China made a ‘La La Land’-inspired propaganda musical about the life of Uyghur Muslims, which omits all mention of mass surveillance and oppression

china musical uyghurs wings of songs
A still from the 2021 Chinese propaganda musical “The Wings of Songs.”

  • The state-produced “The Wings of Songs” released in China on March 28.
  • It shows Uyghur Muslims living peacefully alongside Han Chinese people.
  • In reality, Uyghurs are heavily monitored and detained in their homeland of Xinjiang.
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China released a propaganda musical that purportedly depicts the life of Uyghur Muslims, which fails to mention mass surveillance and systematic human-rights abuses.

“The Wings of Songs,” which premiered in China on March 28, follows the story of a Uyghur, a Kazakh, and a Han Chinese man who form a musical group in the Xinjiang region.

In the film, the relationship between Uyghurs and Han Chinese is described as the “seeds of a pomegranate,” according to The New York Times.

In reality, Beijing has since at least 2017 sought to erase Uyghur culture, detaining more than one million Uyghurs in hundreds of prison camps across Xinjiang.

Early this year, the US State Department said the crackdown amounted to genocide. Canada and the Netherlands have since said the same.

Chinese authorities have in recent years forced Uyghurs to adopt mainstream Han Chinese culture, tried to slash Uyghur birthrates with birth control plans, and monitored their every move.

But “The Wings of Songs” glosses over all of these issues, according to reviews from Agence France-Presse and the Times.

Prominent examples of culture washing in the film include the fact that there are no references to Islam, AFP said, adding that more than half of the population of Xinjiang are Muslims.

Similarly, the Uyghur men in the film are depicted as clean-shaven and drinking alcohol, while Uyghur women are seen without their traditional headscarves, the Times said.

“The notion that Uyghurs can sing and dance so therefore there is no genocide – that’s just not going to work,” Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer, told the Times.

“Genocide can take place in any beautiful place.”

uighur protest china
A protest against China’s treatment of the Uyghurs held in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2020.

While making headlines abroad, the film appears to have been a damp squib at the Chinese box office.

As of Monday, it had generated just $109,000, according to data from the movie-ticketing company Maoyan, cited by the Times.

The state-run Global Times tabloid reported that the film was inspired by the success of the Oscar-winning 2016 musical “La La Land.”

Last month the US, European Union, Britain, and Canada announced sanctions against two Chinese officials for “serious human rights abuses” against Uyghurs.

Last week António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said that he had begun negotiating with Beijing to secure a visit to Xinjiang so that allegations of genocide could be examined.

China has denied the existence of the camps, and state media has in recent weeks slammed the US for meddling in its domestic affairs.

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Biden administration sanctions Chinese officials for ‘genocide’ against Uighurs days after diplomatic spat in Alaska

US China
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was involved in a heated exchange with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18.

  • The US on Monday announced new sanctions against two Chinese officials for “genocide” in Xinjiang.
  • Human rights groups say China has forced over a million Uighurs and other minorities into camps.
  • The new sanctions came days after Blinken confronted China’s top diplomat about human rights abuses.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Treasury Department on Monday unveiled new sanctions against two Chinese officials in response to “serious human rights abuse” against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

The sanctions, which target Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, were rolled out in coordination with Canada and European allies.

“Amid growing international condemnation, the [People’s Republic of China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken said that the US reiterates its call for the Chinese government to “bring an end to the repression” of Uighurs, calling on China to release “all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”

“These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on those in the [Chinese] government and [Chinese Communist Party] responsible for these atrocities,” Blinken added.

The Chinese government has forced more than a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities into detention camps in the Xinjiang region, according to human rights groups. China has vehemently denied allegations it’s committing genocide in Xinjiang.

The announcement of new sanctions against Chinese officials came just days after Blinken was involved in a testy exchange with China’s top diplomat in Anchorage, Alaska, as US and Chinese officials held the first face-to-face talks under President Joe Biden.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Blinken said the US intended to use the talks to discuss its concerns regarding human rights abuses in Xinjiang, among other issues.

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of condescending to China. In comments that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Yang said the US government was in no position to lecture other countries on human rights abuses, alluding to racism in the US as he referenced the Black Lives Matter movement.

Blinken then hit back with an impassioned defense of the US, underscoring its willingness to confront its shortcomings “openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug.”

Biden told reporters he was “proud” of Blinken’s handling of the heated back-and-forth with the Chinese diplomats.

The dynamic between the US and China became increasingly contentious under the Trump administration, particularly as then-President Donald Trump blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese government. Top experts have warned that the US and China are entering a new Cold War that could have devastating consequences for the global economy.

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Twitter blocks ‘dehumanizing’ Chinese Embassy tweet claiming Uighur women are no longer ‘baby-making machines’

uighur women london protest
A woman holds a placard during a London protest in support of Uighur people over ongoing human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region on October 08, 2020.

  • On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in the US posted a tweet claiming that Uighur women were no longer “baby-making machines” because of the eradication of extremism.
  • Twitter removed it on Saturday morning for violating rules against “the dehumanization of a group of people,” according to Ars Technica.
  • The tweet was linked to an article, published by the Chinese Communist Party, that celebrated the decline in birth rates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China.
  • China has been accused of using inhumane birth control practices on Uighur women. Forced abortions, sterilization, and unwanted IUDs are “widespread and systematic” practices, according to the AP.
  • Sens. Tom Cotton and Rick Scott had condemned the tweet. A number of other politicians criticized it and urged Twitter to take it down.
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On Saturday morning, a tweet posted by the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC was removed by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules against dehumanization.

The tweet, posted on Thursday, drew widespread condemnation for claiming that Uighur women have had their minds “emancipated” and are no longer “baby-making machines.”

“We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, race, or ethnicity, among other categories,” a Twitter spokesperson told Ars Technica.

The post read: “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

The tweet linked to an article published by China Daily – the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper.

twitter chinese embassy uighurs
The now-deleted tweet by the Chinese Embassy in the US.

The article claims that a decrease in birthrates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 2018 resulted from “the eradication of religious extremism.” It also refers to “family planning policies” being implemented in the region.

The Uighurs are a mostly-Muslim minority group in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China. Estimates suggest that at least one million of them could be interned in so-called ‘re-education camps,’ according to Foreign Policy.

China has been accused of reducing the birth rate of Uighur women by using inhumane practices, such as force-feeding birth control pills. The practice is “widespread and systematic,” according to an AP investigation.

Uighur women are regularly subjected to pregnancy checks, unwanted IUD devices, forced abortions, and sterilization, the news agency also reported.

The article’s implication that Uighur women are now more “confident and independent” was condemned by several high profile figures.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that it is a reminder that China is “an evil pariah state.”

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida referred to China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “a genocide” and said that “propaganda can’t hide their crimes.” He had urged Twitter to censor the tweet.

Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida’s 6th congressional district called it “genocidal.” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado’s 4th congressional district called it “sickening.”

 

Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, wrote: “How disgusting of the US Chinese Embassy to attempt to justify the progressive eradication of the Uyghur people.”

Other British MPs also expressed their disgust at the tweet.

Azis Isa Elkun, a Uighur Muslim academic, explained to Business Insider: “The Chinese Embassy’s tweet was, of course, trying to deceive the Western world.”

Isa Elkun continued: “The Chinese state is committing genocide on Uighurs. The Western world must act now and keep the promises of ‘never again.’ It must hold China accountable for the Uighur genocide before it’s too late.”

Despite the widespread condemnation, Twitter had originally told Ars Technica that it did not violate its policies against hateful conduct.

Although the Chinese Embassy tweet has since been removed, the article remains on China Daily’s Twitter feed.

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A major Apple supplier is reportedly using forced labor from thousands of Uighur workers to make glass for iPhones

Apple CEO Tim Cook in China, March 2019
Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Economic Summit held for the China Development Forum in Beijing in March 2019.

A major Apple supplier is using forced labor from thousands of Uighur workers in its factories, a new report from the Tech Transparency Project found.

“Our research shows that Apple’s use of forced labor in its supply chain goes far beyond what the company has acknowledged,” Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project, told The Washington Post.

Evidence of Lens Technology’s use of forced labor was available publicly, hidden in plain sight as government propaganda in news media, according to the Tech Transparency Project. Lens has for years supplied Apple with glass for iPhones, and the company also works with Amazon and Tesla, The Post noted.

Read more: How Apple, Google, and other browser makers are quietly duking it out over the future of the web

The group’s report details a variety of Chinese media reports that portray worker transfers as voluntarily relocating, often with a positive spin.

Apple didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but a representative, Josh Rosenstock, told The Post: “Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor. Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply across the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible business termination. As always, our focus is on making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain.”

Apple has been repeatedly accused of labor issues in China and has even broken business relationships with major suppliers as a result. As recently as  March, a major report found that Apple benefited from forced Uighur labor through its Chinese suppliers.

Though Apple has taken a public stance against these practices, the company reportedly joined Coca-Cola and Nike in lobbying efforts to weaken a bill designed to ban US companies from relying on Chinese forced labor.

Read The Washington Post’s full report here.

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@businessinsider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Huawei reportedly worked with 4 additional companies to build surveillance tools that track people by ethnicity, following recent revelations that it tested a ‘Uighur alarm’

Huawei China
  • Huawei has worked with at least four partner companies to develop surveillance technologies that claim to monitor people by ethnicity, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
  • Last week, The Post reported that Huawei in 2018 had tested a “Uighur alarm” — an AI facial recognition tool that claimed to identify members of the largely Muslim minority group and alert Chinese authorities.
  • Huawei told the The Post that the tool was “simply a test,” but according to Saturday’s report, Huawei has developed multiple such tools.
  • The reports add to growing concern over China’s extensive surveillance and oppression of Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as increasing use of racially discriminatory surveillance tools and practices by US law enforcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei tested an AI-powered facial-recognition technology that could trigger a “Uighur alarm” for Chinese authorities when it identified a person from the persecuted minority group in 2018, The Washington Post reported last week.

At the time, Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told The Post that the tool was “simply a test and it has not seen real-world application.”

But a new investigation published by The Post on Saturday found that Huawei has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools – and that products it developed in partnership with four of those companies claimed to be able to identify and monitor people based on their ethnicity.

Documents publicly available on Huawei’s website detailed the capabilities of those ethnicity-tracking tools as well as more than 2,000 product collaborations, according to The Post. The publication also reported that after it contacted Huawei, the company took the website offline temporarily before restoring the site with only 38 products listed.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson told Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson continued. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”

Huawei worked with Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft on products that made a variety of claims about estimating, tracking, and visualizing people’s ethnicities, as well as other Chinese tech companies on tools to suppress citizens’ complaints about wrongdoing by local government officials and analyze “voiceprint” data, according to The Post.

Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft could not be reached for comment.

Human rights groups, media reports, and other independent researchers have extensively documented China’s mass surveillance and detainment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in internment camps, where reports allege they are subjected to torturesexual abuse, and forced labor for little or no pay.

To help it build the surveillance apparatus that enables such widespread detainment, the Chinese government has at times turned to the country’s technology firms.

“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a research group that first discovered the 2018 test, told The Post. He added that “a lot of thought went into making sure this ‘Uighur alarm’ works.”

In October 2019, the US Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese government agencies and tech companies including China’s five “AI champions” – Hikvision, Dahua, SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek – on its banned “entity list,” thus preventing US firms from exporting certain technologies to them.

Still, some of those blacklisted companies have managed to continue exporting their technologies to Western countries, and BuzzFeed News reported last year that US tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, have continued selling those companies’ products to US consumers via online marketplaces.

In the US, law enforcement agencies and even schools have also increased their reliance on facial recognition software and other AI-powered surveillance technologies, despite growing evidence that such tools exhibit racial and gender bias.

But recent pushback from activists, tech ethicists, and employees has pushed some tech companies to temporarily stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement, and some US cities have issued moratoriums on their use, highlighting some divides between approaches to policing in the US and China.

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Huawei reportedly tested facial-recognition technology that could set off a ‘Uighur alarm’ to the Chinese government when the software identified someone from the persecuted minority group

uighur protest china
Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey October 1, 2020.

  • Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested artificial intelligence software that could identify the faces of Uighur minorities and alert them to the government, according to a new Washington Post report.
  • Huawei published a document that detailed its testing of the software, which could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it finds someone apart of the community.
  • The document was removed from Huawei’s website after the Post reached out, but the company acknowledged that the report exists.
  • The Post’s report comes as the Chinese Communist Party continues its persecution of Uighur Muslims, who are native to Western China. Officials have detained up to one million Uighurs in detention camps.
  • Reports have emerged of torture at the centers, where prisoners subjected to rapes, medical experiments, and — for Uighur women — forced sterilization.
  • Huawei is the world’s largest telecom maker, and its reported involvement in China’s crusade against Uighurs also raises the question of how tech industry power players can aid nations in conducting what activists are condemning as human rights violations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested AI software that could identify Uighur minorities to alert government authorities, according to a report from the Washington Post.

The outlet viewed an internal company document signed by Huawei representatives that revealed it worked with a facial recognition startup called Megvii in 2018 to test an AI-powered camera system that could scan faces and guess a person’s age and other factors. The software reportedly could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it pinpointed someone from the minority group. Uighurs are a largely Muslim group, and have been subjected to extensive persecution by the hands of the Chinese government.

The document was posted on Huawei’s website and was removed after the Post and the research group IPVM requested a comment, according to the report. Huawei and the startup confirmed to the outlet that the document is real.

The camera system was successful in taking real-time photos of people as well as replaying video footage when a face belonging to a member of the Uighur community was identified, according to the Post. 

Huawei did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but Huawei spokesman Glenn Schloss told the Post that the document was a test and has not been applied in a real-world setting. He also said Huawei does not provide “custom algorithms or applications.”

Since 2016, China has detained up to 1 million Uighurs – who are native to Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China – in internment camps, centers that the government has called “reeducation camps.” Officials at the camps force the Uighurs to abandon their culture and adopt Chinese customs, like learning the Mandarin language. Reports of torture have surfaced, including one woman who said she witnessed a gang rape and medical experiments on the prisoners while teaching Chinese propaganda in the camps. The government has also been accused of sterilizing Uighur women.

Authorities have justified their actions by claiming Uighurs are terrorists and religious extremists, as Business Insider’s Alexandra Ma reported.

The Chinese government has already been using high-tech surveillance tools to monitor Uighurs, including installing hundreds of thousands of cameras in Xinjiang to identify them and spying on them through their phones.

The Washington Post report raises the question of how technology, specifically AI, can be leveraged by world leaders to carry out political bidding, as well as the role that industry giants play in such agendas.

Read more: Europe is catching up with the US and China as all sides plow money into the ‘AI arms race’, experts say

International human rights activists and nations have condemned China’s actions – the UK said in July that it was considering sanctioning China due to the “gross and egregious” human rights violations that are surfacing in reports, according to the BBC.

Human rights advocates have also called Huawei out for its involvement in efforts to aid China and other nations in its oppression of minority groups. As the outlet notes, Uganda authorities have already employed Huawei technology as part of their mission to monitor protesters and political adversaries.

Megvii, the startup that Huawei reportedly worked with on the system, was also one of a few Chinese companies to be sanctioned by the US Commerce Department in 2019 over its contribution to China’s “campaign of repression” against Uighurs and other minorities, according to the Post.

Read the full report on the Washington Post here.

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