Doctored tweet of Australian ‘war crime’ part of Beijing ‘sentiment mobilisation’

“Canada is in no position to criticise China, and what they need to do most is to reflect on its poor track record on human rights,” Zhao said on June 23.

Zhang and Hoja said Chinese state-media editors and academics paid close attention to the impact of the campaigns. During the dispute with Australia, Zhang Sinan, the chief editor of Chinese state-affiliated Zhixin News, said the case “showed how international media could be influenced and the [Chinese Communist Party] could create a more favourable international public opinion environment by actively framing issues”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham, who was trade minister at the time of the Zhao tweet, said it was a “repugnant attack on our national reputation”.

“While it’s important to be mindful of the motivations behind misinformation, even when it is deployed as a distraction, it should be called out as such to minimise its corrosive influence,” he said on Tuesday.

The Chinese government has accused ASPI, which is partly funded by the Australian government and has received more than $1.5 million in grant funding from the US Department of Defence and State Department, of “concocting lies” and “spreading slanderous rumours”.

Overall, ASPI found the combination of visa restrictions on journalists in China, tight travel conditions due to COVID-19, highly guarded access to Xinjiang and the misinformation campaigns waged by the Chinese government have been effective at suppressing reporting on allegations of human rights abuse in the region.

According to GDELT data, the number of English‑language articles about Xinjiang increased between 2018 and 2021 but fell in the second half of 2021.

Members of the Uighur community in Turkey, in February 2021, hold a banner outside China’s consulate in Istanbul showing Uighurs feared detained in camps in Xinjiang.Credit:AP

Zhang and Hoja found that Chinese diplomatic and state media accounts had some of the highest engagements on Western social media platforms, crowding out alternative and other voices critical of the Chinese government. ASPI analysed more than 600,000 Facebook posts and more than 6.7 million tweets between 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2022 mentioning ‘Xinjiang’ in English, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and other languages.

“Of the top 400 Facebook posts with the most interactions 60.3 per cent were posted by Chinese state media and diplomats,” ASPI found. “Of the top 1000 Twitter tweets with the most interactions 5.5 per cent were posted by Chinese state media and diplomats, and 4 per cent were from accounts suspended by Twitter for platform manipulation.”

The misinformation campaigns follow rising pressure on the UN to release its report into allegations of human rights abuse in Xinjiang. China has denied allegations of genocide in Xinjiang, claiming the allegations are part of a Western smear campaign designed to contain its rise as a major economic and diplomatic power.

Michelle Bachelet was the first UN high commissioner for human rights to visit China in 17 years.

Michelle Bachelet was the first UN high commissioner for human rights to visit China in 17 years.Credit:AP

In May, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited the region where up to 1 million Uighurs are estimated to have been detained in “re-education” camps. But four years after the UN announced an inquiry, no report has materialised.

Alim Osman, the president of the Uighur Association of Victoria, said it was time for the report to be made public.

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“The high commissioner single-sidedly has to listen to the continuous denial of genocide and crimes against humanity by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

“We ask the UN human rights high commissioner to immediately release the original human rights report on China and follow up on millions of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in concentration camps.”

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