Conflict Alerts # 395, 16 June 2021
In the news
On 10 June, Amnesty International released a report titled "Like we were enemies in a war" on China's mass internment, torture and persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang.
The report uses testimonies from 128 people, of which 55 were former detainees in the internment camps. The majority of the interviewees were Kazakhs, a minority were Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz or Han Chinese were even fewer. Gruesome illustrations have been included in the entire report demanding instant attention and fear from the readers.
The report finds that the Chinese state has been trying to 'erase Islam' by demolishing mosques and terrifying the practitioners of Islam.
Issues at large
First, the increased concern over Xinjiang. This report is another card in the deck of reports covering the atrocities committed on the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The BBC covered a series of documentaries focusing on the experiences of a Uyghur woman in a detention camp. The Human Rights Watch released a report in April 2021 titled "Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots." The Australian Strategic Policy Institute is working on 'The Xinjiang Data Project' that releases research reports and press investigations on the condition of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
Second, major findings of the AI report. The report assesses that the Chinese government is guilty of multiple crimes against humanity including torture and persecution. It also finds China guilty of violating human rights and basic liberties. Other reports have also covered similar accounts. Curtailment of economic, political, religious and social freedoms has been highlighted in all these reports. According to these reports, the Muslims in Xinjiang are monitored through high-tech surveillance methods, are deprived of economic opportunities and are also forced to discard their religious identities. The reports create a larger picture of the Chinese oppression in Xinjiang.
Third, China's denial. Time and again, China has refuted these reports and called them a part of the western propaganda to destabilize the Chinese province. They have even claimed that the region is a 'wonderful land' and that all minorities in China enjoy equal rights and status. China has repeatedly asked external groups, organizations and countries to avoid interference in the internal matters of China.
First, the Chinese narrative. China has referred to these internment camps as "vocational education and training" camps which address the problems of extremism and terrorism existing in the region. Even schools for the children of detainees are created which "eradicate" the problematic thinking patterns from their minds and "correct" their behaviour to be better citizens. All these measures are a part of a larger effort by the Chinese government to forcibly assimilate the minorities into the Chinese culture. Suppressing their individual and cultural identities will help China in creating a unified country with lesser domestic opposition.
Second, the western obsession with Xinjiang. A major part of the fight against Chinese cruelty is led by western forces, especially by the US. European countries are excessively concerned with the forced labour and human rights violations in Xinjiang as their law also opposes such crimes. Although the liberal values and protection of human rights have been core to these western countries, there is also an ulterior motive. Xinjiang is a strategic region for trade and connectivity, the two most significant strengths of China.