We Aid the Growth of Chinese Tyranny to Our Eternal Shame

Outside a “vocational skills education center” in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
We desperately need to recover our ability to privilege political and moral aims over the immediate exigencies of the market.

We can’t say we didn’t know.

Reports of the repression of Muslims living in northwestern China have been leaking out for years in drips and drabs. Satellite photos picked up the construction of massive prison facilities in the Xinjiang province. The BBC was even invited into one of the “thought transformation camps,” from which inmates are released a few hours a week, to see the program of patriotic re-education. Inmates were frank with the Beeb’s reporters that religious activity — including prayer — was banned inside the building.

Now, in the last week, a more complete picture of Beijing’s repression campaign has emerged. Leaked memos have revealed some of the details of China’s modernized and tech-supported religious persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang. These are the first Venona cables of our generation. They make certain what sharp observers must have guessed: China uses cutting-edge technology to identify, classify, and detain Muslims for re-education in the old-school argot of totalitarian Communism. President Xi Jinping has instructed the party members and public officials involved in this repression to show “absolutely no mercy” and make ample use of the “organs of dictatorship” to accomplish their mission.

The leaked memos include lines that will be cited as exculpatory in the future — they show Xi counseling against proposals to “eradicate” Islam entirely. But the larger picture painted by the documents is one of state apparatus mobilized in the service of repression, aiming to make up for lost time in which Uighurs and Kazaks were allowed to worship, practice, and believe as they pleased. “The weapons of the people’s democratic dictatorship must be wielded without any hesitation or wavering,” Xi is quoted as saying.

Distressingly, Xi could occasionally sound like some of the West’s “New Atheists” when talking about his fellow citizens. “People who are captured by religious extremism — male or female, old or young — have their consciences destroyed,” he says. They “lose their humanity and murder without blinking an eye.”

There really isn’t any mistaking the strategy here: The ethnic balance of southern Xinjiang is to be transformed through the state-aided resettlement of Han Chinese in the region. While there are token concessions to the idea of allowing Uighurs to retain their religion, the use of Turkic languages has been discouraged. China is attempting to deprive Uighurs of their ethnolinguistic identity, the very rudiments of their nationality. These efforts have unsurprisingly inspired intermittent riots and violence in recent years, which have in turn been used to justify the expansion of the re-education camps.

The most chilling aspect of this repression is the use of information technology. An incredible, Orwellian surveillance system is used to monitor the movements of Xinjiang’s people. The cameras are placed prominently throughout cities such as Kashgar and surrounding towns to remind people that they are being watched. Algorithms are deployed to facilitate the classification and selection of Uighurs for the camps.

It’s a tyranny that we have helped to enable. China’s prosperity and technological progress, generated in no small part by its ability to trade in such high volume with the United States, have empowered its government to do this. Our desire to keep trading with China obliges the president of the United States to remain silent about this barbarity.

In short, the leaked documents make clear that the West desperately needs to recover its ability to privilege political and moral aims over the immediate exigencies of the market, which can tolerate even this kind of repression and in fact may operate more smoothly alongside it. The power of China’s tyranny grows in parallel with our fatalism about it, and our determination to be consoled by its economic upside. But enough is enough.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Knives Out Takes On the Anti-Immigration Crowd

Since the beginning of the Obama era, the Left has broadcast two contradictory messages on the subjects of race and immigration. The first is that a so-called Coalition of the Ascendant will inevitably displace white Americans as the dominant force in the country’s politics and culture. The second is that ... Read More
Film & TV

Knives Out Takes On the Anti-Immigration Crowd

Since the beginning of the Obama era, the Left has broadcast two contradictory messages on the subjects of race and immigration. The first is that a so-called Coalition of the Ascendant will inevitably displace white Americans as the dominant force in the country’s politics and culture. The second is that ... Read More
From left: Harvard University's Noah Feldman, Stanford University's Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina's Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University's Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, December 4, 2019.

The Impeachment Eye Test

To put it mildly, the 1960s were not notorious for juridical modesty. They might compare favorably, though, to Wednesday’s episode of “The Lawyer Left Does Impeachment” at the House Judiciary Committee. Oh, I have no doubt that the three progressive constitutional scholars spotlighted by Democrats yearn in ... Read More
From left: Harvard University's Noah Feldman, Stanford University's Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina's Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University's Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, December 4, 2019.

The Impeachment Eye Test

To put it mildly, the 1960s were not notorious for juridical modesty. They might compare favorably, though, to Wednesday’s episode of “The Lawyer Left Does Impeachment” at the House Judiciary Committee. Oh, I have no doubt that the three progressive constitutional scholars spotlighted by Democrats yearn in ... Read More
Culture

The Absurd Crusade against the Salvation Army

We all know some individuals who are so obviously good and kind that we are certain if anyone were to dislike them, that's all we would need to know about the person. We would immediately assume he or she is a bad person. To hate the manifestly good is a sure sign of being bad. Such is the case regarding the ... Read More
Culture

The Absurd Crusade against the Salvation Army

We all know some individuals who are so obviously good and kind that we are certain if anyone were to dislike them, that's all we would need to know about the person. We would immediately assume he or she is a bad person. To hate the manifestly good is a sure sign of being bad. Such is the case regarding the ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Elections

More Bad News for Medicare for All

The hits keep coming for Medicare for All. Gallup’s annual health-care survey of adults found that Americans back a system based on private insurance rather than government provision by 54 percent to 42 percent. “This could create a challenge in a general election campaign for a Democratic presidential ... Read More
Elections

More Bad News for Medicare for All

The hits keep coming for Medicare for All. Gallup’s annual health-care survey of adults found that Americans back a system based on private insurance rather than government provision by 54 percent to 42 percent. “This could create a challenge in a general election campaign for a Democratic presidential ... Read More