Over at The Verge, Sarah Jeong recently decided to weigh in on the controversy over TikTok, the White House’s effort to restrict U.S. use of the app, and the regime of Xi Jinping.
From the outset, Jeong makes it clear that the (strong) legal argument against the administration’s executive actions does not really interest her, writing that “the legal dubiousness of this move is the least strange thing about it.” It is instead the notion of opposing TikTok and, more broadly, of being uniquely skeptical of the CCP that shocks Jeong. “Is the United States better, worse, or the same as China?” she asks. “In 2020, this is becoming a genuinely difficult question to answer.” (As an aside, it is absurd to suggest that the United States of 2020 is worse than the United States in the eras of Jim Crow, chattel slavery, or the Trail of Tears.)
Her piece only gets worse from there:
China is detaining over a million Uighurs in internment camps, citing national security issues. The United States detains migrants in its own internment camps, even going as far as to place children in cages. China is not a democracy; the American president has proposed to unconstitutionally delay this year’s election. China brutally represses its political dissidents; in America, law enforcement in military camouflage have grabbed protesters off the streets and shoved them into unmarked vans.
Apparently, it will come as news to Jeong that the Uyghurs are the victims of an ongoing genocide. They are being shaved, blindfolded, and loaded into trains that take them far away from their homes to “reeducation camps.” Those who are not killed are tortured, raped, and brainwashed, the women among them forced into abortions and sterilized. The Uyghurs, who are Muslim, are made to chant denunciations of God and to loudly proclaim their commitment to Marxism, Maoism, and Xi Jinping Thought. They are also used as slave labor for local and foreign companies. The policy of the Chinese Communist Party is to extinguish them, once it’s gotten what use it can from them.
The Uyghurs are native to “East Turkestan,” called “Xinjiang” or “distant province” by the Chinese state. The Chinese Communist Party is importing Han Chinese men to the region and forcing Uyghur women, whose husbands have been taken away to the camps, to share beds with them. The Verge itself reported last year on the Party’s hacking of Windows, iOS, and Android to target Uyghurs, both in China and abroad. I know Uyghurs in America who for years have been unable to determine whether their parents are alive. The CCP cremates the bodies of those whom it kills, both to make the death count less clear and to inflict a form of psychological abuse on those who survive. (Muslims, like Jews, are required to bury their dead.)
This is not comparable to deportations from the United States, no matter one’s stance on the Trump administration’s immigration policy. Trump’s awful tweet about postponing the election, a move he has no authority to make, is not the same thing as Xi’s being declared infallible and “Xi Jinping Thought” being made a new state religion in China. The Portland arrests grabbed attention because they were exceptional and unacceptable by American standards; in the PRC, such official state conduct — and, evidently, conduct that’s much, much worse — is routine.
More than anything, Jeong’s comparison reminds me of the thinkers who, during the Civil War, posited that it was unfair to criticize the Confederacy given that the North had factory labor, and that the South’s chattel-slavery model at least obviated the need for such labor. During the Second World War, President Roosevelt disenfranchised and imprisoned around 120,000 Japanese Americans. His actions were inexcusable, but no sane person would draw a moral equivalency between them and the Holocaust or the war crimes of the Japanese Empire, which were both immeasurably worse.
Jeong has called on critics of her article to reread the ending, in which she acknowledges that in the U.S., even a publicly funded news outlet can report on government misconduct, and that there is a strong national tradition of freedom of the press. And yet, in that same closing, she chalks up the lack of an information firewall in the United States to the simple incompetence of American engineers, a subtle doubling-down on the false equivalence made earlier between the American state and the Uyghur genocide.
Of course, to some extent, this is par for the course for Jeong, with her feigned expertise on Chinese politics. A young woman in China, a programmer and engineer who makes online content about her designs and ideas, was doxxed by the Vice reporters who interviewed her under the condition that they would omit personal details. The programmer was horrified, fearing a crackdown from Chinese authorities. Jeong proceeded to attack her, proclaim that she had nothing to worry about, and blatantly lie about Vice’s promises to omit her personal information, denying that they’d ever been made.
Even so, I did not expect a full-blown genocide to land among the issues that Jeong and others insist on viewing exclusively through the lens of American domestic politics. I have Bosnian friends whose childhood memories are full of explosions and broken walls and the feeling that everyone and everything they knew was being destroyed around them. This is the reality of genocide. To recognize as much, one need not excuse abuses of authority in America; my Bosnian- and Uyghur-American friends certainly don’t. But there is no universe in which the two are morally equivalent. By suggesting otherwise, Jeong has done a grave injustice to the victims of a great evil.