Calling for action: China’s ethnic cleanse of the Uyghurs through “reeducation camps”

Mifuyu H. ('21)

Since 1949, when Communist China annexed East Turkistan and renamed the region,  Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China has been enforcing policies in pursuit of systematic eradication of the minorities worldwide, focusing specifically on targeting the Uyghurs. Over 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims, according to a UN panel, are being transferred to the so-called “reeducation camps,” where detainees are at jeopardy of losing their ethnic identity and religious freedom. The Chinese government prohibits the Chinese population to use the Uyghur language and practice their Uyghur culture, but instead, imposes revisionist history. 

Uyghur violence has been ubiquitous in Xinjiang. The July 2009 Urumqi riots resulted in 197 deathsーof which most are Han Chineseーand 1,721 injuries. Furthermore, an Uyghur planted bombs which target the local police and paramilitary guards, who are loyal to Beijing, in the 2010 Aksu bombing. In the Hotan attack of 2011, 18 Uyghur men attacked a police station, killing two security personnel and taking 8 hostages. 2011 reported that an Uyghur man killing 23 peopleーwhich many were pedestriansーin a series of attacks, which became known as the Kashgar attacks. Additionally, a suicide bombing and vehicular homicide in a market street resulted in 43 demises in the Urumqi attack, which was carried out in May 2014. There was even a report that some Uyghur Muslims had joined the Islamic State. 

The Chinese government has been touting the claim that it is under threat from the “3 Evils”: Extremism, Terrorism, and Separatism, from radical Uyghur separatists. As a result, October 2018 saw the Chinese government legalize the “reeducation camps” under the pretext of “vocational training” in response to religious extremism, after bluntly denying any existence of such camps just two months prior. Mr. Joseph Hope, an independent researcher with an MSc in Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Security from the University of Essex, suggested that conciliating Xinjiang through “reeducation camps” is especially crucial for Beijing, due to Beijing’s economic investment in the One Belt One Road, or Belt and Road Initiative. Xinjiang will be the core of the potential One Belt One Road. The province intends to not only provide an alternative route with decreased transportation time from Beijing to Urumqi but also geographically suitable to help expand China’s ties. Xinjiang borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and India.  On top of this, Xinjiang serves as a potential route between China and Europe, and beyond. Therefore, instability within Xinjiang, caused by Uyghur violence, may “affect various projects and investments which China is trying to protect.” He added that Beijing’s desire to enforce their party authority and legitimacy, as well as patriotism is also implicit motives behind the mass detention camps. Establishing these camps attains what Beijing has been long attempting to impose: putting loyalty to the party before its indigenous leadership within Uyghurs. The ongoing suppression of religious and ethnic organizations in the region through the mass internment camps guarantees cultural assimilation. 

On the other hand, Mr. Shigeru Shimoyama, a media and publication representative at Tokyo Camii & Turkish Culture Center and Japan’s biggest mosque, justified that what is portrayed as “Uyghur terrorism” in mass media is a form of resistance against the Chinese government’s oppressive policies against the Uyghurs. Despite the Chinese government’s claims that Uyghurs are terrorists, he stated that in reality, the indigenous population is the victims of the persecution. Mr. Shimoyama suggested three potential reasons for the brutal tactics of Uyghur insurgents. He stated that it stems from resentment against the forced assimilation into the Han Chinese culture. Since the creation of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, there has been a massive influx of Han Chinese settlers reclaiming their traditions and cultural values in the once displaced Uyghur territory. There are many conflicts among the settlers and the locals at different levels of extremity. Furthermore, the region is noted for nuclear testing sites, as there are large deserts such as the Taklamakan Desert. Uyghurs are protesting to halt the testing of nuclear weapons taking place there. In addition, the region is rich in natural resources, including petroleum and rare metals. Despite the region’s contribution to national economic stability through mineral wealth, the central government fails to reinvest back into the region’s development. Thus, what China considers violent terrorism may be a facade; it may be justifiable rebellion in pursuit of justice, from the perspective of the Uyghurs. 

The US has outspokenly reprimanded abuse against human rights worldwide. However, despite increasing rivalry precipitated by recent trade wars and disputes, its close economic and strategic ties to China are such that the US’ condemning of China’s repression of the Uyghurs is inconsistent. The US appears to be avoiding the discussion of the subject. With China being a permanent member of the Security Council, the U.N. is precluded from acting beyond cursory investigation and report of the matter. Islamic nations have also been conspicuously quiet on the affair, due to the “huge amount of Chinese investment in foreign nations going on at this time,” according to Mr. Joseph Hope. Denouncing China’s policies will most likely inhibit the stimulant of economic growth, powered by China’s financial might, leading to Muslim countries being hesitant of publicly censuring the inhumane mass internment camps.

In a world where nations are interdependent, it is difficult for nations to rebuke policies of one another without jeopardizing their relationship. On the contrary, some may say that integration among nations may make public admonishment of the program palatable to China. With interdependence being so great between the US and China, they will be keen on negotiating to resolve any conflicts to salvage their relationship, including the issue regarding the Uyghurs. 

With China being impervious to external pressure on top of strict censorship within the nation, the Uyghurs are in dire need of international support. The least we, as nations, could do is to expose the suffering of the Uyghurs through grassroots resistance, protests, and even outcry from Uyghur advocates and activists. This will eventually take us to the next phase of comprehensive diplomatic settlement between the Chinese government and the Uyghur representatives, where they negotiate terms which they mutually benefit from. The Chinese government rejects all current rudimentary ideas of CVE such as the idea that an Uyghur can retain their ethnic identity without adopting violent resistance methods. The CVE program in China needs revision. Under the guidance of nations with CVE experience, changes in the CVE program may be possible. 


Works Cited

Ben Westcott And Yong Xiong, Cnn. "China legalizes Xinjiang 're-education camps' after                 denying they exist." CNN. 10 Oct. 2018. Web. 8 Apr. 2019.



Faisal Kidwai. "Xinjiang rides high on Belt and Road Initiative - Opinion -" 8 Aug. 2018. Web. 14 Apr. 2019.



Roland Hughes, Bbc News. "China's Muslim 'crackdown' explained." BBC News. Web. 8 Apr.         2019.



"Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?." BBC News. Web. 8 Apr. 2019.


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