Presently, the policy of assertive assimilation, i.e., a drive of engineering the mindsets of over one million Uyghurs and torture in the detention centres are war crimes against humanity under the semblance of ethnic dominance. The Chinese state, compelled by a Zhonghua Minzu concept equalizing Chinese identity with Han identity, is seeking irrational ends by batting against its own Shaoshu Minzu. Just as in different periods, the CCP shifted its ethnic policy oscillating between fang (soft/loose) and shou (hard/tighten), the current assertive assimilation policy of a Uyghur subordinate group in China has reached a tipping point that either the CCP would make them loyal citizens (if not to China) to the CCP or face severe punishments. Post 9/11, the CCP played a victim of terrorism and intensified the crackdown on the Uyghurs in China’s north-western region.
Adrian Zenz, a German anthropologist, unveiled the detention centres set by CCP in 2017 and later a report of Amnesty International claimed that over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities were undergoing incommunicado detention in detention centres. With Xi Jinping’s rise to power, a strike-down policy is articulated in its peripheral region as it is regarded as an emanating threat. The significant change in the policy is the cultural assimilation of the Uyghurs and targeting their language and religious activities have intensified. Even the Chinese scholars advocate national unity and not minority rights as the base of China’s ethnic policies, celebrating the claim that China is a unified multi-ethnic society composed of 56 ethnic groups.
Xi Jinping has been using force and resources to systematically assimilate the Uyghurs. He has adopted the legalistic framework to crack down on the Uyghurs: the revision of National Security Law in 2015 stipulating what the CCP considers internal threats including the Uyghurs’ activities is a broad generalization of threat which is even more dangerous as it could restrict the rights and freedoms. It also increases the possibility of getting punishment as any activity could be regarded as a threat. In 2016, Xinjiang regional government passed the Anti-Extremism Regulation to prevent the spread of extremist ideas. A further extended step was taken in 2018 when the Anti-Extremism Law was amended and the local Xinjiang authority was permitted to establish vocational education centres to impart education, skill training and psychological institutions to those who have extremist thoughts. In terms of using its resources the CCP has applied high-tech mass surveillance, collecting biometric data, using AI and big data to track individuals in Xinjiang. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported in 2020 that the Uyghurs were subjected to forced labour. They were directly sent from the detention camps during the period between 2017 and 2019 to work for around 82 global brands in the technology, clothing, and automobile sectors.
The Swedish giant clothing brand, H&M refused to buy Xinjiang cotton when news of forced labour surged on 26 March 2021. Defending Xinjiang cotton, state broadcaster CGTN said H&M would pay a heavy price for such a move and H& M vanished from shopping sites. Brands like Nike and Adidas are also caught in this spiralling conflict over Xinjiang, where Xu Guixiang, spokesman of the Xinjiang regional government, rejects any claim of human rights abuses. Chinese TV stars Wang Yibo and Tan Songyu are used as a scapegoat against the PR war on western brands. This is not something new. China took similar steps in 2019, when Daryl Morey tweeted in support of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong NBA that was dropped by Chinese broadcasters. Recently, CGTN on 28 March released an idyllic musical voice drama “The Wings of Songs” showcasing beautiful fast-developing modern Xinjiang, defending the human rights abuses and portraying social cohesion.
UYGHURS NEED ATTENTION
Reports of human rights abuses are circulating with several testimonies from the survivors claiming forced sterilization of women in the detention centres, followed by torture and inhumane living conditions. Recently, in some corners of the world, some states are raising their voices against these war crimes against humanity. Bangladesh was the only Muslim state to organise a press meet on the Uyghurs. In the 2 April 2021 press conference, organiser Alem Muktijoddha Projanna Sangsad urged the UN to play its role in stopping the persecution of Uyghurs. On 22 March 2021, Britain imposed sanctions called “HR Abuses in the Western Chinese Region”, a coordinated sanction introduced by the EU, US and Canada. In retaliation and to defend its claim, China has imposed a set of retaliatory sanctions on the Western officials. The states need to jointly come together and raise concerns on the human rights abuses, but unfortunately, the situation does not seem to be that way. The international community is divided into two camps—the Western camp which is raising concern as it is not yet under the semblance of China’s mighty economic power. The other camp is of China’s like-minded states and also the Muslim states that are under China’s economic weight and are overlooking the human rights abuses.
The Chinese state does not pay heed to much of the criticism and is successful in deflecting it, however in terms of domestic scenario the CCP would assess the success of the current assertive assimilation policy because the drive of socially engineering a subordinate group cannot be carried out for a long time. The Chinese state needs the Uyghurs as a facilitator with the Central Asian countries. Either the Uyghurs will become loyal citizens to the CCP or they will be killed (conditional).
Sadia Rahman is PhD Research Scholar, Graduate Institute of International politics, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan