What’s Going On with the Uyghurs?

One of the most massive abuses of human rights in this century is occurring right now in China. To understand the situation, it’s important to learn the basics of Chinese politics and the facts about a group known as the Uyghurs. 

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are a large religious and ethnic minority living in Xinjiang Province, a region in northwestern China.

They are Muslim, unlike most Chinese, who are a mix of Buddhist, Taoist, Christian and atheist.

Uyghurs have practiced Islam in China for over a thousand years and have communities in neighboring central Asian countries.

Uyghurs in the Xinjiang area have somewhat different cultural practices from the Han Chinese population: They speak different languages, have more conservative social views and are often resistant to Chinese communist rule. 

While none of these differences may seem extreme to Americans, China’s government views almost any ethnic or religious differences among its population as a threat.

Separatist movements are an extremely touchy subject for China because it likes to project total unity to the rest of the world as a sign of strength. 

However, China is a massive country that spans from central Asia to the Pacific Ocean. It contains over a billion people, many of whom have unique cultural and political practices, so some disagreement or discomfort with the Chinese government isn’t exactly surprising.

Instead of embracing the diversity of its people, though, China is responding to some Uyghur anti-China sentiment with an unbelievably disproportionate response. 

What exactly is going on in Xinjiang Province?

Under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts, China is instituting ethnic cleansing.

While the government has cut off access of reporters or average citizens from the area, satellite data and interviews with defectors from outlets like The Washington Post makes it clear that there are concentration camps being set up for the nearly one million of the total 10 million Uyghurs.

It’s important to not use the term lightly--the magnitude of this ethnic cleansing campaign is of historic proportions. 

Some of the reports contain such mind-bogglingly terrible information that it almost reads like a dystopian novel.

“Re-education” camps are being set up to brainwash millions of Muslims, including young children.

Mosques and religious sites are being completely destroyed.

Chinese military officers are raping and purposefully impregnating Uyghur women to change the ethnic makeup of their offspring while their husbands are imprisoned in the camps.

A surveillance state of epic proportions has been set up in the region so that people are forced to assimilate Chinese cultural practices, like breaking the Muslim ban on alcohol.

The police presence there is enormous, making the province effectively under totalitarian rule.

China has admitted to very basic aspects of this reporting, claiming that these concentration camps are simply “de-extremization” camps.

Journalists are frantically searching satellite data for indisputable images of these camps before the Chinese government erases them, as this article from The Atlantic explains. 

What is the rest of the world doing about this?

Given that the ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs is one of the most massive human rights abuses of this century, it is on the international community to speak up.

This is just one of several major human rights abuses on the part of China, but its importance as a global economic powerhouse and billion-person commercial market makes some countries (like the U.S.) wary about standing up to it.

Even leaders of major Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are declining to stand up for the rights of Uyghur Muslims because of economic entanglements with China.

The United Nations condemned China for its actions in 2018 and 2019 with significant support among its members.

Coalitions of countries have signed letters asking the Beijing government to stop its actions.

However, without the threat of real economic or military consequences, it remains unlikely that international pressure will convince the government of anything.

Vice President Mike Pence condemned the treatment of Uyghurs and the U.S. already has trade taxes on China for unrelated reasons.

The Senate also passed a bill condemning the abuse, which Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott both voted for.

Scott also called for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to be relocated.

At the end of the day, until major corporations put human rights ahead of profit and take their business out of China, this ethnic cleansing campaign is likely to continue.