The relative silence of the world on the issue of extreme surveillance and oppression in Xinjiang, China is deafening.
Xinjiang is in China’s far west, with more Muslim minorities like Uyghurs, Kazaks, and Tajiks than Han Chinese. However, despite or perhaps because of their sizable population, the Muslims there face a horrible lifestyle as the communist government has opened ‘re-education’ camps. Since 2014, the government has imprisoned as many as 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims.
To understand why the Chinese are dead set on severely regulating and controlling the Uyghur muslims in Xinjiang, one must take a look at the history of the region. Not only is it the pathway between Eurasian trade and culture, but Xinjiang is rich in natural resources like coal and contains large gas reserves, which the Chinese want control over.
The government is especially targeting Uyghur women. Officials have forced many to become sterile and have even forcibly taken away children from their mothers. Gulbahar Jelilhova, a businesswoman and an eyewitness to such atrocities, recalled that, starting around 2018, officials came weekly to inject women and stop their menstrual cycles. Sexual harassment by Han chinese men is unfortunately common in the camps, and female inmates don’t escape rape by their officials.
Because of China’s increasingly dominant role in world economics and influence on other countries, many nations have chosen to ignore the issue. Even Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia haven’t gone out of their way to stop China in their endeavors.
A few countries like New Zealand have opted to privately voice their concerns with Chinese officials; however, China hasn’t done anything to show change in Xinjiang. When countries publicly call out China on the issue, they tend to do so in groups, as to buffer themselves from full-force reprisal from the powerful nation.
Chinese leaders, when faced with the issue of the camps, simply say that they are ‘re-education camps’ that have helped stop Islamic extremism in the area. But looking at the various crimes against humanity, including the forced sterilization of Uyghur women, one can tell that the true goal seems to be to aggressively assimilate the Uyghur population into true Han Chinese culture.
As a global leader, the United States has taken certain steps to reprimand China for its activities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called it the ‘stain of the century.’ The U.S. Commerce department has also sanctioned Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau and multiple companies involved in China’s high tech surveillance of the region including voice recognition software maker iFlytek, artificial intelligence firm SenseTime, and Hikvision and Dahua Technology, world leaders in video surveillance products. Unfortunately, although most of these companies have been hit hard by these sanctions, as they need exported materials from the States, real change hasn’t occurred.
Another significant action by the U.S. is the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 which directs various government bodies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the people. Several reports have shown the Trump administration denying some Chinese officials who support the camps from gaining visas to the U.S.
Although in the bigger picture these actions don’t seem like much, they do demonstrate that similar measures on a global scale could make a difference. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has already expressed annoyance of the U.S. sanctions, saying they are unnecessary because the camps in Xinjiang are education camps, not prisons.
Despite the fact that the majority of the world has chosen to ignore China’s exploitation of Uyghur muslims, a few countries like the United States have retaliated. This demonstrates that if strong coalitions form to oppose such atrocities, they have the potential to put an end to the camps in Xinjiang and be poised to counteract other global wrongdoings. This should loom large in our collective conscience; attention must be paid.