“Crimes Against Humanity” in Xinjiang Draw Attention

Described by rights activist Michael Caster as “crimes against humanity,” the targeted persecution of ’s Muslim is worsening, and journalists, academics, and politicians are calling for awareness and action. Recent statistics show the region constituted 21% of all arrests in China last year, despite comprising just 1.5% of the national population. In addition, Professor Adrian Zenz demonstrated that “at least several hundred thousand, and possibly just over one million” Uyghurs have been detained in extralegal re-education camps which would not register in arrest statistics. Der Spiegel’s Bernhard Zand writes of a recent trip to Xinjiang:

Qu xuexi,” meaning to go or be sent to study, is one of the most common expressions in Xinjiang these days. It is a euphemism for having been taken away and not having been seen or heard from since. The “schools” are re-education centers in which the detainees are being forced to take courses in Chinese and patriotism, without any indictment, due process or a fair hearing.

More than half the people we met along the way during our journey spoke of family members or acquaintances who were “sent to school.” One driver in Hotan talked about his 72-year-old grandfather. A person in Urumqi told the story of his daughter’s professor. An airplane passenger spoke of his best friend.

The stories differ, yet they all contain important parallels. Most of the people affected are men. The arrests usually occur at night or in the early morning. The reasons cited include contacts abroad, too many visits to a mosque or possessing forbidden content on a mobile phone or computer. Relatives of those who are apprehended often don’t hear from them for months. And when they do manage to see them again, it’s never in person but rather via video stream from the prison visitor area. [Source]

In addition, there is new evidence of expansion in both scope and scale, with neighboring Gansu province seeing implementation of the “Xinjiang model” and non-Uyghur Chinese Muslims being detained. Recently, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen employed at a re-education camp has fled to Kazakhstan, bringing with her information that Hui, ethnic Kazakh, and ethnic Kyrgyz Muslims are also being targeted. Writing for Radio Free Europe, Ron Synovitz, Asylkhan Mamashuly, and Nurtai Lakhanuly provide her testimony:

“They took me there to work at one camp in 2018,” Sauytbay testified to the court in the border town of Zharkent on July 13. “It was a political camp for ethnic Kazakhs. There were only ethnic Kazakhs while I was there. ”

“I was told there were two other camps like this [for ethnic Kazakhs] in the area,” she said. “There were 2,500 people where I was. And I know that in the region there are other camps” with Muslims from other minority communities.

[…] Sauytbay also testified that ethnic Kazakhs are sentenced to death in western China on mere suspicion of a crime — noting the execution of one ethnic Kazakh woman for the “illegal transfer of information to Kazakhstan” after she’d sent video of a flag-raising ceremony in China to her relatives in Kazakhstan. [Source]

The State-run Global Times acknowledges that a mass relocation of Uyghurs has occurred, but provides a different justification, claiming that 461,000 “poverty-ridden” residents have been moved to improve social stability and improve employability and cultural integration, by being provided with career and Mandarin language training.

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China last week held a hearing entitled “Surveillance, Suppression, and Mass Detention: Xinjiang’s Human Rights Crisis,” which included detailed testimonies from U.S. Representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United NationsAmbassador Kelley Currie (27:03); Gulchehra Hoja (1:32:44), a U.S. citizen and Uyghur Service journalist for Radio Free Asia whose family and colleagues’ families have been detained as a result of her coverage; Rian Thum (1:37:49), Associate Professor at Loyola University New Orleans; and Jessica Batke (1:43:05), the Senior Editor at ChinaFile. The hearing was chaired by Senator Marco Rubio, who highlighted the underreported nature of the situation:

I doubt this is going to make it on the CBS News or any other cable news show, but this is outrageous, and it’s hypocritical of the international organizations that stand by and say nothing. Why? Because China went into somebody’s country and built a road or a bridge or maybe bribed them and gave them a billion dollars to be quiet and go along. […]

[T]his is what these people do with the power they have now. Imagine what they will do when that power grows militarily and economically and geopolitically, because if this is how you treat your own people, how do you expect them to treat people in some other part of the world? And I hope people wake up and understand what we are confronting here, and the grave crisis it presents. [Source]

Professor Thum spoke of the context behind the CCP’s targeting of Islam, and the resultant Islamophobia in the Chinese populace:

This is a colonial-settler operation, and it is contrary to some opinions not explicitly about religion per se, the CCP, despite being avowedly atheist, has a great deal of tolerance for what they see as Chinese religions being practiced by ethnic Chinese. When it comes to a foreign religion, or a religion seen as Chinese practiced by non-Chinese like Tibetans, that story changes, and it becomes even more intense when it’s , because the CCP over the last 20 years or so has adopted American and European discourses of Islamophobia, which they picked up largely through cooperation with the U.S. global war on terror. [Source]

By conflating criticism of Islamophobia with criticism of government inaction to support its Muslim population, the CCP implicitly endorses Islamophobia and censors anti-Islamophobic discourse, Matt Schrader writes for the Jamestown Foundation:

[I]n the CCP’s eyes, the real issue is not the undue harshness of its policies, or Islamophobia among China’s Han majority, but rather the inability of some of China’s Muslims to hew to acceptable, state-sanctioned, “modern” expressions of Islamic faith.

Even specialists on Islamic culture publicly toe this line. For example, at a high-level Sino-Arab dialogue last year Xue Qingguo (薛庆国), a professor of Arabic at one of Beijing’s top universities and secretary of the China Arabic Literature Studies Association, delivered a speech in Arabic on “Extremism and Islamophobia” to officials from 16 majority-Arab countries […]. In his speech, Xue lauded the achievements of Islamic civilization, and admitted that “Islamophobia has gotten some traction in China in recent years”. But he placed the blame for this squarely on Chinese Muslims themselves, condemning those who would “distort a civilization that produced significant advances in all fields of scientific endeavors, a civilization steeped in humanism, into a mass of trivial minutiae about beards, veils, and clothing”.

Xue’s speech is emblematic of a party-state that preaches ethnic unity, but abhors any self-reflection that could be interpreted as criticism of the party line, or as support for greater political autonomy for China’s minorities. The problem is exacerbated by the way the CCP’s online censorship apparatus functions.

China’s censors take their cues from party leaders, scrubbing the internet of views that leaders find unacceptable, promoting those they espouse, and leaving untouched those about which leaders have expressed no opinion. The party-state’s failure to strongly condemn Islamophobia thus places anti-Islamophobic voices at a disadvantage in public debate, since a vocal defense of China’s Muslims could also be read as implicit criticism of the government’s failure to speak out on their behalf. [Source]

Although Western attention is beginning to focus on the unfolding crisis, predominantly Muslim countries have remained silent, or have even forcibly repatriated Uyghurs to face certain persecution. Foreign Policy’s Nithin Coca details why:

Part of the answer is that money talks. China has become a key trade partner of every Muslim-majority nation. Many are members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or are participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In South Asia, this means infrastructure investment. In Southeast Asia, China is a key market for  commodities such as palm oil and coal. The Middle East benefits due to China’s position as the world’s top importer of oil and its rapidly increasing use of natural gas.

[…] Xinjiang’s immediate neighbors, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan, face a particularly difficult situation. The ongoing persecution has caught up some of their own citizens, or their families. But with both close economic and geopolitical ties to China, these countries are highly reluctant to speak up. Pakistan sees China as a vital balancer against India, and their relationship, sometimes referred to as the “iron brotherhood,” goes back decades.

But there are subtler reasons the Uighur are ignored. They are on the edge of the Muslim world, in contrast to the Palestinian cause, which is directly connected to the fate of one of Islam’s holiest cities, Jerusalem. China has little place in the cultural imagination of Islam, in contrast with Muslims’ fraught relationship with the idea of a Jewish state. Even as China’s presence in the Middle East grows, it lacks the looming presence of the United States or Israel. [Source]

China’s current security policies in Xinjiang began in earnest after ethnic tensions led to riots in 2009, where at least 197 people were killed. In 2014, Beijing launched an anti-terrorism campaign focused on the region, which has resulted in a series of controversial policies including the use of intimidationreligious discrimination, cutting edge surveillance technology, and political reeducation camps. Beijing may now have to contend with separatist Uyghurs who joined Islamic State returning to Xinjiang, further complicating the situation, according to another report by Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief.