Twitter suspended Chinese embassy account over tweet about Uygur women (Update)

Twitter was so busy purging people on the right this month that it didn’t have time to deal with much else. So when an official Chinese account for the Embassy to the United States published this tweet two weeks ago, there was no reaction:

As you can see, there were tens of thousands of people quote tweeting that at the time. You can still see some of the immediate reactions to the tweet at Twitchy:

For two weeks, Twitter left this up. Then yesterday the account was locked until the Chinese Embassy removed that specific tweet:

Twitter has locked the account of China’s U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China’s policies in the Xinjiang region, which the U.S. social media platform said violated the firm’s policy against “dehumanization.”…

The tweet was removed by Twitter and replaced by a label stating that it was no longer available. Although Twitter hides tweets that violate its policies, it requires account owners to manually delete such posts. The Chinese Embassy’s account has not posted any new tweets since January 9…

“We’ve taken action on the Tweet you referenced for violating our policy against dehumanization, where it states: We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, or ethnicity,” a Twitter spokesperson said on Thursday.

Why it took Twitter two weeks to get around to this is anyone’s guess, but one possibility is that they were reacting to the decision by the Trump administration to formally label what is happening in Xinjiang “genocide.” That determination was made one day before Twitter acted so it seems possible that’s what finally got their attention.

There’s a deeper backstory to this tweet which is interesting. The article it linked to is still there on the state media site. That article specifically mentions a researcher named Adrian Zenz:

In a research report released last year, Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, said there had been a significant drop in the natural population growth rate in southern Xinjiang in 2018 and claimed that proved China was trying to control the size of the Uygur population.

Zenz is an expert on China’s western regions and that’s not quite what Zenz claimed. Last summer he published a report stating that China was forcibly sterilizing Uygur women as part of a systematic effort to control their population. He first pointed to a few isolated reports of forced sterilization that have appeared in various media outlets:

After her release from internment, Zumrat Dawut, a Uyghur woman from Urumqi, paid a fine for having had three instead of two children, and was offered free surgical sterilization (Washington Post, November 17, 2019). Threatened with internment if she refused, Dawut submitted to the procedure. Mihrigul Tursun, a Uyghur mother of triplets, said that during detention she and other women were given unknown drugs and injections that caused irregular bleeding and a loss of menstruation cycles (Associated Press, November 26, 2018). U.S. doctors later determined that she had been sterilized (Nikkei Asian Review, August 10, 2019). Rakhima Senbay, a mother of four, was forcibly fitted with an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) in what was said to be a routine mandatory procedure prior to her internment (Washington Post, October 5, 2019).

The question Zenz sought to answer was whether these were just isolated instances or something more. He concluded they were part of a major, ongoing effort to control birth rates in Xinjiang:

  • Government documents bluntly mandate that birth control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps. This confirms evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document, wherein such violations were the most common reason for internment (Journal of Political Risk, February 2020).
  • Documents from 2019 reveal plans for a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions, targeting 14 and 34 percent of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year. This project targeted all of southern Xinjiang, and continued in 2020 with increased funding. This campaign likely aims to sterilize rural minority women with three or more children, as well as some with two children—equivalent to at least 20 percent of all childbearing-age women. Budget figures indicate that this project had sufficient funding for performing hundreds of thousands of tubal ligation sterilization procedures in 2019 and 2020, with least one region receiving additional central government funding. In 2018, a Uyghur prefecture openly set a goal of leading its rural populations to accept widespread sterilization surgery.
  • By 2019, Xinjiang planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to intrusive birth prevention surgeries (IUDs or sterilizations), with actual shares likely being much higher. In 2018, 80 percent of all net added IUD placements in China (calculated as placements minus removals) were performed in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the region only makes up 1.8 percent of the nation’s population.

There’s more but you get the idea. China launched a campaign to limit birth rates of the minority population in Xinjiang. The re-education camps were used as a threat to gain compliance or as a place to pursue this work where women had no control over what was done to them.

The China Daily news story (and the tweet based on it) were part of China’s attempt to spin the claims made by Zenz in his report. China’s simply claimed that the sudden reductions in the Uygur birth rates came about as the result of free choices of newly emancipated women. It’s not forced sterilization, it’s feminism through re-education. From the China Daily story:

The research center’s report said safe, effective and appropriate contraceptive measures are now available to couples of childbearing age in Xinjiang, and their personal decisions on whether to use those measures — which include tubal ligation and the insertion of intrauterine devices — are fully respected. As a result, the birthrate in Xinjiang decreased from 1.6 percent in 2017 to 1 percent in 2018 and the natural population growth rate fell from 1.1 percent to 0.6 percent.

Finally, the determination by the State Department that China’s actions in Xinjiang were apparently debated for months. At least one of the stories I read suggested it was the report by Zenz on forced sterilization that really put this into the “genocide” category. So you can see why China was so eager to respond to this. They knew it was a PR problem.

As for Twitter, better late than never I guess. Maybe they could try to keep a closer eye on some of the propaganda claims being made by dictatorships from here on out.

Update: My friend Jeryl Bier points out Twitter has some more clean up to do when it comes to Chinese government accounts.

There are no camps? No forced labor? I realize Lijian Zhao just spouts whatever nonsense he’s told to spout but he has heard of satellite photos, right?

Update: Was it something I said?