After more than year of denial, Beijing has admitted to the existence of so-called 're-education' camps in far-western Xinjiang province where up to one million Muslim Uyghurs are incarcerated. But the communist regime has deemed the detention facilities
to be lawful and offered a string of justifications for what is inhumane treatment on an industrial scale. This is a tragedy on par with ethnic Muslim Rohingya abuses in Myanmar that have spurred a mass refugee exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh. Now China is shifting large numbers of Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic minority, to other parts of the country. This suggests a longer-term aim of stemming militancy, including isolated terrorist acts such as bombings, by reducing Uyghur numbers in the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full
Uyghurs number about 10 million and were, until about a decade ago when the latest moves to crush their culture began, a significant majority in a region that they call East Turkistan. This is a reference to brief period when a self-declared country operated under that name. China annexed the region in 1955 and in the Mandarin language Xinjiang
means 'new territory', a name Uyghurs find offensive. On Oct. 10, a revision to the country's laws was made public by the regional legislature recognizing the existence of the detention facilities. International agencies have estimated they hold up to one million people as part of a government drive to eliminate what it brands as "religious extremism." "Governments at the county level and above can set up education and transformation organizations and supervising departments such as vocational training centers, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism," a new clause in the 'Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on Anti-Extremism' states. These revisions run counter to a call, by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, for China to abandon its Uyghur detentions policy. Overseas Uyghur representatives have said that rolling out the new law was only a formality in a bid to technically legalize the ongoing crackdown against Muslims in Xinjiang. As well as Uyghurs, other central Asian ethnic groups, from neighboring countries such and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, make the Chinese region a melting pot. Members of these minorities have also been imprisoned since Beijing's nine-year long security campaign intensified in March 2017. The official line is that the internment camps are needed to tackle the 'evil forces' of terrorism, extremism and separatism. The language of the propaganda department being put forward by officials could come straight from the playbook of the former Soviet Union and its infamous gulags. Outgoing United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has referred to the repression of Uyghurs as being straight out of George Orwell's anti-authoritarian novel '1984'. Beijing has described the camps, the horrors of which are well documented, as being part of a "vocational education and training program" that enables "trainees" to "reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism." As well, internees are being taught "awareness of the nation, citizenship and rule of law." One program that started in 2014 involves purported 'homestays'
in which Uyghurs are said to have been taught by up to a million Communist Party members to be loyal to the Chinese nation. Still there is, finally, increasing international recognition of what constitutes a burgeoning tragedy. This is well overdue despite many countries in the world being dependent on Chinese trade and investment. The U.S. Congress is currently considering sanctions against perpetrators of abuses against Uyghurs. And Senator Marco Rubio has revealed a plan to nominate noted Uyghur rights' advocate Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014, for the Nobel Peace Prize. China's admissions and attempted justifications are a demonstration that, at least for now, it cares little about international opprobrium. However, the nation's supreme leader, Xi Jinping, could be hardening what some experts believe is rising internal opposition to his strongman tactics. Xinjiang, with its multiple borders, is viewed as critical to China's security. The region is also important for Xi's ambitious Belt and Road trade initiative linking China with Europe and Africa as well as other parts of Asia. And Beijing revealed recently, in state run media, that it wants to create free trade zones in Xinjiang to help bolster trade through Pakistan. However, brutal and ham-fisted suppression of Uyghur dissent amounting to cultural genocide will most likely in the longer term prove to be self-defeating. Fear and greed, combined with religious persecution and racism, are driving the horrific internment program that is staining China's international reputation. The world has not seen such a wanton trampling of human rights and dignity by Beijing since the days of the tyrannical rule of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. It is little wonder that deepening concern is eroding admiration for China's rise as a world power.