The Guardian view on Xinjiang: speak out, or be complicit

19-Jul-2019 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:02 AM Print This Post

An estimated 1 million Uighurs and other minorities are held in China’s camps. But Beijing’s power has silenced many of those who one might expect to criticise it

What does it take to make people speak out? A growing number of Uighurs overseas are pleading publicly for news of their sisters, fathers or children in Xinjiang, as desperation has overcome their fears of retaliation against their loved ones. The stakes for countries are immeasurably lower, yet only now is criticism of the abuses in the region slowly gathering pace. Last week, 22 states including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and Japan signed a letter to UN human rights officials condemning China’s treatment of Uighur and other minorities there. That at least is a start.

Beijing, which originally denied that the camps existed, now portrays them as “vocational centres” to offer better economic opportunities to Uighurs as well as counter terrorism though it is unclear why professors need basic manual skills, or why these facilities are surrounded by barbed wire and stocked with cattle prods. On choreographed tours for the media, inmates express their gratitude to authorities for saving them from extremism. Outside China, released inmates speak of political indoctrination and abuses at times amounting to torture, and detail the causes of their detention without charge or trial, such as contact with relatives abroad.

As terrible as it is, the detention of as many as one in 10 Uighurs is only a small element of what is happening. Those who are nominally free in fact exist in a digital gulag of constant surveillance. The construction of boarding kindergartens and schools has soared as children whose parents are detained have been removed from relatives and drilled in Chinese and loyalty to the party-state. Mosques and other sacred sites are being razed. The party-state has come to treat every expression of Uighur culture itself, beyond colourful clothes, singing and dancing, as inherently suspect and dangerous. What is happening is no less than the erasure of Uighur identity.

Yet China managed to drum up 37 states for a counter-letter in its defence, including a dozen members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which purports to “to assist Muslim minorities… to preserve their dignity, cultural and religious identity”. The endorsement of North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia on human rights speaks for itself. Other signatories are clearly looking to their economic interests.

They are not alone. Though the US has at times spoken forcefully about Xinjiang, its erratic interest in China’s human rights records is cynically and shamefully tied to other political ends. Meanwhile the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, may have raised the issue with Xi Jinping but has otherwise said little. At a minimum, he should publicly press the call of his rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, for unhindered access. Without sustained pressure, the grotesque human rights abuses seen in Xinjiang will not just continue but intensify. The time to speak up arrived long ago. Countries should be shouting about this from the rooftops.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/17/the-guardian-view-on-xinjiang-speak-out-or-be-complicit

 


Category: China

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