China Targets Uyghur Women in “Population Optimization” Drive

As the Chinese government campaigns to increase the national birth rate, evidence has shown that Uyghur women have faced restrictive—even nonconsensual—measures to lower birthrates amid a long-running campaign of repression in the region. A new analysis by researcher Adrian Zenz suggests southern Xinjiang’s minority population may decrease by one-third within the next 20 years. At Reuters, Cate Cadell reported on how the government’s “population optimization” campaign will lead to drastic declines in Xinjiang’s Uyghur population:

It found the population of ethnic minorities in Uyghur-dominated southern Xinjiang would reach between 8.6-10.5 million by 2040 under the new birth prevention policies. That compares to 13.14 million projected by Chinese researchers using data pre-dating the implemented birth policies and a current population of around 9.47 million.

[…] Some residents, researchers and rights groups say the newly enforced rules now disproportionately impact Islamic minorities, who face detention for exceeding birth quotas, rather than fines as elsewhere in China.

[…] For example, 15 documents created by state funded academics and officials showcased in the Zenz report include comments from Xinjiang officials and state-affiliated academics referencing the need to increase the proportion of Han residents and decrease the ratio of Uyghurs or described the high concentration of Uyghurs as a threat to social stability.

“The problem in southern Xinjiang is mainly the unbalanced population structure … the proportion of the Han population is too low,” Liu Yilei, an academic and the deputy secretary general of the Communist Party committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a government body with administrative authority in the region, told a July 2020 symposium, published on the Xinjiang University website. [Source]

At CNN, Ben Westcott reported that the central government retained the three-child limit at least in part to facilitate continued restrictions on ethnic minorities:

Experts said Beijing is reluctant to remove all quotas on the number of children per family for several reasons. But one major factor is that ending the policy would make it much more difficult to justify Beijing’s attempts to limit the population in Xinjiang and other regions with large minority groups, which tend to have more children.

“Continuing to limit births among populations deemed problematic is certainly part of the calculus,” said Darren Byler, a Xinjiang expert and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Colorado.

“If there was no policy across the whole country, it would be difficult to enforce a separate one for poor people and Muslims.” [Source]

Although Uyghur women had relatively more reproductive freedom than many Han women during the era of the one-child policy, that experience was not universal. Testimony recently given to an international tribunal in London by Uyghur women described forced abortions and house-to-house ultrasound squads that razed the homes of women who were pregnant in violation of government quotas during the 1990s and 2000s. The tribunal does not have government backing and is instead aimed at gathering evidence of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. At the AFP, Callum Paton covered witness testimony at the tribunal:

Qelbinur Sidik, an ethnic-Uzbek teacher from Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, said she was ordered by Communist Party bosses to teach Chinese in two fetid and crowded “re-education” camps — one male and one female — for Uyghurs.

The so-called students were made to wear shackles during hours-long classes, she told the tribunal.

[…] Forced sterilisation of Uyghur women was common and in one instance, a female prisoner died from the process, she added. [Source]

The government’s restrictive birth policies run parallel to a broader campaign to establish control over Xinjiang’s ethnic minority populations, which has included mass internment, forced labor, and population transfers. At Foreign Policy, Adrian Zenz and Erin Rosenberg argued that China’s birth prevention measures are intended to destroy the Uyghur population of Xinjiang, meeting the International Court of Justice’s standards on genocidal intent:

These findings shed important new light on Beijing’s intent to physically destroy in part the Uyghur ethnic group by preventing births within the group. The new publication convincingly argues other measures aimed at achieving ethnic population changes since Han will not accomplish the overall goal due in part to ecological, economic, and other practical constraints. As such, the prevention of Uyghur births is a critical and necessary part of China’s overall “optimization” policy in Xinjiang—a policy considered to be a matter of national security. Importantly, understanding the role that birth prevention and long-term population reduction plays in this overall policy distinguishes China’s actions against the Uyghurs from its general national population control measures and from its treatment of other ethnic and religious minorities, such as Tibetans.

In its 2007 judgment in the Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial body that has jurisdiction over disputes between states in relation to the Genocide Convention, held that “the intent must be to destroy at least a substantial part of the particular group.” The ICJ expanded on the criteria for assessing the “substantial part” threshold in its 2015 Croatia v. Serbia judgment, holding it is not merely a numerical assessment but also takes into account the intent to destroy “within a geographically limited area” and the “prominence of the allegedly targeted part within the group as a whole.” We argue that a long-term policy of preventing millions of Uyghur births meets this threshold. [Source]

For further reading, see Darren Byler’s long-form piece “From Xinjiang to Mississippi: Terror Capitalism, Labour and Surveillance” and Timothy Grose’s translation of a Han woman’s first-hand experience in Kashgar from 2016 to 2018, “In the Past Three Years, What Have I Seen in Kashgar’s Gaotai Neighbourhood?”


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