I’ve been studying war propaganda for years, learning about the insidious ways that the CIA manipulates people into hating disobedient governments. And as I look at the current campaign to portray the situation in Xinjiang as a “genocide” perpetrated by the Chinese government, the example that most comes to my mind is Syria.
Such parallels became apparent while reading this recent repudiation of the U.S. State Department’s Xinjiang accusations from Jeffrey D. Sachs and William Schabas:
The charge of genocide should never be made lightly. Inappropriate use of the term may escalate geopolitical and military tensions and devalue the historical memory of genocides such as the Holocaust, thereby hindering the ability to prevent future genocides. It behooves the US government to make any charge of genocide responsibly, which it has failed to do here…The State Department report refers to mass internment of perhaps one million Uighurs. If proven, that would constitute a gross violation of human rights; but, again, it is not evidence, per se, of intent to exterminate.
(The “one million” figure hasn’t been proven in any capacity, by the way; it all comes from a flimsy study done by the Christian fundamentalist propagandist Adrian Zenz.)
Now look at this 2017 essay from Tim Hayward, who phrased his reputation of Amnesty International’s portrayals of Syria in a remarkably similar way:
In support of its surprisingly quick and decisive stance on intervention, Amnesty International was also accusing the Syrian government of crimes against humanity…Such allegations can have grave implications because they can be taken as warrant for armed intervention. Whereas war crimes do not occur unless there is a war, crimes against humanity can be considered a justification for going to war. And in war, atrocities can occur that would otherwise not have occurred. I find this thought deeply troubling, particularly as a supporter of Amnesty International at the time it called for action, the foreseeable consequences of which included fighting and possible war crimes, by whomsoever committed, that might otherwise never have been. Personally, I cannot quite escape the thought that in willing the means to an end one also shares some responsibility for their unintended consequences.
It’s the exact same deception formula: put forth the most inflammatory claims about the target country possible, and use these claims as justification for the horrific actions the imperialists aim to take against that country. We’ve obviously seen this before with the Iraq WMD narrative. But what Washington has been trying to do to Syria and China is different from the Iraq invasion, and the campaign of lies about them has therefore taken a different form than Bush’s series of alarmist statements about supposed Iraqi weapons. For public relations reasons, the imperialists have wanted to undermine Assad’s government covertly rather than through an outright invasion, and China is almost immeasurably beyond the level of military power needed for successfully countering such a regime change war.
Washington’s strategy for subduing these governments is instead one of hybrid, asymmetrical warfare. In Syria, the U.S. has armed terrorist organizations so that they can try to overthrow Assad as imperialist proxy forces, as well as enabled Rojava and its many atrocities for the purpose of Balkanizing the country. In China, the U.S. has used a pipeline of jihadism (appropriately running from Syria) to foment hundreds of Uyghur separatist terrorist attacks within Xinjiang, as well as given money to the violent right-wing protesters in Hong Kong.
These tactics, combined with steadily tightening sanctions against both countries, have resulted in the carving out of a Kurdish ethnostate in northeastern Syria that Washington has been partnering with to steal Syria’s oil, as well as the killings of hundreds of Chinese people by Washington’s terrorist forces in Hong Kong and western China.
Washington’s end goal for both of these places is the same: fully destabilize the targeted country, Yugoslavia-style, so that the imperialists can seize control over all of their resources. But the empire’s motive for wanting to dismember and mutilate these places isn’t merely related to a desire for wider access to resources, labor, or markets; it stems from a desire to eliminate governments that stand in opposition to Washington’s quest for global geopolitical hegemony. The existence of Assad and the Communist Party of China are abominations in the eyes of the imperialists, simply because they choose to chart their courses independently of the empire’s grasp. So they must be wiped off the face of the earth, whether this entails a campaign to break up their countries into a patchwork of Third World states run by right-wing Washington puppets (like the empire has turned Yugoslavia into), or something even more extreme like turning the countries into full-on failed states with civil wars and modern slave trades (like the empire has turned Libya into).
It’s not just Syria and China that the empire aims to subdue in these monstrous ways, of course. By continuing Trump’s deadly sanctions against the Iranian people, the Biden administration is continuing Washington’s campaign to destabilize Iran’s anti-imperialist government. NATO has been using a combination of sanctions, proxy wars, and covert anti-government propaganda campaigns within Russia to turn the Russian Federation back into a U.S. client state. Washington hopes that through perpetuating its economic embargoes against the DPRK and Cuba, these two socialist countries will collapse and become opened up to getting re-colonized. In the latter country, Washington’s sanctions have been making the economic impacts from the pandemic so painful that Cuba’s government has found itself with no choice but to partially open up its economy.
Such are the dire conditions that the imperialists can still create for the people who dare defy their drive towards world domination. They’re inflicting a version of this kind of harm upon the people of Xinjiang, with U.S. sanctions banning imports from within the province and therefore driving down the economic wellbeing of the Chinese Uyghurs who Washington supposedly seeks to “help.” Through replicating the sleazy propaganda tactics that they applied to Syria — the promotion of fabricated atrocity stories and hyperbolic mischaracterizations, the use of “humanitarian” NGOs to make the empire’s lies appear legitimate, the narrative that an ethnic group like the Kurds or the Uyghurs must create a breakaway state to escape the supposedly evil government — they’re creating hardship for the very people they claim to care about.
But this hardship is all worth it, implies Washington’s China narrative, because it serves to help “liberate” these people from a government so terrible that even a Libya-style dystopian failed state would be better. Washington’s justification for the ban on Xinjiang imports is that these prohibited items were supposedly made through forced Uyghur labor, which comes from the same unreliable sources that have produced the “one million” figure. It’s a twisted campaign to inflict harm upon people who don’t need Washington’s help, made to look respectable purely through deceptive language about “human rights” and a hypocritical propaganda blitz by the NGO-industrial complex. We’ve seen it before in Syria, and it hasn’t ended well for those impacted by the empire’s actions.
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