March 22ndBritain has sanctioned four Chinese officials and a state security organ for human rights violations against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang. The sanctions are part of a widespread effort by Western powers to pressure Beijing to comply. According to Reuters, the United States declared new sanctions against two officials involved in the Xinjiang conflict earlier today, and the European Union also imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials, including a director of Security. The US sanctions come just days after a heated interaction between China and the Biden administration in Alaska, according to the New York Times.
Britain and the European Union have imposed sanctions on the same four officials, Reuters reports: Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, former deputy secretary Party in Xinjiang, Zhu Hailun, and the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. The four recipients will be subject to the asset freeze. The United States has imposed sanctions only on Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US executive to punish foreign officials for human rights violations. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said joint sanctions aim both to promote respect for human rights and to end repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups of Xinjiang.
Yang Xiaoguang, accused by China of the London embassy business, calls the decision against China a disappointing and totally wrong decision, saying the accusation against us in Xinjiang is completely unfounded and not based on fact.
China dismisses all accusations of abuse, arguing from detention camps that UN rights experts suggest a million Muslims provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism, Reuters reports. In reality, the camps seek to inspire loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and to degrade adherence to Islam. Britain, the European Union and other powers have regularly criticized the torture, forced labor and sterilization of Muslim Uyghurs because this inhuman treatment persists on an industrial scale. Evidence of widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang cannot be ignored, warns Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
The oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang has persisted for years. China has detained between 800,000 and 2,000,000 Uyghurs, as well as Kazakhs and Uzbeks, since April 2017. Even Uyghurs living outside the camps face inhumane repression from the Chinese authorities, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). People forced into detention camps are sentenced for unfair allegations, according to the CFR, such as attending mosque services, having more than three children, or traveling or contacting people from the one of twenty-six countries that China has deemed sensitive. Chinese authorities have criminalized Uyghurs for being Muslims and labeled them extremists for simply following their religious beliefs.
The Chinese government therefore views Muslim detention camps as a means of eliminating extremist threats against the territorial integrity, government and people of China, according to the CFR. Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo implemented large-scale detention after moving to the region in 2016. (Quanguo has a long history with intensifying security in Tibet, including increasing police checkpoints and state control over Buddhist monasteries.) 2014 secret speeches that became public in 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed concern over the toxicity of religious extremism and advocated for the use of dictatorship to mitigate supposed Islamic extremism. Although he did not explicitly call for the arbitrary detention, Xi made possible the continued oppression and abuse of Uyghur Muslims.
When the first charges of detention camps emerged, Chinese authorities completely denied their existence. When it became clear that the camps existed in 2018, China began to argue that they were vocational education and training programs. In 2019, reports the CFR, Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir claimed that all detainees had graduated and those still housed in the camps were volunteer residents.
While China maintains that the camps’ only goals are to teach Mandarin, Chinese laws and professional skills, and to mitigate threats of terrorism, the motives of governments are more corrupt than they allow. Xinjiang is a crucial part of the Chinas Belt and Road initiative, a vast development project across Asia and Europe. As the region is home to China’s largest sources of coal and natural gas, the government is particularly keen to keep the region’s population under control. The majority of Han Chinese disproportionately benefit from Xinjiang’s economic wealth, while Uyghurs face continued marginalization. In addition, many Uyghurs who were detained were forced to work in factories linked to eighty-three global brands. This forced labor is an integral part of the manufacture of textiles and clothing in China.
According to the CFR, the exact conditions in hundreds of camps in Xinjiang remain unclear. Inmates who fled report harsh, prison-like conditions, with cameras and microphones monitoring every move. Some reported forced sleep deprivation and torture during interrogation, and many women reported experiences of sexual assault and rape. Detention centers also tear families apart; children whose parents are detained are forced to enter public orphanages.
Much of the world has expressed negative feelings about China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs. Several world leaders have even called the violations genocide. The European Union, human rights organizations and many other countries have called on China to allow religious freedom and end its genocidal oppression. The United States has blacklisted more than 25 Chinese companies linked to mistreatment in the region and signed legislation ensuring that American companies and individuals who sell in Xinjiang do not provide inhumane activity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations . Uyghur Human Rights Project executive director Omer Kanat praised the organized response, saying: [U]Unprecedented cooperation between governments like this brings an end to the genocide. A foreign response to human rights violations in Xinjiang has finally started, and we hope that progressive action will continue to promote peace in the region.
However, efforts to help the ailing Uyghur population of Xinjiang have been largely unsuccessful. While some countries have strived to promote the production of ethical goods in a corrupt system, China’s trading partners continue to value economic transactions over human life. The European Union has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and publicly denounced conditions in Xinjiang, CFR says, but is still moving forward on an investment deal with China that does not recognize any labor-related human rights violations strength. China’s other trading partners have been surprisingly silent on the issue. Rather than tackling the glaring crisis of current human suffering, many countries have prioritized their partnerships with economic power.
Another problem is the lack of support from majority Muslim countries. In July 2019, a group of predominantly European countries wrote a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights denouncing the way China has treated its Uyghur population. At the same time, several dozen countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, signed a separate letter commending China’s remarkable achievements and counterterrorism initiatives, according to the CFR. Rather than supporting other Muslim groups in China, these Muslim-majority countries have placed the economic gain and financial benefits of doing business with China above any moral obligation to the Uyghurs.
The European Union and other nations must act on the unethical situation in Xinjiang with haste and aggressiveness. The new sanctions imposed by Britain, the United States and the European Union are a step in the right direction, but this situation is dire and requires a more focused approach. As Executive Director Kanat pointed out, there has to be an organized strategy on the part of many different allies. Ending the suffering in Xinjiang quickly requires the support of both powerful nations and predominantly Muslim regions.
Commercial relations must not replace the rights of a people who are victims of religious persecution. Uyghurs have been victims of human rights violations for years. These people must be given recognition and justice.
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