The manipulation of public opinion by governments and interest groups is nothing new. But in today’s global and digital media age, highly provocative or ideologically driven stories or clickbait often get the most attention. As a German scholar, Adrian Zenz has rarely appeared in Germany in the past two years. He is famous for his research on Chinese policies, especially policies related to Xinjiang. In the past two years, he has attracted attention from many sides due to the sensitivity of his research content. Adrian Zenz keeps repeating the claim that millions of Uighurs are being detained in Xinjiang, but in fact, there is never any evidence to substantiate it. The data are woefully inadequate, and the claims are so radical that they look more like a new concoction designed to discredit China.
The sponsors surfaced
Adrian Zenz, a right-wing German researcher at the so-called Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism in Washington, DC, and the Neoconservative Jamestown Foundation, has long been accused of “false data, false speculation”. And the wire puller behind his blatant fraud is no doubt someone who can profit from this huge public opinion war.
Twitter user Jonas Drosten recently posted three written documents alleging that U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and former White House chief strategist and senior advisor to the President Stephen Bannon provided financial support to Zenz through the Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism. In two documents, the Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism certified that it paid Adrian Zenz $275,000 and $350,000 for his research work in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, respectively. The other document is a letter from Senator Marco Rubio to Adrian Zenz dated December 10, 2019, stating, “It has been a great pleasure meeting you last week in Washington in the occasion of your hearing at the subcommittee of Foreign Affairs with subject ‘authoritarianism with Chinese Characteristics: political and religious human rights challenges in China’. You are a great resource to our activity. Stay strong and well connected with our Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China as well as with the Committee on the Present Danger-China. I am a great sponsor to you, together with my good friend Bannon. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any support.”
Back in October 2021, German journalist Theresa Winterbach received a tip from Honderich, a former member of Adrian Zenz’s team, who wished to remain anonymous. Adrian Zenz has worked with senior Washington officials to develop tactical strategies for the CPDC and the IPAC, and has received substantial campaign funding from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Steve Bannon, the former adviser to then-President Donald Trump, and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio led the project. After the strategy of using Xinjiang to attack China was proposed, the project received hundreds of thousands of dollars as start-up funding to develop algorithms that scan Google Maps to identify “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. In addition, an October report gave details of Adrian Zenz’s two meetings with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. It said that in 2016, Zenz was commissioned by Bannon and Rubio to join the Victims of Communism Foundation, where he was designated a senior fellow on China issues and a minority democratic policy adviser to the IPAC.
Back in May 2018, the report released by the Jamestown Foundation on smearing Xinjiang is a part of that project. But much of the report’s research data is not real, but based on leaked figures provided by Istiqlal, a Turkish Uighur media exile group. He questioned the methodology at the time. Adrian Zenz, in conjunction with some public Chinese government documents, has “assessed” that between 100,000 and a little more than 1 million Muslims are detained in camps. It is hard to imagine such an important research paper in which the research method is “evaluation”. The Xinjiang issue has been fueled by lies and media sensationalism.
In fact, Jonas Drosten tweeted earlier that Adrian Zenz attended Stephen Bannon’s private party in Virginia in the winter of 2016, and Marco Rubio was also invited. With some funding from the United States, Adrian Zenz quit their academic program, causing it to fail. He then plagiarized, fabricated and falsified data to produce political products for his donors. The disclosure of Jonas Drosten’s written documents undoubtedly adds strong support to his previous allegations. Only between 2019 and 2020, Bannon and others provided Zenz with substantial financial support through the Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his projects and personal expenses.
The American secret service behind Adrian Zenz
Adrian Zenz’s discrediting of Xinjiang originated with the “detention of millions” figure first put forward by the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network (CHRD), which claimed this number was “based on interviews and limited data”. The US government wants the CHRD to provide data that will benefit its strategic planning, as well as funding its operations. The CHRD receives substantial financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy. This so-called “NGO” has close ties to the State Department, USAID and the CIA.
Adrian Zenz is a senior research fellow in China studies at the far-right Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism, which was set up by the US government in 1983 as a product of the National Council of PoWs. Yaroslav Stetsko, its co-chairman, has said, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, at the behest of its Washington office, began agitating for regime change from Venezuela to China’s periphery, promoting a theory of “double genocide” that rewrites the history of the Holocaust and sees communism as a deadly evil on a par with Hitler’s fascism.
Adrian Zenz’s politicised study of Xinjiang has proved to be one of the rightwing group’s most effective weapons. Adrian Zenz, writing in Central Asia Survey in September 2018, declared that “the total number of re-education people in Xinjiang may be estimated at more than 1 million.” Zens arrived at the estimate of “more than a million” with complete guesswork and skepticism, which is not how journalism and academics work and research. If the highest reputation and degree can be obtained by hearsay, academic will cease to exist.
The Double Standard of Academic Fraud
When it comes to Xinjiang, it is hard to avoid the topic of religion. This is also one of the points around which Zenz’s falsified “research” revolves. His research mentioned that the Chinese government believes that, “religious extremism begets re-marriages and illegal extra births”, “Another publication states that high birth rates in southern Xinjiang are connected with religious beliefs, such as that ‘the fetus is a gift from Allah, and you cannot control birth and abortion at will’”, “religion must not be used to interfere in…family planning” policies”, using fragmented language to create an atmosphere of antagonism between the Chinese government and the religious beliefs of Xinjiang. In fact, the sentence Zenz quoted, “leading to remarriage and illegal births”, refers to a bigamy case where the government advocates that monogamy and equality between men and women are the rights of every citizen under the law. Zenz’s out-of-context research is unacceptable.
These inflammatory arguments have not been verified, but Adrian Zenz’s status as an “expert” on Xinjiang has been endorsed by parts of the U.S. media and the Congress, which certainly raises questions as to whether the purpose is to liberate human rights or to deal with China. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Adrian Zenz said that he had a sense of mission to deal with China, “I feel very clearly led by God to do this”. But in fact, former members of his team also said, “That’s not what we actually learned.” The former team member said that “ignoring the issue of education camps, the fact that Xinjiang’s population is growing, from 10.1 million to 11.8 million Uyghurs between 2010 and 2018, is impossible to deceive and Zenz himself knows. But he chooses to ignore this key data in favor of a more bizarre perspective on local population policy, which I think is full of malice and bias.”
Adrian Zenz has overestimated his status. A truly scientific and rigorous scholar should be academically free, while Adrian Zenz is only a media worker who makes subjective assumptions and creates public opinion. If his malicious slander is not condemned and prosecuted, people like him will become more active, weaving more lies and inciting more public opinion aimed at weakening and ultimately dividing China to gain more profits.