China’s Dehumanizing Assimilation of Uyghurs

A hand written banner demanding freedom for Uighurs the Chinese Muslims in front of the White House where protesters gathered to protest the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 25, 2015 (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

On Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, two groups of United Nations member states issued dueling statements over China's treatment of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), highlighting a global divide on Beijing's human rights record.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Karen Pierce, a representative for the UK, issued a statement on behalf of 23 countries raising concerns over gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang: "(There are) credible reports of mass detention, efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the region."

The 23 countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia, all called on China to "uphold its national and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights," as well as to provide access to Xinjiang for international monitors.

Shortly after the UK's statement in the UN, however, Belarus, Beijing's ally, made its own statement in a press release on behalf of 54 countries voicing approval of China's "counter-terrorism" program in Xinjiang: "The joint statement spoke positively of the results of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang and noted that these measures have effectively safeguarded the basic human rights of people of all ethnic groups."

Signatories included Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Serbia – which have all been condemned for their terrible records of human rights in their own countries.

There is little doubt though that China’s support in the UN has grown significantly in the last three months. And this, in spite of the fresh reports of serious abuses of human dignity and rights by Beijing in Xinjiang.

Male Han Chinese “relatives” assigned to monitor the homes of Uyghur families in XUAR regularly sleep in the same beds as the wives of men detained in the region’s internment camps, according to reliable sources who have overseen the forced stayovers. The “Pair Up and Become Family” program is one of several repressive policies targeting Uyghurs in the region.

A Communist Party cadre in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county said that “Normally one or two people sleep in one bed, and if the weather is cold, three people sleep together.” According to the cadre, if a household does not have a bed, family members and “relatives” all sleep on the same sleeping platform, with a small amount of space between one another.

The head of a local neighborhood committee in Yengisar county, who also declined to be named, confirmed that male officials regularly sleep in the same beds or sleeping platforms with female members of Uyghur households during their home stays. “Yes, they all sleep on the same platform,” the committee chief said.

Credible reports from Xinjiang also suggest that Uyghurs who protest hosting “relatives” as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, or refuse to take part in study sessions or other activities with the officials in their homes, are subject to additional restrictions or could face detention in the camp system.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in December 2017, authorities greatly expanded the October 2016 Pair Up and Become Family drive—which saw more than 100,000 officials visit mostly Uyghur homes in southern XUAR every two months—to mobilize more than a million cadres to spend a week living in homes, primarily in rural areas.

The “home stay” program was extended in early 2018 and cadres now spend at least five days every two months in the families’ homes, HRW said, adding that “there is no evidence to suggest that families can refuse such visits.”

Activities that take place during visits are documented in reports with accompanying photos—many of which can be found on the social media accounts of participating agencies—and show scenes of “relatives” involved in intimate aspects of domestic life, such as making beds and sleeping together, sharing meals, and feeding and tutoring children. There is no indication the families have consented to posting these images online.

HRW has called the home stays an example of “deeply invasive forced assimilation practices” and said they “not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region.”

HRW is absolutely right. This is the height of immoral crime not only against the families of those detained Uyghurs whose wives but now ‘pair up’ with a Han Chinese, but also against all the established norms of civility and decency that we enjoy as human beings. It is a slap to nearly 1.7 billion Muslims who consider such Han supremacist programs as sacrilegious, let alone being dehumanizing, shocking, shameful, and highly offensive.

The dueling statements at the UN General Assembly are non-binding, but highlight the global divide on China’s human rights record — particularly as Beijing moves to flex its diplomatic and economic clout abroad.

Human Rights groups have repeatedly said based on highly credible sources that more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up in internment camps in Xinjiang. After initially denying their existence, Beijing now defends the Xinjiang camps as “vocational education centers” that are necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism.

The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group applauded the statement from the UK and its supporters, but said that the response from the U.N. has been “far from adequate.” “Although we have been deeply disappointed from the response from the United Nations system, which is obligated to address abuses on this scale, it is encouraging to see voices still speaking out loudly,” WUC President Dolkun Isa said in a statement on Oct. 30.

Belarus called on countries who supported the critical statement to stop "politicizing the human rights issue" and making "baseless accusations against China."

Obviously, the truth about the accusations can be settled if the Han supremacist-run state would allow unfettered access to Xinjiang. But so far, Beijing has refused such access to rights groups.

In September, at an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that the U.N. has failed to hold China to account over its policies in the XUAR and should demand unfettered access to the region to investigate reports of the mass incarceration and other rights abuses against Uyghurs.

On Oct. 30, a bill that directs the U.S. government to prepare reports on China’s treatment of Uyghurs, was passed in Washington by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, clearing a major hurdle towards becoming law. The committee added an amendment to Senate Bill 178, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act that would include sanctions and export restrictions to prevent U.S. technology supply chains from being utilized to help China surveil and identify people through facial or voice recognition, or biometrics.

“We're talking about concentration camps,” said Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) while discussing the importance of the bill. “The surveillance at all levels of [Uyghurs’] lives is unconscionable and it's reminiscent of what the Nazis did, in terms of rounding people up, torturing them, and putting them into forced labor,” he added.

The bill was introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in January and was passed in the Senate on Sept. 11. It must now pass through the intelligence and judiciary committees before it is sent to the president to be signed into law.

The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) issued a statement welcoming the congressional action that they said “forcefully condemned” the Chinese government’s human rights crimes against Uyghurs. “The House action on this bill today sends a strong message that all branches of the U.S. government are taking action to counter the human rights abuses taking place in East Turkestan,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat, using a name preferred by many Uyghurs to refer to their historic homeland.

Speaking at a hearing in Washington held by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), witnesses highlighted reports of a widespread system of forced labor in the XUAR, which requires Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims to work in the production of textiles, food, and light manufacturing. In addition to non-detainees, the system has been reported to rely on forced labor from those held in the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million people accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher who studies China's minority policies, detailed a forced labor system he called even “more shocking” than that of the internment camps, which he said involved coerced military, political, and vocational training for the purpose of working in officially subsidized companies as part of a “business of oppression.” He said that those who refuse work assignments are regularly threatened with internment or further detention, creating a situation in which “forced labor is equated with salvation.”

As I noted elsewhere, China has long used prison inmates for forced labor, and since establishing rule in the XUAR in 1949, the Communist Party has relocated prisoners from elsewhere in the country to the region for hard labor and to “contribute to economic development” there.

China is the world’s largest cotton producer; some 84 percent of China’s cotton is produced in the XUAR. Chinese-made garments made by forced labor are sold worldwide, even here in the USA where China is the largest supplier.

Recently the U.S. Department of Commerce said that it had blacklisted 28 governmental or commercial entities from China it believes are implicated in rights abuses in the XUAR, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials seen as “responsible for, or complicit in, the detention and abuse of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, or other members of Muslim minority groups” in the region.

While those moves are welcome, they are not sufficient to stop a rogue government that has learned to dodge the system. For instance, while the U.S. employs tough restrictions on the importation of goods made with forced labor under the Tariff Act of 1930, Beijing has been able to find loopholes to penetrate the US market, let alone flood the western markets. Such loopholes need to be sealed.

The U.S. must do more to ensure that goods imported from China are not produced through forced labor in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are subject to mass detentions under the guise of “vocational training.” The western governments should discourage, and if necessary, punish companies doing business in cotton and ready-made garments from China.

The civilized world should seriously adopt policies to stop Nazi-type crimes of the Han supremacist government in China, failing which I am afraid that the latter’s corrupting influence via mega Chinese-funded projects would only grow worldwide. Such influence-buying won’t be limited to corrupt, unpopular and bankrupt neo-Pharaohs like Sisi of Egypt alone, who to appease Xi has lately been incarcerating Uyghurs to be later forcibly returned to China.

That is the sad reality of our time when money is corrupting everything it’s touching. Standing for truth, justice, rights, and human decency are becoming a casualty! And Xi’s Han Chinese – aspiring to claim the number one spot in the race for superpower – are doing today what the USA used to do decades ago: buying influence. The UN is proving to be a dysfunctional theater that is at odds with its founding principles where bullying and buying influence by any means possible are bankrupting our very humanity or whatever little is left of it. Shame on the group of 54 for endorsing Nazi-type crimes of Han supremacists!

I wonder how would the Belarus rep and its supporters for the Chinese motion feel if their spouses are forced to ‘pair up, sleep in the same bed and become family’ with Han supremacists while they rot in concentration camps! I am sure, no respectable and conscientious human being would love such a proposition. So, how dare they endorse something that repugnant that they themselves loathe?


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