Archive for the ‘Uyghurs’ Category


Parliamentary committee produces damning report

Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.

The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.

The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.

One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.

Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang

The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.

The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.

The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.

To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.


China reported to be using its financial muscle to secure the arrest of ex-patriot Uighurs in foreign countries

This is an extract from the Uyghur* Human Rights Project. China is much in the news recently and the arrest of journalists and the closure of a popular newspaper in Hong Kong has featured strongly in the west. The systematic repression of Uighurs continues unabated however, both within the country and as this report discusses, overseas.

The report is the product of an effort to understand the means by which China targets Uighurs beyond its borders to silence dissent. In partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs gathered cases of China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs from public sources, including government documents, human rights reports, and reporting by credible news agencies to establish a detailed analysis of how the scale and scope of China’s global repression are expanding.

Since 1997, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has engaged in an unprecedented scale of transnational repression that has reached 28 countries worldwide. The China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs Dataset examines 1,546 cases of detention and deportation from 1997 until March 2021 and offers critical insight into the scope and evolution of the Chinese government’s efforts to control and repress Uyghurs across sovereign boundaries. Our data finds instances of at least 28 countries across the world complicit in China’s harassment and intimidation of Uyghurs, most notably in much of the Middle East and North Africa with 647 cases, and in South Asia with 665 cases. The dataset contains 1,151 cases of Uyghurs being detained in their host country and 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported, extradited, or rendered back to China.

China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs has been consistently on the rise and has accelerated dramatically with the onset of its system of mass surveillance in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) from 2017, showing a correlation between repression at home and abroad. In the first stage of China’s evolving system of transnational repression, from 1997 to 2007, a total of 89 Uyghurs from 9 countries, mostly in South and Central Asia, were detained or sent to China. In the second phase (2008–2013), 130 individuals from 15 countries were repressed. In the ongoing third phase (2014 to the end of our data collection in March 2021), a total of 1,327 individuals were detained or rendered from 20 countries. Unreported cases would likely raise these figures substantially, with our database presenting just the tip of the iceberg due to our reliance on publicly reported instances of repression.

International organizations and host governments, particularly those with close political and economic ties to the PRC, can often be complicit in China’s use of transnational repression against Uyghurs, many of whom have sought refuge abroad. China’s transnational repression exists as part of a wider trend of global authoritarianism that threatens to erode democratic norms worldwide. Stopping China’s transnational repression is a moral imperative and crucial to maintaining state sovereignty and the integrity of international organizations like Interpol and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

States that host Uyghur diaspora communities can take concrete steps to combat China’s transnational repression and protect Uyghurs and other vulnerable populations. Governments can refuse to extradite Uyghurs, increase refugee and emigration quotas, and restrict networks of enablers, including tech companies, as well as diaspora groups and organizations acting as fronts for the Chinese government.

This report describes transnational repression and the key actors and methods used by the Chinese government. It then traces the evolution of China’s campaign of repression, showing how that campaign has shifted in emphasis from Central and South Asia, to Southeast Asia, to the Middle East, following the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative. The full report can be read by following the link above.

*There are different spellings


China’s persecution of the Uighurs continues unabated

Two or so years ago, we had not heard of the Uighurs but since then, more and more evidence has emerged about what has become arguably the world’s worst example of attempted cultural genocide.  In an editorial in the 17 October 2020 edition of the Economist, they suggest it is ‘the gravest example of a world-wide attack on human rights and a crime against humanity’.

Since 1989, the fate of the Uighurs has deteriorated markedly.  Around a million are incarcerated in what are claimed to be ‘vocational education and training centres.’  It is hard to think of other such centres around the world which feel the need to surround themselves with high concrete walls, coils of razor wire and watch towers.  Inside, they are forced to learn Chinese and Xi Jinping thought.  They are Sunni Muslims but if when asked ‘do you believe in God?’ they answer ‘yes’, they are beaten.  

According to the Economist, new evidence suggests that thousands of their children have been separated from their parents.  If they speak their own language they are punished.  Women are urged to marry Han Chinese men and receive rewards if they do.  Another tactic according to the BBC World Service, is placing a Chinese man inside their homes as ‘house guests’.  

The persecution of the Uighurs is now widely known around the world.  Initially, the Chinese denied the existence of the camps and then changed the story once some details became known.  Outsiders are not allowed in and few images have emerged except posed photographs and films produced by the government.  The lack of images has reduced the impact as people respond to images and footage – written reports and verbal testimony have much less impact. The wider issue of human rights is discussed by Amnesty and includes details of torture, attacks on human rights defenders, a legal system under control of the party and excessive use of surveillance. 

Lack of protest

One of the curious features of this scandal however is the lack of protest from other Muslim nations.  Why aren’t countries such as Indonesia, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan making more of a fuss?  Turkey is closely related to the Uighurs ethnically and their Turkic languages are linked, but it too is silent.  

Part of the reason is that China has used its enormous wealth to silence criticism.  Countries such as Pakistan are dependent on the Belt and Road initiative and has received tens of billions in loans from China.  It has just finalised a new loan of $11bn.  Turkey is also part of the Belt and Road project and has just signed a $1bn loan.  At one time it was a critic and then it changed its opinion.  Saudi – hardly a country with clean hands itself – has aligned itself more closely with China following the Khashoggi murder.  Mohammed bin Salman is quoted as saying:

China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism measures and act against extremists for its own security BBC World Service 20 July 2020

Other Muslim countries are also reluctant to speak up because of loans and economic dependence on China.  Apparently, about the only exception is Malaysia because it is well developed and less reliant on China.  The Economist article rightly argues that the West must speak up and expose this most egregious example of human rights abuse possibly since the Second World War when nations said ‘never again’ after the holocaust.  It suggests China’s regime is not immune to shame – why else would it go to such lengths to hide its activities?  Western companies should ensure for example that the goods they source from China are not made using forced Uighur labour. 

The situation is bleak however.  Last week, China, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia, was elected to the UN’s Human rights Council.  Truly the fox is in the henhouse. 

The UK government has supported an EU statement on the issue. 

Why is there no concerted international action?

There are several reasons:

  • The region of China, Xinjiang, is remote and largely unknown outside China and is therefore in a real sense, out of sight and out of mind
  • The West’s increasing dependence economically on China is a factor.  We rely on the country for much of our manufactures and for keeping inflation down.  British and other politicians have been all too keen to put business and trade ahead of human rights
  • China is highly resistant to listen to any criticism of what it regards as its internal affairs and western politicians are all to happy to go along with this and are reluctant to confront Chinese sensitivities
  • There is no charismatic individual to champion their cause.  It needs an individual who can speak for the nation and with whom, people in the West can identify
  • The lack of film or video evidence other than snatched pictures of concrete walls
  • Covid-19 is a huge distraction and consumes masses of time leaving little for other causes
  • China has been careful not to commit crimes of actual genocide.  It is not murdering millions by starvation or other means.  The oppression is real but there is no extermination
  • The oppressed are Muslims and anti-Muslim feeling is widespread in the West which results in low sympathy.  As we have noted, other Muslim nations have failed to criticism China’s oppression of fellow Muslims (in fact some support it), so why should we? 

This all adds up to a dangerous situation.  China’s increasingly muscular approach to world affairs should be a lot more worrying than it appears to be.  Their attempts to militarise the South China Sea by building whole islands; their increasing levels of threats and intimidation towards Taiwan; aggression along the border with India and clamping down on Hong Kong are some of the recent actions the Beijing has engaged in.  Sooner or later, Western governments are going to have to face up to the Chinese threat to human rights and call its bluff. 

The Economist does have a note of optimism however saying that ‘its propaganda has grown less effective’ as more evidence comes to light. 

Sources:  BBC World Service; HRW; The Economist; Amnesty International.  Further background from China Human Rights Defenders

See also the Grant Liberty website for an item on the Uighurs