misinformation spread by Trump and other China haters. To see the manipulated means used to allege 1 million Uighur prisoners, for example see this excellent expose in Grayzone.

China detaining millions of Uyghurs? Serious problems with claims by US-backed NGO and far-right researcher ‘led by God’ against Beijing | The Grayzone

Genocide: Adrian Zanz, cited by NPR and BBC, claims China’s forced sterilization aims at wiping out Uighurs. In fact during China’s one-child policy, Uighurs and other minorities living in cities were allowed two children and three in the countryside. Today the same family planning policies apply to Han and Uighur. As cited in my column, the Uighur population has grown faster than the Han living in Xinjiang. See:

US State Department accusation of China ‘genocide’ relied on data abuse and baseless claims by far-right ideologue | The Grayzone

In my column, I acknowledge human rights abuses by China, including examples of beatings, torture and unlawful detention. China seeks to cover up those abuses while the US government and media seek to exaggerate them. Accepting those exaggerations only plays into the hands of those who want to see greater geo-political and military tension with China.

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  1. Erlich does not address the issues Pepin has raised. He says the story was spread by “Trump and other China haters” though it has been publicized outside the US, by other governments and by independent human rights organizations, for example:

    The Chinese drive against the Uyghurs started in 2015, before Trump’s presidency.
    Tracking down sources, as Grayzone purport to have done, is good journalism. However, that is not what Erlich’s article did: it merely found someone to spout the official Chinese government lines, and quoted him as an authority, apparently merely by virtue of being a Chinese citizen.
    The US may have some ulterior motives in wishing to present China in a bad light, but automatically concluding that the enemy of your enemy is your friend is not journalism, and in this case it is wrong and harmful.

  2. I appreciate 48 Hills having the courage to publish the original piece to balance misinformation and propaganda being published by both the US and UK main stream media. Citing the BBC as a ‘reputable news source’ tells us everything one needs to know about the viewpoint of this letter to the editor.

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