Not all that glitters is gold

Not all that glitters is gold

Evidence of systematic state repression and massive human rights violations against the Uyghurs is mounting. At the same time, China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. This is currently causing protests around the world.

22.10.2021

China

Capital: Beijing
Inhabitants: 1,398 Billion
Languages: There are currently 81 languages spoken in China. The 55 officially recognized minority ethnic groups speak their own language or sometimes even use several. The official language High Chinese builds on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese. 

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Protests took place around the world in June of this year under the hashtag #NoBejing2022. The demonstrators want to boycott the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing in February 2022. Why? In the Chinese province of Xinjiang in northwest China, Uighurs, a Muslim and Turkic minority, are systematically oppressed. Amnesty Secretary General Agnès Callamard speaks of a „dystopian reign of terror“ by the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang.1 Ulrich Delius, director of the NGO „Society for Threatened Peoples“, sees the repressions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as a „campaign of extermination against Muslim nationalities“.2 In the context of the Games, to ‚put a good face on the bad game‘ and to applaud or even accept the inhuman practices of the Chinese government is inconceivable in the eyes of many NGOs, politicians and activists.

Demonstrators display photos of missing Uyghurs and use re-enacted scenes to refer to the police-state regime in Xinjiang. © Kuzzat Altay

The Uyghurs - A History of Oppression

With approximately 1.39 billion people, the People’s Republic of China is the most populous country in the world. In the case of China, this is not a classic nation state, but a multinational state in which a total of 56 officially recognized minority ethnic groups live.3 The Uyghurs, an ethnic group of the Turkic peoples with a strong Muslim influence, who live mainly in Asia, Siberia and Eastern Europe, represented one of the largest of the minorities recognized as nationalities in 2010 with approximately 10 million members4 and a share of 0.75% of the total population of China. Most of the Uyghurs have lived in the independent region of East Turkestan – today’s Xinjiang – since their expulsion from the Mongolian steppe more than 1,000 years ago.5

Autonomous Regions

Autonomous regions such as Xinjiang or Tibet are regions where China's ethnic minorities live and enjoy special legislative rights. Nevertheless, autonomy is more of a symbolic one, as the Chinese constitution continues to apply and the Han Chinese-dominated Communist Party rules de facto.6 In Xinjiang, the desire to regain full sovereignty is expressed, among other things, in the designation as East Turkestan by the Uyghur independence movement.

Autonomous regions such as Xinjiang or Tibet are regions where China’s ethnic minorities live and enjoy special legislative rights. Nevertheless, autonomy is more of a symbolic one, as the Chinese constitution continues to apply and the Han Chinese-dominated Communist Party rules de facto.6 In Xinjiang, the desire to regain full sovereignty is expressed, among other things, in the designation as East Turkestan by the Uyghur independence movement.

Autonomous Regions

Autonomous regions such as Xinjiang or Tibet are regions where China's ethnic minorities live and enjoy special legislative rights. Nevertheless, autonomy is more of a symbolic one, as the Chinese constitution continues to apply and the Han Chinese-dominated Communist Party rules de facto.6 In Xinjiang, the desire to regain full sovereignty is expressed, among other things, in the designation as East Turkestan by the Uyghur independence movement.

The region of East Turkestan was conquered and subjugated by the Qing Dynasty in 1757 as part of imperial expansionist efforts. Since then, the Uyghur population has been subjected to foreign rule. Under Mao Zedong, East Turkestan was officially declared Chinese territory in 1955 under the name ‚Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region‘ (XUAR). Mao Zedong and his successors imposed a variety of measures to promote assimilation into the Han Chinese population.7

Han-Chinese

The Han Chinese form the largest ethnic group in China, although they are not a culturally homogeneous group - even though this is often claimed by state institutions that strive to shape the entire nation along Han Chinese lines (Han Sinicization) and thus to unify it. Their designation goes back to the Han dynasty ca. 200 AD.

The Han Chinese form the largest ethnic group in China, although they are not a culturally homogeneous group – even though this is often claimed by state institutions that strive to shape the entire nation along Han Chinese lines (Han Sinicization) and thus to unify it. Their designation goes back to the Han dynasty ca. 200 AD.

The migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang was promoted by the government, and large sums of state capital were invested in the economic development and modernization of the Xinjiang region in order to improve China’s economic position in the world market. This is because Xinjiang has a strategically important role for the People’s Republic, which results from its position on the Central Asian continent, its high proportion of land in the national territory and, last but not least, its high oil and gas reserves.5 President Hu Jintao used the Islamophobic climate, which increased worldwide as a result of September 11, 2001, to justify and further promote the repression of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs were labeled separatists and, referring to their Muslim character, accused of illegal religious activities that were identified as roots of terrorism.7

The ever-expanding restrictions, which have taken on new proportions under current President Xi Jinping, appear to follow an established pattern of seeking to suppress the cultural expression of the Uighur population in favor of a homogeneous population loyal to the Communist Party. Due to paranoid fears of growing Uighur resistance to Communist rule, the government has enacted new security laws. As a result, de facto re-education camps for Uyghurs were opened, initially denied by government authorities and more recently euphemistically referred to as ‚vocational training centers‘. In fact, there have been several attacks by Uighurs on Han Chinese and state institutions, resulting in several hundred deaths.

A violent incident in Xinjiang’s capital of Ürümqi on July 5, 2009, received special attention: Initially peaceful demonstrations by Uyghurs led to confrontations with security forces and ultimately to violent attacks on Han Chinese. The events resulted in the deaths of 34 people and injuries to 140.

In the NBC interview, historian Rian Thum contradicts the portrayal of these acts as „Islamist terror“ as they are treated in the pro-government Chinese media: they are not so much organized resistance as improvised acts of desperation and anger due to the state’s migration strategy and repression.8 Moreover, the radicalization of individual Uyghur separatist groups is more the result of state discrimination than the cause of repressive tactics.7 Yet the Chinese government remains true to its repressive measures and demands „no mercy“ („show no mercy“) toward the Uyghurs, as recently made clear by leaked government documents.9

The economic importance of Xinjiang is reflected in the Belt and Road Program and the Western Development Strategy, in which Xinjiang is supposed to function as a land bridge to open up new international markets.7 The migration of numerous Han Chinese to the Xinjiang region and the recruitment of entrepreneurs are supposed to facilitate a massive expansion of textile production. In this way, according to the anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who is particularly known for his work on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, close links are created between forced labor in Xinjiang and the pan-Chinese and global market.10 The established migration strategy clearly shows its effects on Xinjiang’s demography: while in 1949 the Uyghurs made up about 75 % of Xinjiang’s population, in 2000 (with an increasing total population) the proportion was only 45 %. In the same interval, the proportion of Han Chinese in Xinjiang grew from 6% to almost 41%.6

Human rights violations under the guise of fighting terror and poverty

Human rights violations under the guise of fighting terror and poverty

Since Xi Jinping’s presidency, according to Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the Communist Party’s approach to the state-building process in China’s ethnic periphery has become more interventionist.11 Under the guise of fighting poverty and terrorism, indigenous Uyghur and Islamic culture in Xinjiang is being systematically fought and destroyed. The Communist Party is only somewhat shy about talking about its assimilation (‚Han Sinicization‘) aspirations. The ambitions are openly expressed; only with regard to the measures taken to achieve these goals is silence maintained, or images of a happy Uighur population in Xinjiang are staged to prevent outside intervention.

Clear steps toward „fighting terrorism“ have been taken by means of new security laws. Here, China’s ethnic minorities are particularly targeted. Article 2 of the National Security Law allows the Communist Party to take measures that are legitimized by the desire for national security and can also result in massive restrictions on the freedom of civil society.7 This legal definition was supplemented by the Counter-Terrorism Law. Here, too, the definition of terrorism is extremely broad in order to be able to place legitimate religious practices of the Uyghur people under suspicion of terrorism.

The Communist Party has clear ideas about how to promote „deradicalization“ in Xinjiang. It relies on the prevention of terrorist acts, „using correct faith to clarify the people’s understanding of Islam, awaken their minds and squeeze out extremism. „12 The local government has been allowed since 2018 to establish so-called ‚vocational education centers‘ where the desired corrections in terms of beliefs, worldview, and ethnicity can be carried out on people the government considers to be affected by extremist beliefs.7 The fact that the extrajudicial internments in these de facto re-education camps are carried out forcibly and constitute violations of human and international rights has since become internationally known, despite the Communist Party’s denials, through journalistic investigative work and leaked government documents as well as reports from those affected.

People demonstrate in Washington D.C. against the Chinese Communist Party's oppression of the Uighur:in. © Kuzzat Altay
120000
The number of interned Uyghurs varies greatly.

Depending on the assessment of the ‚qualification‘ of the persons – which is measured here by the yardstick of loyalty to the Communist Party – they are either sent to forced labor in factories or committed to trainings in which military discipline is taught, Mandarin Chinese is taught and ‚thought education‘ is pursued. For the children of Uyghur families, in turn, there are separate boarding school-like institutions in order to increase the state’s influence on the ideological imprinting of the children and to destroy the Uyghur language in the long term.7, 10 Due to the almost completely developed control with the help of area-wide camera surveillance and checkpoints in public areas, Xinjiang can be described as an „open-air prison“ in which the differences between internment and non-internment seem to be rather gradual.7 Even wearing long beards or praying outside mosques can be sufficient grounds for internment.

Overall, it is documented from many different sources, including original Chinese sources in particular, that the leadership in Beijing has established a police state regime in Xinjiang unlike any worse in the world today. (own translation)

Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens)

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The fact that the Chinese government is not afraid to influence the demographic development quantitatively has already become apparent through the strict one-child policy. In the case of the Uyghurs, however, birth control and prevention are implemented in a particularly atrocious manner: sterilizations for Uyghur women* are offered free of charge or even combined with the threat of renewed internment; medications with a sterilizing effect are prescribed without informing the person taking them about their effect, and intrauterine devices are placed during supposedly routine examinations. Already, the birth rate in Xinjiang is approaching 0: there will be 1.05 births per 1,000 people in 2020; in 2018, there were 19.66 births per 1,000 people:inside.13

Birth rate in Xinjiang (red) and four other regions of China compared to the national average (black).

In addition to the destruction of intangible cultural heritage through the forced re-education of the population and the influencing of demographic development, tangible cultural heritage is also under attack. Satellite imagery from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) shows that since 2017, approximately 16,000 mosques have been destroyed or damaged – roughly 65% of all mosques in Xinjiang. Half of these have been completely demolished; in the others, Islamic elements have been removed or replaced with pro-government symbols. In general, mosques in Xinjiang are now required to display the national flag, to display the Chinese constitution, and to adhere to socialist values and reflect „excellent“ traditional (Han) Chinese culture.11

In view of the massive restrictions on cultural practice, Zenz emphasizes that the dissolution of the family, religious, and traditional life of the Uyghur:ins is only a matter of time.10

From Business, Politics and Sport - The Responsibility of the International Community

The situation of the Uyghurs is frightening. Can it be that China is really so untouchable? What can the international community do to oppose the inhumane practices of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and bring about a change in the situation? When dealing with the question of prosecution by the International Criminal Court, it quickly becomes clear that the Uyghurs can hope for little help from this. Because of its veto power in the Security Council, China is virtually untouchable, and because of the lack of ratification of the Rome Statute, the path through the Security Council is the only way to take action against officials of the Islamophobic regime-all other paths to a trial before the ICC would merely give the regime small side blows.

Due to the fact that not all countries worldwide have recognized the ICC by ratifying the Rome Statute, the Court is subject to certain limitations in the exercise of its jurisdiction. Moreover, under Article 13 of the Rome Statute, there are only three so-called trigger mechanisms that allow for subsequent action by the ICC: referral by a State Party, investigation by the Chief Prosecutor ‚ex officio,‘ and referral by the UN Security Council. Only in the latter case does the ICC have universal jurisdiction over any state worldwide.

Due to the fact that not all countries worldwide have recognized the ICC by ratifying the Rome Statute, the Court is subject to certain limitations in the exercise of its jurisdiction. Moreover, under Article 13 of the Rome Statute, there are only three so-called trigger mechanisms that allow for subsequent action by the ICC: referral by a State Party, investigation by the Chief Prosecutor ‚ex officio,‘ and referral by the UN Security Council. Only in the latter case does the ICC have universal jurisdiction over any state worldwide.

Finally, I would like to address the question of what the international community can do in the case of the oppression of the Uyghurs – or rather: what responsibility it bears. Due to the multiple connections in the globalized economic system, it seems appropriate to take a look at the profiteers of the slave labor conditions. These can be found especially in the global textile industry (e.g. masks in the corona pandemic). German discounters also seem to have links to Xinjiang. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has therefore filed a complaint with the Attorney General this year, which also names the German companies Lidl, Aldi Nord and Süd, C&A and Hugo Boss. They are said to have or have had in the past supply relationships with textile companies in which Uyghurs are forcibly employed.14

Under criminal law, this could amount to aiding and abetting a crime against humanity. Providing clear evidence remains difficult despite numerous suspicions – but the cases once more show the overdue nature of the supply chain law that has now been passed. The hope is that fines incurred in the future will exceed the benefit of production sites where human rights violations occur, making further cooperation with suppliers economically unattractive.15 This could also affect the automotive group VW and the chemical group BASF, which have subsidiaries in Xinjiang.

Let’s not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China. (own translation)

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Party and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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A soon-to-be held event with global reach is currently causing protests to draw attention to the situation of the Uyghur:in: The Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in Beijing next February 2022. As a result, on July 23, 2021, just in time for the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, thousands demonstrated in more than 50 cities worldwide in support of a boycott of the Beijing Winter Games, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to publicly commit to respecting human rights in the context of the Games and their preparation, even after a request from the World Uyghur Congress.16

Further, in light of the approaching Games in China’s capital, attention should be drawn to the massive human rights violations in Xinjiang. Whether a complete boycott can be achieved remains doubtful. However, even if the Games take place, it is possible that various members of the government or heads of state will decide against attending the Games and thus engage in a political boycott. Recent statements by U.S. politicians Mitt Romney (Republican Party) and Nancy Pelosi (Democratic Party), as well as clear words by Reinhard Bütikofer, a Green politician and chairman of the EU Parliament’s China delegation, raise hopes of this. The latter has sharply criticized the IOC and its President Thomas Bach for their adherence to the Games despite obvious provocations by China.17 The EU Parliament has now passed a resolution calling on member states to boycott the Games politically. Whether the states will bring themselves to put this into action remains to be seen.

Author:
Franziska Schneider

Sources

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