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How UK university's reports spread Western propaganda on Xinjiang | Updated: 2022-07-05 17:04
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The series of Xinjiang reports produced by the Helena Kennedy Centre of Sheffield Hallam University, is one of the latest in shoddy research funded by the US government to fabricate false claims, China Daily investigates.

The US media and government has perpetuated the accusation that forced labor exists in Xinjiang, and launched rounds of sanctions banning Xinjiang products. Some of the often-cited 'evidence' is a series of papers from Sheffield Hallam University's 'Forced Labor Lab'. However, a cursory reading of their reports shows a lack of evidence, demonstrating a lack of fundamental academic integrity from the institution and the authors.

The three primary entities behind the reports are authors Laura Murphy and Nyrola Elima, and the Helena Kennedy Center, for whom the report was produced.

Laura Murphy began her academic career researching the impact of African American slavery in North America. After 2019, Murphy had a sudden change of interest and became solely focused on writing about China and Xinjiang, completely ignoring her previous specialization. While topic changes are not uncommon for academics, this sudden change in 2019 coincides with a generous grant of over 60,000 USD from the 'National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award'. At the same time, she began to retweet messages from far-right, ethno-nationalists, and religious fundamentalist groups, such as the World Uygur Congress, which is connected with the terrorist group ETIM. Then in the 2020-2021 period, she and her partner organizations received an additional combined funding of 3,000,000 USD from the US department of justice.

Likewise, her co-author Nyrola Elima has extensive links with terrorist elements. In a piece she wrote for the New Yorker, she admitted her cousin, Mayila Yakufu, was arrested because of terrorist connections in Xinjiang. She has appeared at the so-called "Uyghur Tribunal", a sham court without legal recognition, to viciously attack China. Her research ability and academic proficiency should also be questioned. Elima graduated, according to her LinkedIn, from Lund University, with a bachelor's degree in retail management. Immediately afterwards, she was recruited into the Helena Kennedy Centre and its 'Forced Labor Lab'. It has to be questioned why the Helena Kennedy Center hired a retail management graduate who had no previously published works, no experience in the humanities, and no evidence of academic specialization in its senior research and writing post. One plausible reason is she is an overseas Uygur.

Both Laura and Nyrola work at the Helena Kennedy Center. The patron of the Center, Helena Kennedy, is a known Sinophobe who founded the extremist political block 'the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China', which calls for aggressive actions to 'contain' China and has been personally sanctioned by China. She is also the chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University and therefore has great sway on academic posting and hiring and firing.

Having discussed the context under which the report was written, it is now possible to read the report in the proper light. The reports allege forced labor and other abuses in both the introduction and the conclusion, without providing evidence and pointing us towards the middle of the paper for further information. Here the report offers a deceptive and misleading definition of forced labor and abuse, the gist of which is the following: forced labor and labor transfer are equivalent, labor transfer is, in reality, just internal migration as part of China's poverty relief program and is a nationwide program, and since the government of Xinjiang is involved in labor transfer programs, then any companies which operate in Xinjiang is ipso facto engaged in forced labor because it is operating within a region managed by the government of Xinjiang. Ignoring the logical fallacies and the laughable claims of guilt by association, the paper's argument is basically that government-sponsored migration is slavery and forced labor.

The paper further claims that those participating in the labor transfer program are abused and in slave-like conditions. That is an assertion that can be fact-checked. According to publicly available figures released by the government of Xinjiang, the annual disposable income of Xinjiang workers in the program is about 30,000 to 40,000 yuan, which is above the regional average. China Daily's investigative crew also went to the Hoshine company, one of the groups named in the report, to determine if allegations of slave-like conditions were true. Not only was feedback about working conditions at Hoshine generally positive, but interviews also attest that it is 'just a facilitation program set up by the government to help match job-seekers and employers.'

While these above cases can be explained as misguided formulation and research, the following cases can only be viewed as a lack of academic integrity and malicious slander. The reports throw around claims like 'experts have determined that the PRC's internment camp and prison factories, as well as the "surplus labor" and "labor transfer" initiatives as they are practiced in the Uyghur Region, are mechanisms of a massive program of compulsory labor', yet does not provide a citation to which experts made these claims. They further claim that "A widely circulated government-issued document listed refusal to participate in government assistance programs as a sign of terrorism or extremism, which suggests that refusal of a labor transfer could be punishable by internment or imprisonment", and yet does not provide a citation to this 'government report' in either English or Chinese. Another common tactic is citing their own works or papers from disreputable anti-China sources such as the APSI in an attempt to generate a veneer of academic respectability.

Then there is their outright mistranslation and manipulation of Chinese language sources. They cite a 2019 Xinhua report on Xinjiang as evidence of slave labor. In reality, the worker interviewed in the article praised her company for the outstanding conditions and the fact that her salary had been increased to 4,000 yuan a month. Or this report from China Daily, which the paper claimed was evidence of coercion but was actually just a Xinjiang farmer explaining his decision to switch to livestock herding following generous government grants.

Even notwithstanding the aforementioned faults, the series of reports ranging from Xinjiang's cotton, solar, and PVC industries, do not focus on proving forced labor and slavery in the content portion of the paper, and is instead spent tracing Chinese supply chains involving Xinjiang. No new evidence, other than the mistranslated Chinese articles, has been provided, and no proof of human rights violation has been shown. If the introduction and conclusion were removed, the papers would be more aptly renamed to 'Chinese industries in Xinjiang'. The premise of these papers purporting to prove human rights abuse in Xinjiang relies on you unquestioningly accepting as fact, that there are human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The flawed research produced by Sheffield Hallam University, and those like it, has been adopted as gospel truth by Western media and politicians. It shows the corrosive influence that US monetary grants has on genuine research, and the increasing weaponization of academic institutions by the West as part of its disinformation campaign. In the long term, reports such as these are not just detrimental to the reputation of Sheffield Hallam University but to all other Western institutions.

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