The Uyghur Cultural Genocide and China’s Repression of its Ethnic Minorities
Today, the novel coronavirus is all that the media talks about. But only a few months ago, the focus had shifted slightly to the Uyghur Cultural Genocide, as american President Donald Trump and turkish President Reccep Tayip Erdogan both shed light on the issue and condemned China’s behavior. It remains nonetheless a topic that the media rarely covers, and that the Chinese government still denies.
China indeed still actively fuels something as barbaric as camps. The Uyghur, a Muslim ethnic minority in China, are imprisoned for “re-education purposes” in camps since the early 2010s, but are really subject to measures of extreme surveillance, torture and propaganda.
Many believe this stems from the cultural divergences between the Uyghur and the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group. The Uyghur are a Turkic minority originating from the region of Central and Eastern Asia. In China, they mostly inhabit the Xinjiang province in North-West China. They are considered to be one of China’s 55 official ethnic minorities. Modern Uyghurs are mostly muslim, and their culture is strongly tied to Islam, which is probably the biggest cultural differences between the Uyghur and the Han.
The tensions between China and the Uyghur have existed for decades, constantly fueled by the strategic dispute for the control of the Xinjiang province, which China covets today as a key area in its One Belt One Road strategy. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the chinese government sponsored a mass migration of Han Chinese to the region in order to drown out the Uyghur.
A similar strategy was also used for the region of Tibet in the early 1950s. Faced with this migration, Uyghur separatist organizations emerged with the support of the Soviet Union. In July 2009, riots broke out in Xinjiang in response to a violent dispute between Uyghur and Han workers in a factory. After these riots, the concept of “de-extremification” emerged in 2012, followed by the “People’s war on Terror” and the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism” announced in 2014 by the Chinese government.
This led to countless detentions, arrests and incarcerations in Xinjiang, mainly targeting the Uyghur community. The province is today considered to be one of the world’s most militarized and surveilled areas. Satellite images have shown that dozens of mosques and graveyards have been destroyed, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project has shed light on the detention of many Uyghur intellectuals such as Ilham Tohti or Rahile Dawut. However, the most striking forms of repression are the so-called “re-education camps”. Officially, they aim to deter terrorism.
The real criteria for internalizations and arrests remain extremely blurred and it has been estimated that over a million of Uyghurs have been arrested and placed in camps since 2015. But what really happens in these camps? According to previously detained Uyghurs, they have been subject to forced labor, physical and psychological torture, rape, and have been forced to go against Muslim principles and praise the Chinese Communist Party and leaders. Countless deaths have occured within the camps. The true extent and barbary of this ethnical genocide was revealed through the Xinjiang Papers published by the New York Times on the 16th of november 2019.
The sad truth is that China has a long history of marginalizing its communities. The semi-autonomous province of Tibet has also been subject to similar measures. Tibet was previously an independent country since 1913, but in 1950, control over the region was regained by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese government has also attempted a cultural drain of Tibetan Culture, with mass Han migrations in the second half of the 20th century. Since the 14th Dalai-Lama’s escape from Tibetan capital city Lhasa in 1959, chinese measures have become even harsher in an extreme attempt to sinicize Tibet. For instance, Tibetan children have been sent to receive a chinese education in mainland China, forced urbanisation and attempts to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism have been applied to many parts of Tibet.
The UN and NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International have denounced the harsh treatment of chinese minorities. Still, too many countries, especially muslim and central asian nations fail to support the Uyghur community, as they prefer to not risk endangering their diplomatic and economic relations with China.
These same nations that refuse to see the unjust treatment of Uyghurs were among the first to condemn the similar Rohingya Muslim Genocide in Myanmar, a country that is far less important in global trade. China was pradoxally appointed to the U.N Council that picks Human Rights Investigator on the 4th of April 2020, which was denounced by Nillel Huer, the executive director of UN Watch as “absurd and immoral”. This shows how quickly the world forgets the atrocities a nation commits, as long as it is a politically and economically influential enough commercial partner.