Why Africa could be the new front in China’s battle over the Xinjiang narrative

ANTI-COLONIALISM: The Chinese government clearly sees itself as coming under assault from U.S. and European governments on this issue and is drawing on a deep reserve of domestic resentment rooted in earlier foreign interventions in their country (frequently referred to as “the century of humiliation“). Clearly, Chinese officials see an opportunity to rouse those same resentments of Western colonialism still present right below the surface in many African countries. At this point, there’s no evidence to suggest this approach, if in fact, that’s what they’re trying to do, is gaining any traction in Africa.

HUMAN RIGHTS: The tweets and propaganda stories about life in Xinjiang place disproportionate emphasis on the supposed economic advancements that Uyghurs have made in Xinjiang. This aims to reinforce a Chinese human rights worldview that places social and economic development ahead of civil and political rights. This human rights worldview finds great resonance in a growing number of African countries, where democracy and human rights have suffered considerable setbacks in recent years (examples include Uganda, Zambia, and Egypt.)

THE INTENDED AUDIENCE: While it may appear that China is hoping to influence African publics with this wave of propaganda, the desired audience for this messaging may actually be much smaller. China’s official media outlets and Twitter accounts are not widely consumed in Africa, so the audience reach is tiny. But the messaging may instead be targeted at African governments, who do follow those diplomatic Twitter accounts. The aim could be to convey to their hosts just how important the Xinjiang issue is to Beijing. So, when the time comes for one of those joint letters to be signed at the UN, or when China needs support in its escalating feud with the U.S. and Europe, they’ll know it’s a serious request.

Related stories on the China Africa Project:

Most African states quietly take China’s side in Xinjiang battle at the United Nations
China appears to be using African mass media to try and sway public opinion on Xinjiang
Score keeping: Which African countries aligned with China at the United Nations on Xinjiang and Hong Kong