The Chinese Communist Party hosted a “carnival celebrating diversity” late Wednesday in Beijing featuring Party-approved performances from the likes of Jackie Chan and Andrea Bocelli.
The show was a stark contrast to efforts to eradicate Uighur identity and the Muslim faith on the other side of the country.
The carnival gala culminated the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC), an event hosted by Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s plan to control all of the world’s major transportation hubs. Xi delivered a speech praising the diversity of Asian cultures and urging greater communication among the continent’s peoples, specifically through participating in BRI projects.
China uses BRI to offer economically weak nations the chance to build ports, roads, and railways with what American officials have called “predatory” loans, promising to create jobs in those countries but later only filling them with imported Chinese nationals. When the countries cannot pay their loans, China then seizes the property it constructed. China has already done this in Sri Lanka and is threatening to do so in Kenya.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was on hand for Wednesday’s festivities.
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, reported that the carnival featured “dazzling dance steps and music from different corners of Asia” in the Bird’s Nest, Beijing’s signature stadium it debuted during the 2008 Summer Olympics. “Around 30,000 audience [sic] from home and abroad watched artists from across Asia perform folk dances, play traditional musical instruments or sing popular songs from their homeland.”
The Global Times, another Chinese state vehicle, reported that martial artist and actor Jackie Chan, an ardent anti-American Chinese nationalist, performed at the ceremony, as well as other artists less well-known in the West such as “Jung Ji-hoon (known as ‘Rain’) from South Korea, Do To Hoa from Vietnam and Lim Jun Jie (known as ‘JJ Lin’) from Singapore.” Bocelli reportedly performed, though the Times did not clarify how his performance fit into the greater theme of Asian culture.
Xi spoke at the opening of the carnival, insisting that he believes in the greatness of all cultures. “He called for efforts to jointly create a brighter future for civilizations of Asia and the world,” according to state outlet Xinhua. “The Chinese president raised a four-point proposal to consolidate the ‘cultural foundation’ of jointly building a community with a shared future for Asia and humanity.”
“Tonight, the colorful flowers of Asian cultures will blossom in full,” he reportedly said. “Arts will transcend the boundaries of nations, touch people right in the heart and connect their minds, showing to the world a radiant, dynamic, peaceful and progressive Asia.”
The Global Times quoted Xi as telling attendees that “loving people and treating neighbors kindly are treasures of a country” and hoping that “neighbors wish each other well, just as loved ones do to each other.”
Xi has launched an illegal military project to annex and colonize parts of the South China Sea belonging to Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines, placing key People’s Liberation Army (PLA) assets in Philippine and Vietnamese territory. On land, Xi invaded India last year, illegally claiming sovereignty over the Doklam border territory. He has also expanded China’s border patrol presence near Afghanistan, both a threat to that nation’s sovereignty and to Chinese nationals seeking to flee the growing repression in the region.
China’s policies in Xinjiang, its largest and westernmost province, stand in stark contrast to the message of the diversity gala Wednesday. There, Xi has launched a campaign to eradicate the culture of the native Uighur population and imprisoned millions of Uighurs, along with Kyrgyz and Kazakh Muslims, in concentration camps where survivors say they were tortured, brainwashed, and forced into slave labor.
The Communist Party calls the camps “vocational centers” and claims to use them to help unskilled laborers compete in the job market, but reporters, NGOs, and foreign governments point to the high percentage of educated and employed people disappeared into the camps as evidence that this is not the case.
“Clearly, they are not vocational training centers, as China says they are. There are many, many highly educated people in these camps, highly accomplished people in these camps, and that belies China’s own description of the camps,” Scott Busby, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an interview published Wednesday. The U.S. State Department was among the first entities to voice concern over the camps in early 2018.
Initial estimates of the number of people in the camps suggested that China had rounded up hundreds of thousands. By this month, Pentagon officials suggested that the current number may be closer to 3 million. A Reuters report published last year found that China had built at least 1,200 of these camps, some outfitted with clothing sweatshops to profit from the inmates’ inprisonment.
“[W]e know that over a million people are in these camps, they are held there against their will, some of them are subject to torture, some of them are subject to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment,” Busby said. “We know that some people have died in the camps. So, clearly, what’s happening in the camps is horrific.”
Survivors say they are forced to learn Mandarin and no longer speak their native language, memorize Communist Party propaganda, and sing songs worshipping Xi Jinping. Not complying could result in starvation, torture, or death.
Busby accused China of “robbing the Uyghur people of their ethnicity, of their religion.”
Chinese state media did not mention any Uighur acts in its gala honoring the diversity of Asian cultures.