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China will not cover up the Uyghur genocide with the Olympics

It is a festive time in China. The eyes of the world are on Beijing. The ruling communist regime is hoping that the splendour around the Olympics will be enough to distract the public from the truth about the ongoing destruction of Tibet, the genocide of the Uyghurs and other minorities that are considered an inconvenience for the politics of ruthless rulers. 

”On the 5th of May 2019, I celebrated my 50th birthday. On the 20th, I was informed, “You have to go to the hospital and undergo a sterilization procedure. There is nothing we can do to help you.” Hearing that I was in deep shock and almost dropped my phone. I replied “My dear, what are you talking about?”, says Quelbinur Silik, an Uyghur teacher. The woman was forced into the procedure at the age of 50. She has subjected herself to it because, as she mentioned, she knows what happens to Muslim minorities who try to oppose the government. She has also been receiving private messages with threats, forcing her to submit to the government’s “recommendations” as fast as she can. What is more, she has been sexually abused by a “visitor” sent by the Chinese authorities to educate her and her family on Chinese tradition.

There are thousands of testimonies like this one by Quelbinur. Why is the Chinese communist government carrying out ethnic cleansing? And why do other countries around the world remain indifferent?

Who are the Uyghurs? Why are they considered a threat by the Beijing authorities?

There are approximately 13 million people around the world who identify as Uyghurs. They are considered a small percentage of the total population of China though the Uyghur diaspora is also located in Central Asia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Why are they considered such an inconvenience to the Beijing authorities? The key to understanding that lies in geography. The vast majority of them live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)  divided into two subregions: Dzungaria and Kashgar. This broad territory of over 1.6 million square kilometres is inhabited by no more than 25 million people (in comparison, Poland is five times smaller and is inhabited by 38 million people). Over a quarter of this area is desert terrain.

At the same time, Xinjiang is a very special part of the world influenced by a lot of different cultures. It derives from its turbulent history of being a strategic region in terms of spheres of Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Persian, Arab and later Russian influences. It is also the region where the memorable battle of the year 751 between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang dynasty took place.

The defeat of the Chinese caused (although not directly) the withdrawal of their forces from this region for the next 1000 years and contributed to an increased influence of Islam. However, before the Uyghurs adopted Islam as their official religion (which did not happen until the 14th century), they were followers of Manicheism, Buddism and Nestorianism. Historical monuments affected by those religions remained untouched until this day on the desiccated wastelands of Xinjiang, which has held its relative independence until mid-18th century. 

A man at a market in Xinjiang province. Photo: Dominic Galeon, Unplash.

The loss of uyghur independence

In 1759 rulers of the Chinese Qing dynasty brought most of the Uyghur state under their rule. At the same time, they carried out an unprecedented genocide of the Uyghurs. The soldiers murdered 90 percent of Dzungaria’s population. Since then, the Uyghurs have fought battles for their independence, some of which were more successful than others. The involvement and intervention of the USSR were not without significance over the last 10 decades as it has strongly contributed to many victories for the Uyghur case – the aftermath of which has been the formation of a secular communist “Republic of Eastern Turkestan” announced several times in Xinjiang in the 20th century.

After the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, the situation in the region went downhill – with the Uyghurs demanding more and more independence, following the example of Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, waves of open discrimination hit the Uyghur minorities. Their response was to retaliate by a series of attacks on Beijing’s Xinjiang. 

At the beginning of the 1990s, a person with Uyghur identity could not expect equal access to education or job opportunities. All job advertisements clearly stated: “No Uyghurs”. However, the worst was yet to come. After 2009 a wave of riots broke out. It was followed by a wave of violence erupted between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese (about 80% of the Chinese population) resulting in the death of 197 people. From that moment on the communists implemented a repressive policy against the Muslim minorities. They argued that the houses of the Uyghurs were a breeding ground for terrorism, radical Islam and separatism. The fact that Xinjiang is also rich in oil and mineral deposits is not without relevance. Without a doubt, it has been an additional motivation for implementing colonization actions by the Beijing authorities.  

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PERSECUTION OF THE UYGHURS

The oppression of the Uyghur people began before the 2008 Olympics. At that time the big shots of the Communist Party were not entirely convinced of the legitimacy of these actions. It was not until 2014 that the extensive campaign explicitly focused on the final ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs.

What can the People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities do if you are of Uyghur origin? Here is an incomplete list of ways used by the PRC for ethnic cleansing:

  • forced sterilization
  • concentration camps called “re-education centres” (millions of Uyghurs remain in these “facilities”)
  • a casual conversation or a song can be a reason to be sent into concentration camps
  • it is required to send children into communist boarding schools (currently, 76% of infant Uyghurs remain in these boarding schools)
  • restricting the freedom of religion up to the age of 18
  • forced marriages with Chinese men and women
  • constant surveillance through facial and voice recognition
  • prohibiting traditional clothes and taking traditional Uyghur names
  • forced hosting of “guests” who represent the Communist Party (there are about 1 million of them)
  • forced installation of Jing Wang Weishi app, which monitors users activity. Not installing the app can result in concentration camp sentence
  • constant identity checks on the street
  • forced labour in Chinese factories
  • forced communist propaganda through media
  • birth rate control (1 child only)

The PRC authorities conducted statistical research. The results show that in three years the birth rate in the Uyghur subregions of Hotan and Kashgar has decreased by 60%.

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Meanwhile, the same statistical data on the whole country and not only on those regions fell by only 9.7%. This process is followed by authorities’ narrative that denies forced sterilizations. Moreover, reports prove that thousands of Uyghur children are orphaned. It is a result of placing their mothers and fathers in concentration camps and other detention facilities. Children then are sent into specialized re-education centers. The witnesses write about the reality in the camps as followed:

“One day during the lessons one of my classmates closed her eyes, probably out of fear or exhaustion. She is 60 years old. The teacher hit her brutally. He shouted: ‘You think I can see that you’re praying? You will be punished!’” Gulbahar Haitiwaji incessantly recalls the violence in the camp. 

“I thank our wonderful country. I thank our dear president Xi Jinping.” ”We kept repeating these words like parrots”, says Gulbhar.  

This propaganda exercised by the authorities in Beijing is aimed at the removal or conversion of Uyghur cultural identity. Over the past decades thousands of mosques in the Uyghur region have been intentionally damaged or completely destroyed. Of the nearly 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, less than 15,000 have survived to this day – the rest have been demolished.

DOES uyghur genocide AFFECT YOU AND HOW? 

It has a huge impact on our lives. From the perspective of a Western consumer, it is important to remember that thousands of Uyghurs are forced to work in factories producing, among others, clothes for brands such as: Abercrombie, Adidas, Amazon, Apple, BMW, Fila, Gap, Inditex (i.e. Zara), Marks & Spencer, Nike, North Face, Puma, Samsung or UNIQLO. In other words, every 5th piece of cotton Made in China clothing is produced in the camps where Uyghurs are slaves.

As Maja Staśko put it – concentration camps are millimetres from your skin. In addition, slaves also produce i.e. terraces and swings available in Bestway stores (LeroyMerlin, Castorama, Makro). Among the produced goods are also healthy food and dried fruit, plastic Zhaoxing Outdoor Gears, batteries, masks from Hubei Haixin Protective Products (60% of them go to Europe) or Foxconn products – from where half of all iPhones, Sharp and HP printers and electronics from brands such as Nintendo, Xiaomi, Google and Microsoft come to the world. Europe and America are closely related to the Chinese market, which is based on slave labour.

CAN WE STOP THIS?

Unfortunately, individuals, organizations or even international pressure are not enough. For change to happen there needs to be worldwide and local political will. We have to condemn the current government of the PRC and their inhumane actions. The governments need to introduce regulations that would force producers to properly label their products. What we can do is to avoid the above brands or check the place of production when buying products. We have to make sure they are not supporting the dehumanization and enslaving work of the Uyghurs. Let us not be indifferent. When posting and sharing information about the Olympics, let us remember the crimes committed by this year’s organizers.  

You can hear more about this in my conversation with Anna Pięta in the Muda Talks podcast:  https://open.spotify.com/episode/4kPWkSo8LtYQTS91WXDb9J

Cover photo: IG @badiucao

Translated by Justyna Krawczyk. Reviewed by Maja Robaszkiewicz.

Sources:

D. Brophy, Naród ujgurski. Reformy i rewolucje na pograniczu rosyjsko-chińskim, 2021.
A. Cavelius, R. Kadir, Szturmując niebo. Opowieść o życiu chińskiego wroga numer jeden, 2011.
NOIZZ.pl
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Save Uighur
Uighur Human Rights Project
Business & Human Rights Resource Center
BBC
Nury Turkel Twitter
Rebiya kadeer Twitter
China Digital Times
CNN World
The Guardian
Uyghur Tribunal
ASPI The Strategist
Business & Human Rights Resource Center

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