Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, has emerged as a leading expert on the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in internment camps in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Last month, he published a report in collaboration with the Associated Press detailing a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in region, which he concluded may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide according to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. On Wednesday, China’s official Global Times newspaper published a story citing unnamed sources as saying that Beijing is ‘considering suing’ Zenz and the ASPI for libel, as well as ‘analysts’ who said doing so would be ‘truly an act of justice.’
Zenz recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service director Alim Seytoff about the potential lawsuit, which he believes is a new step in a bid by the Chinese government to isolate him by intimidating his would-be collaborators. He said Beijing’s prior tactics have failed to prevent him from continuing with his research, which he believes has helped to bring tremendous pressure on China for its policies in the XUAR, including an internment camp system where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
RFA: What was your impression when you saw the Global Times article about China considering a lawsuit against you?
Zenz: My first reaction was surprise, but then also the realization that the things they’ve tried before are just not working and they’re losing the battle. And the most recent research on birth prevention has prompted open discourse that this is genocide and a Washington Post editorial that is proposing that China the [Winter] Olympics in 2022 should be taken away from them. The ramifications for China at the moment are quite severe … So, I guess they felt under pressure to try the next thing.
RFA: Are you worried about China suing you if they decide to proceed?
Zenz: I’m still evaluating what this means. Of course, if they did actually go ahead and sue me, there would be some immediate benefits, such as the publicity that came with that, especially for the cause of the Uyghurs. I think there is a general threat behind this that they are willing to go one step further, so I don’t know if this is going to end with just legal means.
RFA: Do you think China is doing this to just intimidate you and discredit you so that the international community will no longer listen to your powerful voice and your substantive research on China’s abuses in the region?
Zenz: Discrediting they’ve already tried unsuccessfully, so this, I think, is more of an attempt at intimidation. It might be to intimidate me, but perhaps it’s even more designed to intimidate others—intimidate others from being involved with me or collaborating. I think it could be a strategy to isolate me.
RFA: Do you think China will become successful by doing this? Will they isolate you and intimidate other scholars like you?
Zenz: That depends on the moral values of the others. If they will let themselves be intimidated or not. Many politicians have allowed themselves to be muted and cautioned, but I think that the media is committed to continue reporting on this and I, myself, am committed to continuing my research.
‘A bully technique’
RFA: The Chinese government says that you are spreading lies and rumors, not the truth of what is happening there.
Zenz: They’ve tried that line many times and it hasn’t been working, so now they are thinking about using legal means to operate. It’s a pressure technique, it’s a bully technique.
RFA: This is not the first time Global Times has named you in an article, basically attacking you. In the past they also tried to accuse you of working for the CIA to discredit you. So, you think these tactics weren’t working and that is why they are considering a lawsuit?
Zenz: Yes. They are under great pressure and they are trying to take this to the next level.
RFA: The article only says “considering” a lawsuit. It did not provide any venue, if China goes ahead, whether it would be in a Chinese court or in a Western court. Do you think they are bluffing?
Zenz: Yes, it could just be an empty threat, but it’s also possible that they will try to do whatever they can because I think I’ve become a much bigger threat to them on this particular topic than any other institution, such as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which they also mentioned.
RFA: Some people have said that if China wants to sue you, that means you must be doing something right.
Zenz: Yes, a lot of people have said that … You get in their crosshairs for doing the right thing.
Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.