By Alex Drew
I am a political science major who is passionate about human rights and eager to share my opinions with the world.
The Uighur people intensely populate a pocket of Northwestern China bordering Russia called Xinjiang. The region is split between the Uighur and Han Chinese populations. Ethnically and culturally, the Uighur relate closely to Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) possesses a communist ideology that seeks to erase any diversity to create a homogenized society. The PRC claims that the Uighurs pose a threat to its national security. It has used these claims to commit atrocities against the Uighur population. According to the U.S state department, there are over 1000 Concentration style camps called “re-education centers” operating under the guise of counterterrorism. In these camps, Uighurs face torture, brainwashing, and physical abuse amongst other indignities. There have even been reported cases of China threatening the families of Uighurs in other nations to gain their compliance. According to scholars from James Madison University, the Uighurs do not pose a legitimate terrorist threat to China. Rather, the Uighurs represent a political and ideological threat to the concept of “One China,” that the PRC has labeled terrorism. The Uighurs are situated in a geographical location close to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The PRC claims that this positioning is cause for concern that the Uighurs will form a relationship with Islamic Terrorist Groups.
The People’s Republic of China has implemented a surveillance and data collection network that rivals even the worst Orwellian nightmares. In 2018, the Committee on Foreign relations found that China has used widespread and advanced surveillance networks to monitor the Uighur population. This included the collection of DNA samples, facial recognition software, tracking prayer patterns, and restricting movement. China has implemented a ruthlessly efficient system to eradicate any identity other than the “One China.”
Thus far international action has been ineffectual. Muslim states are remaining silent for fear of endangering economic and diplomatic ties with China. Some states have condemned the PRC’s actions, including the US. However, these condemnations have done little to prevent the ongoing human rights abuses. China’s current foreign policy initiative, the New Silk Road, which seeks to connect China to the rest of the Eurasian continent is still underway. This is a policy of economic development that involves over 70 states and which aims to enhance regional connectivity.
ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION
China has claimed that their actions are for counterterrorism. However, to constitute a serious terrorist threat, a group must have both high levels of intent and capability. The Uighurs have not demonstrated any signs of this according to researchers around the globe. The Uighurs become increasingly more likely to be radicalized the longer this abuse continues. The Uighurs suffer from economic disparity, social ostracisation, and ethnic discrimination. There is the potential for a highly volatile situation where these factors come into play and the Uighurs become radicalized due to the abuse. The Uighurs could then seek out help from the nearby Islamic Terrorist Group as an act of desperation. The “reeducation” of Uigurs is simply an excuse to homogenize a culture and maintain an unnaturally singular identity as a nation. China’s actions could very well prove antagonistic to its cause. China’s campaign of terror aims at ethnic erasure rather than national security.
China’s surveillance of its people raises questions of the right to privacy and religious and cultural freedom, outlined in articles 9, 12, and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Several corporations in China supply the surveillance state. These corporations have also begun to proliferate this technology to other states including Malaysia, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. China’s high tech totalitarianism is spreading, and it cannot be allowed to become the norm. The PRC has already begun to target other populations, including Protestant Christians. Left alone with this technology and the power it affords, China will continue to do whatever it pleases to whomever it pleases.
China’s power has spared it from international backlash, and this is challenging the United States for Global influence. The new Silk Road and the push to stimulate trade through large infrastructure development has placed China in an extremely favorable position and states are unwilling to cross the now more powerful state. Senior White House staff, including Mike Pence, have denounced China’s action. Congress has also passed a bill regarding the rights of Uighurs, though human rights violations continue. Several states have formally condemned China for its treatment of Uighurs as well, but none have taken substantive action. Left alone, this infectious Totalitarian regime will contaminate more and more of the world.
Respect for human rights maintains a pillar of US politics, despite what critics might say of the current administration. There is not only a moral imperative to act, but a strategic one as well. The United States cannot allow for the subjugation of an entire group of people at the hands of a Totalitarian State. Several strategies will protect the Uighurs, weaken China’s grip, and bolster the United States’ image.
The first step must be to defend the Uighur population. The United States must halt all extraditions of Uighur Muslims residing in its territory and encourage other member states to do the same. The president must extend a temporary protected status to the Uighur population. Simultaneously, we must build the case against China through fact finding. Knowledge is the most powerful weapon against our enemies. The United States must call for international inspectors and United Nations officials to be admitted to these “reeducation” camps to obtain evidence of wrongdoing. The State Department must also collect, declassify, and publicize intelligence about these camps for the rest of the world. This will encourage other states, especially Muslim ones, to act.
The president must deliver an official condemnation of China’s treatment of the Uighurs. If China refuses cooperation, then we must take the step of invoking the Global Magnitsky Act. This act allows for the punishment of a State or group of individuals who violate human rights.
The United States must use its platform at the United Nations to strongly encourage states to make involvement in the new silk road initiative contingent on the closure of internment camps. Sanctioning individuals responsible for perpetrating and allowing the subhuman treatment of Uighurs will be effective in reducing China’s power as well. Finally, sanctions against corporations providing advanced surveillance technology to China and other states will bring down an iron curtain on China’s Authoritarian regime.
It is necessary to combat anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes in the world. China is perpetrating a forced conversion enabled by its technology, and that technology is now being proliferated globally. With this technology and policy of strict surveillance and control, China has spawned a new kind of global threat. The moral and strategic imperative demands that the United States intervene in times of human rights crises.
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