The Xinjiang Conflict: a human rights issue worthy of greater international pressure

By: Lucas Khoo

Since 2017, at least 1 million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily interned in Xinjiang, China (PBS, 2019). Forcibly placed into what the Chinese government calls “Vocational Education and Training Centres”, Uyghurs are victims of racial discrimination, mass indoctrination, and as the U.S. recently declared, “genocide” (Axios, 2021). The Uyghur people are a Muslim minority group native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. The conflict between the Chinese government and the Uyghur people is a longstanding and complex one. Disagreement over who has official claim to the Xinjiang region, separatist sentiment amongst the Uyghur minority, and perpetual belligerence between the Han and Uyghur people has fuelled several conflicts: the 2009 Urumqi Riots which left over 197 people dead, the 2011 Hotan attack, and three other violent attacks in 2014. These types of conflicts have initiated a firm response by the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping’s administration has taken a hard-line approach in addressing the separatist sentiment and terrorism which has been brewing in Xinjiang for many years. It is not wrong to curtail and deter terrorism, however, it is wrong to target an entire ethnic group and subject them to oppressive measures; this is exactly what is unfolding in Xinjiang. Concealing their governmental actions as part of an effort to combat terrorism, the Chinese government has unjustifiably persecuted and deprived thousands of Uyghurs of their human rights. It is difficult to tolerate the fact that approximately 1 million people have been stripped from their families, torn from their religion, and imprisoned because of their ethnicity. That population size alone outnumbers the respective city inhabitants of Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Vancouver. There is no place for arbitrary detention in the 21st century.

While it is important for the international community to maintain good relations with China, the severity of human rights abuses in Xinjiang merits greater international pressure. On March 22nd, 2021, the United States, Canada, Britain, and the European Union imposed sanctions against several Chinese officials (Politico). These sanctions were in direct response to the human rights abuses being committed in Xinjiang. This type of multilateral action against China is crucial; not only does it tangibly penalize the Chinese government, but it symbolizes a western coalition that will not tolerate human rights abuses. Hopefully, in placing pressure on the Chinese government, Chinese leaders will re-evaluate and stop their genocidal operations. The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has a great responsibility in the coming years. Being at the helm of U.S. foreign policy, Blinken must steadfastly defend the human rights of Uyghurs and make bold foreign policy decisions; perhaps no other man is in a better position to stand up against the Chinese government. Blinken has affirmed his view that “genocide” is being committed against the Uyghurs (CBS News, 2021). At his confirmation hearing, Blinken asserted that, “forcing men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be in adherence to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party — speaks to an effort to commit genocide” (CBS News, 2021). Blinken’s future actions as secretary of state will be pivotal in the fight for human rights in Xinjiang. Canada has also responded to the ongoing human rights abuses in China. Just recently, Canada’s parliament reproached China for committing genocide in a motion which passed 266 to 0 (BBC, 2021). As with most other humanitarian crises, the Xinjiang Conflict has been met with political disagreement. The Chinese government still refutes any claims of wrongdoing or genocide. Multilateral efforts and verbal condemnation can only go so far, but it is a vital first step toward addressing the atrocities committed by China. Constant and persistent political pressure is needed to protect the human rights of millions of Uyghur people.

The greatly discomforting list of human rights abuses committed against the Uyghur people exceed arbitrary detainment. The Chinese government has been alleged of conducting forced abortions, compulsory sterilization, rape, and torture (Human Rights Watch, 2021). These harrowing crimes against humanity are well documented by reliable sources such as the BBC and Human Rights Watch. The suffering and plight of the Uyghur people may not be visible to most of us in western societies, but thousands of Uyghurs on a daily basis face a cruel reality. One in which they are abused, racialized, and subjugated. One in which fear is rampant and hope is diminished. This genocide can no longer go unnoticed. The United Nations and the rest of the international community must exert their powers to the fullest extent and alleviate the vicious oppression perpetrated by the Chinese government.   

Sources:

Allen-Ebrahimian, Bethany. “U.S. Declares China’s Actions against Uighurs ‘Genocide.’” Axios, January 19, 2021. https://www.axios.com/us-declares-china-actions-against-uyghurs-genocide-65e19e86-29ad-4c56-922f-d8a060aa2df8.html.

“‘Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots.’” Human Rights Watch, Apr 19, 2021. www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/19/break-their-lineage-break-their-roots/chinas-crimes-against-humanity-targeting.

Brennan, Margaret, Christina Ruffini, and Camilla Schick. “With China’s Treatment of Muslim Uighurs Determined to Be Genocide, Biden Administration under Pressure to Act.” CBS News. CBS Interactive. Accessed May 6, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/china-treatment-of-muslim-uighurs-determined-to-be-genocide-biden-administration-under-pressure-to-act/.

“Canada’s Parliament Declares China’s Treatment of Uighurs ‘Genocide’.” BBC, February 23, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56163220.

Toosi, Nahal. “U.S., Allies Announce Sanctions on China over Uyghur ‘Genocide’.” POLITICO. POLITICO, March 22, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/22/us-allies-sanctions-china-uighers-genocide-477434.

Wood, Bryan. “What Is Happening with the Uighurs in China?” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed May 6, 2021. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/features/uighurs/.

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