By Jaimin Parikh
The situation in Xinxiang Province
The present day situation in which Xinxiang Uygur Autonomous Region – the largest province of China present in its north western part, dominated by ethnic minorities – Uighur Muslims, Tajiks, Yuezhi, and Aynu – is there is not an outcome of recent developments rather the contentions between central power in China and the people of the province are decades old. The rift between government and ethnic minorities started when central power in China declined to consider the land rights of the ethnic people who were indigenous to the land. It has reinforced over the years by the violence – promoting steps of central power in China over the years.
People, from ethnic minorities – mainly Uighurs, are being detained in the province in the name of “re-education”. There have been gross violation of human rights on the people who have been detained in the so-called “education camps” by China. These violations include, but are not restricted to, denying the right to practice their religion, sending children to orphanage, forceful marriage of Uighur women with other Chinese men, making them eat pork and drink liquor, memorizing the propaganda songs, denouncing themselves as Muslims, and demolishing mosques in the region. Men are forcefully being sent in the detention camps and those who remain outside the camp are being monitored by the government through a spyware app. Those who deny to follow the forceful orders of government are persecuted and ethnic cleansing is no strange in the region. China holds a view that these “education camps” are ‘to control the separatist movements’ and ‘to make them [Uighur Muslims] National citizens’.
The “Proof” that Chinese ask for
Chinese leadership – the central power in the country as well as its foreign officials – have denied the charge of any human rights violations happening in the region and have re-iterated their view of ‘Separatist sentiment’ and ‘National citizens’. Furthermore, they have always seek the “proof” of any mis-happening.
The “proofs” that China and supporters of this policy within China asks are open secret, if they can see it by removing blindfold from their eyes. A 2018 Report from Amnesty International mentions of detention of up to 1 million Muslim people in the detention camps in the region. It also mentioned that Chinese government is allowing ‘ a vicious campaign against the ethnic minorities in northwest China’. UN report mentioned that China had turned the Xinjiang into a “no rights zone”, while members of the Xinjiang Uyghur minority, along with others who were identified as Muslim, were being treated as enemies of the State based on nothing more than their ethno-religious identity.
Recently released reports by ICIJ reaffirms the violations that are happening on the ethnic minority in the region. It mentioned about the camps which now holds hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs and other minorities. The revealed report mentions the explicit directives to arrest and detain Uighurs Muslims with foreign citizenship and to track Xinjiang Uighurs living in other countries, some of whom have been deported back to China by authoritarian governments.
Human Rights Watch report suggested that children are denied their basic and cultural rights. Barbed wires, fencing, and cameras have also been installed by the authoritarian Chinese government to keep an eye on the children. It also mentioned about over 1 million Turkic Muslims being detained in the region. They are not having any basic human rights which they should be having.
The authoritarian regime of Beijing must be held accountable for it – both legally as well as morally. Beijing has lost the moral rights to comment on Human rights in any future international forum.
These reports are more than enough to prove the human rights violations that are happening on the regular basis in the province.
Countries not paying the required attention
The irony is whole world is keenly aware about an ‘open secret’ of Xinxiang but none of the forefronts of Human Rights and secularism have taken any strong step against the authoritarian regime of Beijing. China’s neighbours have been mute spectators on whole dramatic event since years. India – which boasts about being world’s largest democracy and having worked immensely towards pluralism and Human Rights is yet to officially respond on the traumatic event. Other South Asian regimes including Dhaka, Kathmandu, and Thimphu are reluctant to go against Beijing because of their dependence on China for the security, strategic and economic reasons. Other Asian countries including Japan, South Korea, Maldives, and Sri Lanka are yet to even respond to the crisis. This explains the hegemony that authoritarian regime of China has created in the Asian continent.
China’s immediate central Asian neighbours – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are reluctant to act and take the vital steps which are need of an hour for their own ethnic people. Most of the detained Uighurs are ethnically either Kazakh or Kyrgyz, but still government of either countries haven’t made any serious attempts to save the people and raise issue of their rights. There have been protests in these countries against Chinese detention and hegemony but central powers in Nur-Sultan and Bishkek have turned a blind eyes towards those. The reason lies in the Economic hegemony that Beijing has established.
China’s Belt and Road Initiatives and the economic benefits from this are the reasons that the immediate neighbourhood is, even after knowing the ground reality, turning a blind eye for Xinjiang.
Moscow and Beijing are enjoying their communist “bromance” and Kremlin too is yet to take a strong stand against Beijing. Moreover, Kremlin is itself busy bringing various laws which supress the already unhealthy and poor democracy in the country. European Union’s economic dependence on China is becoming a hurdle in its way to criticize Beijing on the concerned issue. Thus, it won’t be wrong to conclude that in China’s case the fore runners of world’s democracy, secularism, and Human Rights have become a dog which doesn’t bark at all.
US, by now, is the only country to seriously address the concerns, although it has its own strategic interests vested in it. The State Departments annual reports have cited the China’s systematic internment of its minorities. It would be interesting to look, how Trump administration further firms the US on the issue, given that 2020 elections are approaching and Trump is consistently blamed for his diplomatic blunders.
International organisations are equally responsible
It was United Nations which brought the conditions of ethnic minorities of Xinjiang into spotlight for the first time in front of the world in 2015. Since then, apart from regular updates through reports and delivering an unprecedented joint call to China for ending Xinjiang abuses ,there have not been enough discussions and deliberations on the issue within United Nations. Although there are diplomatic hurdles for this but at least the global platform could have taken a much more tough stand on the issue.
The European Union has been a dog which has forgotten to bark. Human Rights issues have always been core to EU’s policies but this time it is also not showing the required commitment on the violations. EU should put aside its economic interests when humanity is at stake.
It is necessary that other intergovernmental and regional organisations like Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, BRICS, ACD, start raising the issue from their platform to build the necessary diplomatic pressure on Beijing. It also important that organisations like UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Human Rights Council take the firm and strong stand against the hegemony that a complete authoritarian and intolerant regime of Beijing has established on Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
People need to wake up – before it’s too late
In present times, we are living in a globalised world inter-connected up to a great extent by digitalisation. There has been growing demands to address the issues which affect the humanity as a whole. It is indeed need of an hour to strongly act on the human rights violations in Xinjiang which have grown up to a humongous extent. Humanity is at stake in one of the regions of the globe and regimes are turning a blind eye towards it. Now it is up to the citizens of healthy democratic countries to build up a pressure on their respective elected government so as to consider the issue with utmost seriousness. Chinese citizens in other parts of the country have to understand that hero-worship had led to a complete totalitarian regime over the years and this authoritarian government should be held completely responsible for the gross human rights violation – on children, women, and men of the ethnic minorities. Let the awareness of all the global citizen pave a way – at least up to some extent – for rights of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang province.
Jaimin Parikh is a diplomatic researcher currently engaged with European Institute of Policy Research and Human Rights. He is also serving as an Expert Reviewer with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.