China’s Persecution of the Uighurs

The Trump administration recently placed sanctions on a powerful Chinese paramilitary organization in the country’s Xinjiang province, accusing it of facilitating the Communist Party of China’s detention and repression of its Uighur minority and other smaller Muslim ethnic groups.

The new sanctions by the U.S. Treasury follow those that the Department had earlier put in place against some Chinese regional officials and several other entities.

The move is aimed at the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and two of its officials. The XPCC, which has existed since 1954, was initially made up of demobilized soldiers who spent time in military training. Civilian Chinese later joined the corps, which now numbers 3.11 million people, or more than 12% of the region’s population. It is almost entirely made up of Han Chinese, in a region that is home to the Uighurs.

Now, companies, including American ones, are at risk of U.S. penalties if they work in the Xinjiang region or have a supply chain with ties to it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ranked “the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China, against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities as “the stain of the century.”

Back in 2014, the Chinese government, under General Secretary Xi Jinping, announced a “people’s war on terror” and, within three years, as part of that effort, built some 1300 “re-education camps,” to which as many as a million — some claim several million — Uighurs and other Muslims, as well as some Christians, were sent and confined, in order to be indoctrinated in communist ideology.

There have been reliable reports as well of torture, forced labor and widespread, systematic government-ordered measures to curb the natural growth of the Uighur and other Muslim ethnic groups. Some experts refer to that latter program, aimed at ensuring that the groups at issue will not grow, as a form of “demographic genocide.”

The idea of an ideological power in our times trying to destroy the future of an innocent population offends the sensibilities of all civilized people, but particularly resonates with those of us whose people have suffered similar evil in not-distant memory.

And, in fact, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver has described the detention facilities as “concentration camps.”

One reporter, for ABC News, recently tried to enter one of the camps. He was carefully trailed by a government operative and turned back. He did manage, though, to later interview a woman who had been released from one of the camps, having been separated from her toddler daughter for two years. She broke down and cried when she tried to recount her time in incarceration.

Another reporter was given an “official” tour of one camp, where inmate interviewees smiled and, using strangely similar phrases, insisted that they entered the program voluntarily. They are not convincing.

China claims that Uighurs are “terrorists,” and, in fact, there are indeed some Uighur jihadis. But they are outside of China, fighting the Syrian government, and they number only in the low hundreds. There are some 11 million Uighurs in China, and they are simple Muslims trying to live their lives without interference, with no connection to radical groups.

What makes them subversives in the eyes of the authorities is their ethnicity and — anathema to the communist ideology — the fact that they dare to observe a religion.

China, of course, denies mistreating the Uighurs and insists that the camps holding them are only providing vocational training and educating the inmates about the dangers of extremism.

Predictably, the Communist nation has reacted sharply to the U.S. announcement of new sanctions. Insisting that the paramilitary organization overseeing the incarceration of Uighurs is a mere entity in charge of security and development in the Xinjiang Region, a foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters that the U.S. action “is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” that “China firmly opposes and strongly condemns it” and that the U.S. should “immediately withdraw its wrong decision.”

He added that, if the U.S. “is bent on behaving like this, the Chinese side will resolutely fight back.”

The threat indicates that the recent sanctions are accomplishing their goal of pressuring China. Peter Harrell, a former official and sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security, said that “The Trump administration finally took a meaningful sanctions … action on Xinjiang, as opposed to ones that were primarily symbolic.”

In the event there is no change in the Chinese government’s human rights abuses of its Uighur citizens, even more “meaningful sanctions” are called for.