China is increasingly determined to control how it is portrayed overseas, frequently attacking what it calls a Western media bias and demanding that a documentary about a Muslim Uighur activist should be dropped from an Australian film festival.
The anxiety to massage its international image has been stirred by violence in the western region of Xinjiang, where Uighurs rioted on July 5, leaving 192 people dead, most of them Han Chinese. Beijing has accused Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur businesswoman, of fomenting the violence and has been enraged by international newspapers that carried comment pieces by her pleading her case.
Among the most strident statements was an opinion piece by Ding Gang, of the Communist party newspaper People’s Daily, entitled: “I Don’t Read The Wall Street Journal Anymore”. Mr Ding criticised the Asian edition of The Wall Street Journal, which referred to the Uighurs as protesters and the Han Chinese as mobs.
He wrote: “At first I thought it was the same old bias from our Western colleagues, but the image of Rebiya Kadeer and her bylined story ‘The Real Uygur Story’ on the Journal’s website on July 8 was totally unacceptable.”
The online Chinese edition of the newspaper was blocked in China for two days. The cultural attaché at China’s Consulate in Melbourne has also asked the organisers of the Melbourne Film Festival to drop a documentary about Ms Kadeer. Richard Moore, the executive director of the film festival, told The Times that Chunmei Chen demanded justification for the decision to include the film, 10 Conditions of Love.
“We had a strident conversation,” Mr Moore said. “Ms Chen urged me to withdraw the film from the festival and told me I had to justify my actions in programming it.” The film is about the relationship between Ms Kadeer, the leader of the World Uighur Congress, and her activist husband, Sidik Rouzi. It explores the effect of her campaign for autonomy for China’s Uighur population on her 11 children. Two of her sons have been jailed as a result of her actions. She is due to speak at the festival.
Mr Moore said: “Ms Chen said the Chinese were also very unhappy that Rebiya is coming here as a guest. She proceeded to list Rebiya’s crimes, everything from evading taxes to being a terrorist.
“In the end I hung up. I would never normally do that but when you have someone who isn’t listening to you and won’t stop talking I just said ‘I have nothing else to say, goodbye’.”
When The Times published a comment piece by Ms Kadeer after the riots in Xinjiang, the Chinese Embassy in London asked if the newspaper would run a piece by Madame Fu Ying, the Ambassador.Before a decision had been made, The Guardian ran a comment by the Ambassador in which she argued that the violence was not an ethnic conflict. Chinese discussion on Twitter mocked Madame Fu’s article and her view that the riot was not founded in ethnic differences.