US media hailed a Newlines Institute report accusing China of Uyghur genocide as a “landmark” independent analysis. A look beneath the surface reveals it as a regime change propaganda tool by interventionist operatives at a sham university.
By Ajit Singh, a lawyer and journalist. He is a contributing author to Keywords in Radical Philosophy and Education: Common Concepts for Contemporary Movements (Brill: 2019). He tweets at @ajitxsingh.
Throughout March 2021, headlines in corporate media outlets from CNN to The Guardian blared about the release of the “first independent report” to authoritatively determine that the Chinese government has violated “each and every act” of the United Nations convention against genocide, and therefore “bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs.”
The report, published on March 8 by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, in collaboration with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, follows a last-minute accusation made in January by the outgoing Trump administration, along with similar declarations by the Dutch and Canadian Parliaments. It was published shortly after the release of a remarkably similar report on February 8 that was commissioned by the US government-backed World Uyghur Congress, and which alleged that there is a “credible case” against the Chinese government for genocide.
CNN, The Guardian, AFP, and the CBC hailed the March 8 Newlines report as an “independent analysis” and a “landmark legal report” that involved “dozens of international experts.” Samantha Power, the Biden administration’s nominee to direct the US Agency for International Development (USAID), also promoted it: “This report shows how this [genocide] is precisely what China is doing with the Uighurs,” the notorious humanitarian interventionist stated.
The report’s authors have insisted that they are “impartial” and are “not advocating any course of action whatsoever.” But a closer look at the report and the institutions behind it reveals its authors’ claims of “independence” and “expertise” to be a blatant deception.
Indeed, the report’s principal author, Yonah Diamond, recently called on the Biden administration to unilaterally “confront,” and “punish” China for supposedly committing genocide, and expand sanctions against the country. Meanwhile, the think tanks behind the report have advocated fervently for the West to “combat” and sanction China, and have promoted US regime change policies targeting Syria, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia.
A majority of the report’s “expert” signatories are members of the Newlines Institute and the Wallenberg Centre. Others are members of the hawkish Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, former US State Department officials, and ardent supporters of US military interventionism. The report relies most substantially on the “expertise” of Adrian Zenz, the far-right evangelical ideologue, whose “scholarship” on China has been demonstrated to be deeply flawed, riddled with falsehoods and dishonest statistical manipulation.
The reliance on the voluminous but demonstrably fraudulent work of Zenz is not surprising, given that the report was financed by the Newlines Institute’s parent organization, the Fairfax University of America (FXUA). FXUA is a disgraced institution that state regulators moved to shut down in 2019 after finding that its “teachers weren’t qualified to teach their assigned courses”, academic quality was “patently deficient,” and plagiarism was “rampant” and ignored.
Just days before the Newlines Institute published its “expert” report accusing China of genocide, an advisory board to the US Department of Education recommended terminating recognition of FXUA’s accreditor, placing its license in jeopardy.
“New” report regurgitates old, discredited “evidence”
The Newlines report presents no new material on the condition of Uyghur Muslims in China. Instead, it claims to have reviewed all of “the available evidence” and applied “international law to the evidence of the facts on the ground.”
Rather than conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of “the available evidence,” the report restricted its survey to a narrow range of deeply flawed pseudo-scholarship along with reports by US government-backed lobbying fronts for the exiled Uyghur separatist movement. It was upon this faulty foundation that the report applies legal analysis related to the UN Genocide Convention.
Newlines’ report relies primarily on the dubious studies of Adrian Zenz, the US government propaganda outlet, Radio Free Asia, and claims made by the US-funded separatist network, the World Uyghur Congress. These three sources comprise more than one-third of the references used to construct the factual basis of the document, with Zenz as the most heavily relied upon source – cited on more than 50 occasions.
Many of the remaining references cite the work of members of Newlines Institute’s “Uyghur Scholars Working Group”, of which Zenz is a founding member and which is made up of a small group of academics who collaborate with him and support his conclusions.
As The Grayzone has reported, Zenz is a far-right Christian fundamentalist who has said he is “led by God” against China’s government, deplores homosexuality and gender equality, and has taught exclusively in evangelical theological institutions. A careful review of Zenz’s research shows that his assertion of genocide is concocted through fraudulent statistical manipulation, cherry-picking of source material, and propagandistic misrepresentations. His widely-cited reports were not published in peer-reviewed journals overseen by academic institutions, but rather, by a DC-based CIA cut-out called the Jamestown Foundation and “The Journal of Political Risk,” a publication headed by former NATO and US national security state operatives.
As his academic malpractice comes to light, Zenz has faced increasing scrutiny and embarrassment, as evidenced by his threat to take legal action against his scholarly critics.
In order to shore up the report’s credibility, and to deflect from its essential reliance on Zenz’s reports, its authors have emphasized their supposed “independence” and “impartiality.”
“This [is] not an advocacy document, we’re not advocating any course of action whatsoever”, stated Azeem Ibrahim, Director of Special Initiatives at Newlines Institute. “There were no campaigners involved in this report, it was purely done by legal experts, area experts and China ethnic experts.”
However, just weeks before the publication of the report, its principal author, Yonah Diamond, penned a bellicose call for the Biden administration to eschew the UN (which Diamond deems to be “beholden to the Chinese government”) and unilaterally confront China. Following the Trump administration’s declaration that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang, Diamond argued that the US is legally obliged to “punish” China and that “the Biden administration must now take concrete action to that end together with U.S. allies”.
The report attempts to construct an appearance of broad expert consensus supporting its conclusions, including a list of 33 “independent expert” signatories. Unsurprisingly, this list consists of individuals pushing for a New Cold War and confrontation with China, and who support separatist efforts to transform the mineral-rich, geopolitically important region of Xinjiang into a NATO-oriented ethno-state:
Irwin Cotler and Helena Kennedy — co-chairs, along with Marco Rubio, of the hawkish Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). Composed almost exclusively of white Western lawmakers, IPAC formed in 2020 in order to mount a “common defence” against the “rise of the People’s Republic of China.” Members of the World Uyghur Congress executive, Erkin Ekrem and Rahima Mahmut, sit on IPAC’s advisory board and secretariat; Adrian Zenz also sits on the advisory board.
David Scheffer, Beth von Schaack, and Gregory H. Stanton — Scheffer and Schaack are both former US State Department Ambassadors-at-Large, while Stanton is a former US State Department official.
Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock — the former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Canadian UN Ambassador, respectively.
Adrian Zenz –– founding member of Newlines Institute’s “Uyghur Scholars Working Group”
Rather than consult a wide range of authorities and academic experts, or subject its study to peer review, Newlines relied entirely on a narrowly focused community of like-minded ideologues. A majority of the signatories are members of the two think tanks behind the report, the Newlines Institute and the Wallenberg Centre. Far from “independent”, these organizations are deeply partisan, self-described “campaigners” that align closely with US and Western foreign policy goals, advocating for sanctions and intervention against China and other non-aligned nations across the Global South.
Newlines Institute: A collection of regime-change ideologues and “Shadow CIA” operatives
The supposedly independent report accusing China of genocide was published by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy based in Washington, DC and known formerly as the Center for Global Policy. Founded in 2019, the think tank’s stated aim is “to enhance US foreign policy” with a “specialization in Muslim states and societies.”
With extensive ties to the US regime-change establishment, the Newlines Institute is a reliable repository of anti-China material. For example, it has featured the ramblings of Robert Spalding, the former Senior Director for Strategy to President Trump and one of the architects of the Trump administration’s 2018 national security doctrine, which formally reoriented US foreign policy from a focus on the so-called “global war on terror” towards great power competition with China and Russia.
The leadership of Newlines Institute includes former US State Department officials, US military advisors, intelligence professionals who previously worked for the “shadow CIA” private spying firm, Stratfor, and a collection of interventionist ideologues. Its contributors represent a who’s who of Syria regime changers who cheerleaded for US military interventionism while intimidating and bullying any prominent figure that dared present a critical perspective on the proxy war.
Hassan Hassan, Director; Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Newlines Magazine — Ardent supporter of US imperialism, including wars on Iraq, Libya, Yemen and especially Syria. Along with Newlines contributor Michael Weiss, Hassan called for the US military to balkanize Syria, permanently occupy its oil-rich Jazira region and turn the country into “an American security protectorate.”
Azeem Ibrahim, Director — Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. Ibrahim is a co-author of the Newlines report.
Kamran Bokhari, Director — Previously served as the Central Asia Studies Course Coordinator at US Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute
Faysal Itani, Deputy Director — Former resident Senior Fellow at the US State Department-funded Atlantic Council, which functions as the semi-official think tank of NATO in Washington, DC.
Michael Weiss, Senior Editor – A veteran Israel lobbyist, neoconservative activist and anti-Muslim agitator-turned advocate of Islamist insurgents in Syria, Weiss has branded himself as an expert on Russia despite having never visited the country and speaking no Russian.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Senior Editor – In 2016, Ahmad phoned Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal unsolicited before Blumenthal published a two-part investigative exposé on the Syrian White Helmets, threatening him with severe consequences if he went ahead. (Listen to a recording of Ahmad’s threatening call here). A lecturer on digital journalism at Stirling University in the UK, Ahmad recently attacked Democracy Now! for hosting scholar Vijay Prashad for a discussion on the danger of a new Cold War with China.
Rasha Al Aqeedi, Senior Analyst — Iraq-born pundit who formerly worked as a research fellow at the neoconservative Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), a neoconservative think tank originally founded by white supremacists and Cold War hardliners that has honored Iraq war advocates John Bolton and James Mattis. Like her colleague Ahmad, Aqeedi dedicates a significant portion of her time to smearing anti-war figures on social media.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, Non-Resident Fellow — Previously worked for a number of neoconservative and establishment think tanks, including the Atlantic Council, Foreign Policy Research Institute and Freedom House. Tsurkov served in the Israeli military, during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. Throughout the Syrian proxy war, Tsurkov maintained friendly contacts with members of the Saudi-backed jihadist militia, Jaish al-Islam, and boasted about links both she and Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus maintained with Syria’s armed opposition.
Nicholas A. Heras, Senior Analyst — Previously a research associate at the US Department of Defense’s National Defense University, Heras is also a fellow at the arms industry-funded Center for New American Security. There, he proposed using “wheat [as] a weapon of great power…to apply pressure on the Assad regime.” In other words, Heras advocated for the mass starvation of Syrian civilians by occupying their wheat fields, a US policy that is currently underway in the country’s northeastern region.
Caroline Rose, Senior Analyst — Previously served as an analyst at Geopolitical Futures, headed by Stratfor founder, George Friedman. Stratfor is a private spying and intelligence firm commonly referred to as a “Shadow CIA.” It has contracted extensively with the US government, and has trained the radical wing of Venezuela’s opposition and advised them on destabilization tactics.
Robin Blackburn, Managing Editor — For 12 years, Blackburn served as a writer and editor with Stratfor.
Robert Inks, Editor — Previously served as Director of the Writers Group and Special Projects Editor at Stratfor.
Daryl Johnson, Non-Resident Fellow — Served in the US Army and previously worked as a senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security. He is the founder of DT Analytics, a private consulting firm for police and law enforcement.
Eugene Chausovsky, Non-Resident Fellow — Lectures on the “geopolitics of Central Asia” at the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. Previously worked as Senior Eurasia Analyst at Stratfor for over a decade.
Imtiaz Ali, Non-Resident Fellow — Previously worked as a curriculum specialist at the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.
Ahmed Alwani is the founder and president of the Newlines Institute. Alwani previously served on the advisory board for the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) and is the Vice President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT); his father, Taha Jabir Al-Alwani was one of IIIT’s founders.
Newlines Institute recently took steps to counter rumors of IIIT’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. In an internal email obtained by The Grayzone, dated November 17, 2020, Newlines Director Hassan Hassan addressed the “accusation” against the then-Center for Global Policy. Hassan wrote that while a different “older entity” was funded by IIIT, “[t]he current one has no relation to IIIT.” Hassan attempted to assuage concerns by downplaying Alwani’s connection to IIIT, claiming that Alwani “inherited the International Institute for Islamic Thought as Vice President as a sort of legacy”, following his father’s death in 2018.
Newlines Institute overseen by disgraced sham “university”
Newlines Institute is a branch of a disgraced educational institution that has repeatedly violated state educational standards, raising further questions about the quality of the think tank’s work.
Newlines Institute’s parent institution is Fairfax University of America (FXUA), a school also founded and led by Alwani, and formerly known as Virginia International University. FXUA is a private university in Fairfax, Virginia. Founded in 1998, FXUA’s short track record has been riddled with numerous academic scandals and efforts by state regulators to shut the institution down.
In 2019, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia initiated proceedings to revoke FXUA’s (then known as Virginia International University) certificate to operate. The move came after state regulators found widespread noncompliance with state educational standards.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, auditors determined that “teachers weren’t qualified to teach their assigned courses”, the academic quality and content of classes were “patently deficient”, and student work was characterized by “rampant plagiarism” that went unpunished.
“Unqualified students regularly submit plagiarized or inferior work; faculty turn a blind eye and lower grading standards (perhaps to avoid failing an entire class); and administrators do not effectively monitor the quality of online education being provided”, the audit said.
“That such substandard coursework could continue with no complaints from students, faculty or administrators raises concerns about the purpose of education at VIU [Virginia International University].”
Indeed, signs point to FXUA/VIU serving as a “visa mill” rather than a legitimate educational institution. As Inside Higher Ed explains, the term “visa mill” refers to a sham operation where an institution “offers little by way of educational value,” but instead lures international students through its ability to offer access to student and work visas, while exploiting them by charging exorbitant tuition costs. FXUA/VIU’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), has long faced accusations of certifying such institutions.
In 2019, Inside Higher Ed reported that FXUA/VIU’s “appears to exist primarily to enroll international students,” finding that over the previous five years, “the percentage of students from North America varied between 1 and 3 percent”. Auditors found that the the student body was largely comprised of international students with an “abysmally poor command” of the English language. The students were charged $2,178 per graduate class and $1,266 per undergraduate class to receive their “patently deficient” education.
Although Virginia International University reached an agreement with state regulators that allowed it to continue operating and has rebranded itself as Fairfax University of America, significant concerns remain about the university, along with its subsidiary Newlines Institute.
Just days before Newlines Institute’s report on China was released, its FXUA’s accreditation was once again in potential jeopardy. On March 5, an advisory board to the US Department of Education recommended terminating recognition for ACICS. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted 11-to-1 to recommend that ACICS lose the federal recognition it needs to operate.
The advisory committee made the same recommendation in 2016, leading to the ACICS’s recognition being revoked under the Obama administration, before recognition was restored to the troubled accreditor in 2018 by then-President Trump’s Secretary of Education, the infamous privatization activist and oligarch Betsy Devos.
The Wallenberg Centre: A haven for anti-China hawks and regime-change lobbyists
Newlines Institute published its report in collaboration with The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. The report’s principal author, Yonah Diamond, is legal counsel for The Wallenberg Center, and many of the report’s signatories hold affiliations with the organization.
Based in Montreal, The Wallenberg Centre was founded by Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. While often touted as a “human rights champion”, Cotler is, in fact, a champion of the “responsibility to protect” and “humanitarian intervention” doctrines, regularly invoked by Western states in order to justify imperial interventions in the global south.
Cotler routinely levels propagandistic accusations of human rights abuses, atrocities, and genocide in service Western imperialism, including interventions in Libya and Syria, Iran, and Venezuela, where Cotler served as legal counsel for far-right, US-backed Venezuelan coup leader Leopoldo López. Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, holds an advisory position at The Wallenberg Centre.
Cotler is also active in Haiti, serving as the Minister of Justice in the Canadian administration that worked with the US and France to help overthrow former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. In 2014, Cotler invited Maryam Rajavi, leader of the exiled Iranian MEK cult, to speak on Canada’s parliament hill. Four years later, he nominated US and UK-funded Syrian White Helmets for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Cotler is an ardent supporter of Israeli apartheid and longtime advisor to Moshe Ya’alon, former Israeli Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Israeli military. Cotler has played significant role in the Canadian government’s efforts to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and smear the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
Cotler has long harbored hostile sentiments towards China. For a number of years, Cotler served on the international legal team for Chinese anti-government dissident Liu Xiaobo, a right-wing ideologue who called for the privatization and “Westernisation” of China, ardently supported former President George W. Bush, and cheered on US wars on Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
More recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, Cotler echoed calls of right-wing US lawmakers for international legal action and sanctions to punish China for supposedly causing the coronavirus pandemic.
In its mission statement, the Wallenberg Centre outlines its right-wing, Western imperial outlook in detail, explicitly identifying China, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia as countries that it is pushing to “combat” with sanctions.
The Wallenberg Centre has become a haven for anti-China hawks, including Senior Fellows David Kilgour, former Canadian Secretary of State, and David Matas, senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, a right-wing organization that describes itself as dedicated to “Israel advocacy”.
Kilgour and Matas have extensive ties to the far-right, anti-China religious cult Falun Gong. Both men are regularly contributors to the group’s propaganda arm, The Epoch Times, a media network that The New York Times has described as an “anti-China, pro-Trump media empire” and “leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation”. In 2019, an NBC News exposé found that The Epoch Times spent over $1.5 million on approximately 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in just six months, “more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.”
In 2006, Kilgour and Matas were commissioned by Falun Gong to author a report which made sensational accusations that the Chinese government was secretly conducting a mass campaign of live organ harvesting Falun Gong disciples. In 2017, an investigation by The Washington Post determined that the claims made by Kilgour and Matas were unfounded, with experts commenting that their allegations were “not plausible” and “unthinkable.”
* * *
As Washington advances its new Cold War strategy, it has amplified accusations of genocide and other atrocities against the Chinese government, all focused on Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang. To broaden support for the dubious narrative, the US government has turned to a series of pseudo-academic institutions and faux experts to generate seemingly serious and independent studies.
Any critical probe of the reams of reports on Xinjiang and the hawkish institutions that publish them will quickly reveal a shabby propaganda campaign dressed up as academic inquiry. Western media’s refusal to look beneath the surface of Washington’s information war against China only highlights its central role in the operation.