Addressing the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Chinese government “continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups.” Secretary Blinken urged UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to release her report on the situation without delay.
One, however, wonders if such words from Washington manifest any seriousness on its part to assert the rights of the Chinese minorities. Observers say the Beijing masterminded repression of the rights of Uyghurs (and other ethnic groups in China) is well documented today.
Authentic reports say Chinese authorities have used forced sterilizations, birth control and family separations to destroy the Uyghur identity. They have sent over a million Uyghurs and Kazakhs to the indoctrination camps intended to instil loyalty to the Chinese communist party and government. Since Xi Jinping took over as Chinese President, China has become “less liberal.” The state authorities have intensified their programmes to shift Uyghurs and Kazakhs from rural areas to work in factories and commercial farming in cities.
In November 2019, The New York Times exposed the kind of crackdown the ethnic minorities face in the Xinjiang region today. Based on some leaked Chinese official documents, the paper claimed that Chinese President Xi and some other leaders have secretly waged a ‘people’s war’ to round up Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Moved by the growing international exposure of the grim Chinese minorities’ rights scenario, Washington has appeared to be sensitive to the Uyghurs’ rights from time to time. In 2019, the Donald Trump administration blacklisted police departments in Xinjiang and some Chinese companies believed to be involved in the repression of Uyghur rights. It also issued some sanctions against some senior Chinese Communist Party officials.
In January 2021, the US State Department, still under the Trump presidency, declared Beijing was committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its wide-scale repression of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Then American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, “I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”
In December last year, the current Biden administration announced limits on doing business with a group of Chinese companies and institutions believed to be involved in misusing biotechnology to keep surveillance over Muslim minorities in China and repress them.
However, the successive administrations in Washington have hardly been serious about taking up with Beijing the issue of Chinese minorities’ rights. Washington is aware of China’s disregard for human rights. But it refrains from invoking serious sanctions over violations of minorities’ rights in Xinjiang. Washington seems unwilling to do anything that might hurt its ongoing trade negotiations with the Dragon.
(The author is a New Delhi-based journalist)