The Uyghur Emergency

A Chinese Uyghur Muslim participates in an anti-China protest during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

When people talk about what the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghur people in northwest China, they tend to refer to the Nazis. They can be excused.

In April 2018, Jerome A. Cohen raised the specter of the Nazis. He is considered the dean of China scholars in the United States, born in 1930. He is a very careful, judicious man. He would not use the N-word — “Nazi” — lightly. But he said that what was happening to the Uyghurs reminded him of his relatives in Austria and Germany. Some 40 of them were killed.

At the beginning of this month, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post had an article headed “In China, every day is Kristallnacht.” He noted that you are not supposed to bring up the Nazis, because the Holocaust was a unique event. Yet, in a discussion of northwest China, the Nazis are hard to avoid.

The government has rounded up more than a million Uyghurs and other minorities, throwing them into concentration camps, or “reeducation” camps. These camps constitute a Chinese gulag archipelago.

Among the Uyghurs, there are a relative handful of militants, as there are among the Rohingyas (the minority people whom the Burmese government has brutalized). This gives the government an excuse to go after everyone — think of Lidice, multiplied untold times.

Some Uyghur inmates have been tortured to death; many have been driven to suicide. The Chinese government aims to stamp out Uyghur culture, religion, language — all of it.

The government has moved ethnic Chinese men into Uyghur homes, to act as substitute fathers and husbands. The real fathers and husbands are away in the camps (if they are indeed still alive).

Also, the government gets them young. The government rounds up young Uyghurs, before they have committed any “crime,” even in the Communist Party’s eyes. In Cuba, the government has done the same thing, for decades. The Cuban government commonly arrests people on the charge of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

On Monday, the Associated Press had a staggering report. It talks of “the Chinese government’s deliberate strategy to lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak.” The report also cites a slogan — a mission statement, if you will — from the Ministry of Justice: to “wash brains, cleanse hearts, support the right, remove the wrong.”

In Xinjiang Province, where the Uyghurs live — the Uyghurs themselves call it “East Turkestan” — the Chinese government has created a near-perfect Orwellian police state. As the AP reports,

Beijing is pioneering a new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence. Drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology, computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.

In charge of Xinjiang is Chen Quanguo, a notorious name in China. Earlier in this decade, he was sent to Tibet, to subdue that proud, rebellious people. He did such a good job of it, he was sent to Xinjiang to do the same, and worse. “Round up everyone who should be rounded up,” is his word.

This directive is contained in an astonishing trove of documents, given to the New York Times. The documents come from inside the Chinese Communist Party and number more than 400 pages. They were given to the Times by some brave, daring leaker. They make for horrifying reading.

So does the AP report, which also relies on documents. Here is one excerpt from that report — a story, a piece of testimony — for those who can stomach it:

Mamattursun Omar, a Uighur chef arrested after working in Egypt, was interrogated in four detention facilities over nine months in 2017. Omar told the AP that police asked him to verify the identities of other Uighurs in Egypt.

Eventually, Omar says, they began torturing him to make him confess that Uighur students had gone to Egypt to take part in jihad. They strapped him to a contraption called a “tiger chair,” shocked him with electric batons, beat him with pipes and whipped him with computer cords.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Omar said. “I just told them what they wanted me to say.”

Omar gave the names of six others who worked at a restaurant with him in Egypt. All were sent to prison.

In response to the AP, the Chinese government has said, “Fake news.” Unfortunately, it is not.

Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, is probably the biggest human-rights emergency in the world right now (unless you consider North Korea, which is an ongoing emergency). China in general is a kind of emergency. As Jerry Cohen has said, Xi Jinping — the CCP No. 1 — is presiding over the most repressive period in China since Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

What can be done, for the Uyghurs in particular? Beijing should be made to pay a price. Business as usual should be disrupted. What is happening in northwest China is not normal, and the world should not proceed normally.

Free World companies that abet China’s repression should be sanctioned and shamed. Chinese officials themselves should be sanctioned, if not shamed. The Winter Olympics are scheduled for Beijing in 2022 — why?

Above all, Free World governments should call attention to this emergency. They should shine a light on it. Dictatorships like to operate in secrecy. Darkness is their friend, and so is silence. People with megaphones should not shut up about this.

The president of the United States has the biggest megaphone of all. He should give voice to American values and stand up for freedom, as our leaders long have, however unevenly.

William F. Buckley Jr. used to say that everyone has a tank of indignation. You can’t be indignant about every injustice, all day. So, what are you going to spend your tank on? There is no better “spending,” today, than the horror faced by Uyghurs.


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