Throwing stones in the Uighur glasshouse

Mar 31, 2021

On his last day at work for the Trump Administration, Mike Pompeo accused China of genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied. His successor as Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, supports the accusation and has repeated it.

For years, Western media have listed multiple human rights violations by the Han Chinese against the Uighurs, including involuntary assimilation, forced labour, compulsory sterilisation, and imprisonment in concentration camps. The BBC showed the recent expansion of such a camp, taken from a satellite, on Google Earth. In Canberra, ASPI claimed in 2020 the number in forcible ‘re-education’ had risen to a million, and that the number of camps had increased by 40 per cent to 380. Other governments echoed the concerns of Human Rights Watch and of American and British officials about the plight of the Uighurs.

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of militant Uighurs was listed by the US as a terrorist group from 2002. About 5000 Uighurs joined IS as fighters in Syria, and the ETIM was also reported to be funding an Indonesian group, Kitabah Gonggong Rebus, to send men to Syria, whom the Syrian government also regarded as terrorists. Those who returned to Xinjiang were ‘re-educated’ to give them job skills and teach them Mandarin, according to Reese Erlich, who points out that the Uighur population is increasing faster than the Han in Xinjiang, which casts doubt on ‘genocide’.

Erlich is rare among Western observers in having actually been to Ürümqi, Xinjiang’s capital, in 2008, to report for the San Francisco Chronicle. Among other commonly cited ‘experts’ it’s hard to find any who speak Mandarin or Uyghur or have visited Xinjiang. That doesn’t diminish their conviction that China is perpetrating genocide and using mass surveillance technology on the Uighurs, and that its ‘boarding schools’ are intended to eradicate or sinicise the Uighurs’ Sunni, Turkic culture. Two such experts are Yonah Diamond and Adrian Zenz, who in early March produced an ‘independent’ report accusing the PRC of Uighur genocide for the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy at Fairfax University of America.

An Indian lawyer and journalist, Ajit Singh, reports for Consortium News that Fairfax was suspended by the US Department of Education for low standards of teaching and scholarship and recently changed its name. The Newlines genocide research was co-signed by 33 ‘independent experts’ who share far-right religious convictions and enmity towards China. Several are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance, and they include former State Department supporters of US military intervention in China. On publication, the report was quickly supported by CNN, the Guardian, Agence France Presse, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Free Asia.

Montreal’s Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights also supported Newlines’ research, which was commissioned by the World Uighur Congress, an expatriate organisation funded by the US government. Xinjiang is a perfect target for those with such inclinations. As with Falun Gong and other expatriate anti-China groups, their stories are readily believed and are difficult to verify or disprove. Some 1800 Uighurs live in the US, and between 5000 and 10,000 in Australia, leaving 12.8 million in China, where, as a result of Han migration, Uighurs number less than half the population of Xinjiang.

How many of us realise that ‘East Turkestan’, at 75 degrees E (Beijing is 115 degrees E), is halfway to Europe? It shares the Muslim heartland with its neighbours Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and of course Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Tarim Basin area in southwestern Xinjiang was ‘Chinese Turkestan’ under the Qing Dynasty. As the Arab renaissance began in the early 20th Century, East Turkestan declared independence, but in 1949 the People’s Republic of China reasserted control. Uighurs joined another wave of anti-Han activism in the 1990s, and again dissent was crushed. Further riots in 2009 resulted in 197 deaths and 1700 injured. A government crackdown followed, in which Erlich admits some excesses occurred. Terrorist attacks have now ceased, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry claims that Xinjiang, which produces cotton, oil and gas, is experiencing ‘boom times’ and benefitting from the Belt & Road Initiative opening to Central Europe.

Before Australians join the Western pile-on over the ‘Uighur genocide’, we might recall the relative silence which greeted last year’s brief effort in Armenia to defy Azerbaijan, and our failure to intervene on behalf of the Rohinga. We could note the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks comparing our ‘concentration camps’ in Nauru and Manus Island with China’s ‘education’ centres in Xinjiang. We don’t allow Australian foreign fighters or their families to return from Syria, as China does.

Australia doesn’t need to seek out more targets for gratuitous insults to China if their purpose is to give the US a pretext for another unwinnable war. If ASPI and the Sinophobes in our government feel so strongly about it, they might offer to go on a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang. Such a proposal would likely be met with a Chinese request to send a delegation to remote Aboriginal communities. Human rights are a glasshouse. Stone-throwers beware.

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