The U.S. Government and its media echo chamber accuse China of committing genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang when, despite some persecution, China has attempted to integrate the Uyghur population into China and lift a disadvantaged minority
Long before hitherto unknown Xinjiang, a western province of China, became a focal point of the U.S.-China rivalry, I had already “stumbled” upon it, quite by accident. It was on a day in the early 2000s when I was invited for lunch by the Swiss ambassador to China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), at his Beijing residence.
The ambassador introduced me to a fellow Swiss citizen who had been hired as a consultant by the Communist Party of China Central Committee to help set up a development strategy, which was called the “Great Western Development Drive” or the “Go West” plan to help the landlocked western Xinjiang province, home to Muslim Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, to alleviate their poverty.
Indeed, China’s west lagged far behind its prosperous coastal provinces, whose breathtaking changes had struck me during my visits over the years. My new acquaintance was an economic affairs expert and a former member of the government of Geneva, Switzerland. During lunch we had a lively discussion on China and the Koreas. He told me that he was invited for dinner by the officials in charge of Xinjiang policy at the Party Central Committee and he asked me to join him.
I was excited and went with him to Zhongnanhai, the former imperial garden in Beijing’s Imperial City, which is adjacent to the Forbidden City and home to the Communist Party’s headquarters. The senior official sitting next to me in a beautiful Chinese-style restaurant told me that, when he and his comrades had taken a closer look at Switzerland, they had first thought that this country, with its three main ethnic groups speaking German, French and Italian and surrounded by the larger and much more powerful Germany, France and Italy, would be plagued by strong centrifugal forces, tending to tear the small country apart.
He added that they had been amazed to discover that the opposite had happened: The different groups had created a strong national identity while respecting their cultural differences, a unique “Swissness” of which its citizens are proud, he told me. He also said that the Swiss experience would inspire him and his comrades when helping to better integrate and develop Xinjiang; he emphasized that “this province and its inhabitants should have the same rights and opportunities as all other Chinese provinces and citizens.”
Better living conditions for Muslims in China
Fast forward: The then-poor Chinese province that hardly anybody outside China had ever heard of now looks radically different after a successful campaign of modernizing its cities, setting up new hospitals and schools, building more than 20 airports, creating numerous jobs in modern factories, mechanizing its agriculture, and linking the region with bullet trains.
For this enormous infrastructure undertaking, China had to overcome huge challenges in a region marked by rough terrain, a vast desert and mountains occupying about half of Xinjiang, extending some 850 miles (1,370 km) from west to east and about 350 miles (560 km) from north to south to lift the scattered population of this province out of extreme poverty. Uyghurs and other Chinese Muslims are now living much better lives than many Muslims in Muslim countries.
But unlike American Horace Greeley’s famous call to “go West, young man,” epitomizing the dream of American expansionism and development in the 19th century, the development of China’s west was not marred by the extreme violence and injustice inherent in America’s western drive and which was just one more dark episode in the history of a country built on a real genocide of millions of Native Americans and the enslavement and torture of millions more people kidnapped from the continent of Africa. Yet, when a resurgent China was perceived as a challenge to America’s hegemony, American politicians, pundits and activists were quick to accuse China of extreme violence, namely a genocide, against the Muslims who live in that province.
Genocide—a specific term hijacked for a propaganda campaign
The term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, and was used at the Nuremberg Tribunal for the murder of millions of Jews by Nazis. The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect makes it clear that, “to constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group.”
Yet the term “genocide” has been hijacked and weaponized, not out of ignorance, but purposely by American and other Western politicians, activists and media and applied to Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, China. It would have been easy for them to show satellite footage of such camps with emaciated figures hunched over scraps and being hustled to their deaths, photos of death marches or death squads lining up people against a wall and shooting—scenes ever present in the Holocaust—the daubing of shop windows or Uyghurs having to wear uniquely identifiable clothing such as a star and crescent (instead of a Star of David) or burial-pit executions, smoke-exuding crematoriums or at the very least some video evidence of the mass movement of people on trains or in trucks to their extermination sites. Of course, a holocaust could never have been hidden in a world flooded with Wi-Fi and smart phones. Also, if there were a genocide, we would likely see large refugee camps in neighboring countries.
But as the claims of a genocide were so obviously baseless, fabricated and ridiculous, China’s bullies saw themselves obliged to adjust the genocide claim by talking more about a so-called cultural genocide instead of a physical one, portraying it as an attempt to forcibly assimilate the Uyghurs into Chinese culture.
Cultural instead of physical “genocide”?
To vilify China even more, they added claims about forced mass sterilizations and forced labor. And as is to be expected from China’s fierce adversaries, these claims turned out to be just as bogus under scrutiny as the genocide claims.
The “cultural cleansing” accusation is not new, as it has also been applied to Tibet before. American businessman Shaun Rein, a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese, says he is particularly sensitive to claims of physical or cultural genocide due to his Jewish roots. He was recently in Tibet, where he visited a primary school. There he saw that schoolchildren have not only six Mandarin classes per week, but also six Tibetan classes per week. There were no traces to be seen of the alleged cultural genocide. More on his Tibet visit in his interview.
Mainstream media “report” that Uyghurs are constantly monitored and harassed by the Chinese authorities, arbitrarily stopped for ID and phone checks by the police, etc. One media outlet, AP News, exceptionally reports that “Xinjiang eases its grip.” And there are many things that “you are not being told” about Xinjiang by the Western mainstream media.
Now watch this American walking the streets of Urumqi with a hidden camera. You can see ordinary Uyghurs going about their daily lives, eating their traditional food and talking in their native language instead of Chinese. Judge for yourself!
Einar Tangen, an American writer, visited Xinjiang in 2015 and 2021. He described one of his experiences to me as follows: “On each segment of the trip I was on, the question of language came up in regards to children’s education. We were told by parents that classes were 50/50 Chinese/Uyghur. We also observed parents and teachers speaking both languages when we visited a school for the disabled.”
He added: “In terms of the mosques I saw outside Kashgar, they could clearly be seen by their minarets near every community we went to or passed. The one thing missing was the traditional call to prayers, which I had heard so many times and have since associated with Muslim communities. When I asked why these had stopped, I was told that watches and cellphones were the new tech way of letting the faithful know.”
Tangen also visited the Grand Mosque in Kashgar where he spent some time on a Friday with the imam, whose father had been hacked to death outside the north gate of the mosque by Uyghur terrorists. He observed the faithful come to perform prayers and noticed that most were over 45 years of age. He asked the imam why. The latter answered that “the younger people don’t come except on very holy days, because of their jobs, even the women are working.” The imam added that “they were focused on making money for their children’s education.” This is a plausible explanation in a country where the education of their children is a top priority for parents.
What may be criticized is that Muslims under 18 are not allowed to practice at a mosque. But this doesn’t specifically target Uyghurs and other Muslims, as the exact same rule applies to Buddhists, Christians and Daoists as well. The government’s intent is to avoid parents forcing their children into a specific religion. It wants them to make a conscious decision about their spiritual choices when they are adults.
Canadian businessman Daniel Dumbrill, a fluent Mandarin speaker, was recently in Xinjiang, where he visited a primary school. He shows in his video a scene when he attended a Uyghur language class where a young Uyghur schoolboy tells him how to write in Uyghur—from right to left (Chinese is usually written from left to right nowadays, with some texts still written top to bottom). And playing students can be seen and heard using their native Uyghur language. In other videos on his YouTube channel, it can be seen that communication in Mandarin for him is at times difficult as “a lot of people don’t speak Mandarin that well.” To visit factories and other places or to talk to the imam of a mosque, he has brought a Uyghur translator with him.
It is true that various subjects such as science and mathematics are taught only in Chinese, not as part of ”cultural eradication,” as China’s foes claim, but as part of poverty eradication, to make sure that minorities, from Inner Mongolia to Tibet to Xinjiang, are not disadvantaged when they go to university or when they look for job opportunities. It also addresses the issue of a weak command of the Chinese language among the Uyghurs and other minorities, which is a handicap for them in finding good jobs across China after leaving school.
This is probably no different from other countries. Native Americans in the U.S. are hardly being taught all subjects in their native languages and the same is true for Australian Aborigines, Māori in New Zealand or ethnic minorities in other countries. To give another example, you would not find British schools teaching Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Polish or Romanian just because these languages are the mother tongues of some British citizens. These would more likely be taught in after-school classes or even in a separate language school entirely.
Visitors to Xinjiang who have been told that a cultural genocide is under way, destroying Uyghur traditions, group identity and community institutions and replacing them with those of the Han Chinese majority, are surprised to see that all signs on public transportation are clearly written in the Uyghur language, sometimes even above the Chinese characters, that the names of businesses, public offices, etc. are also written in Uyghur and that Uyghurs are speaking their language among themselves and dancing their traditional dances in the streets.
Again, there are things China can be criticized for. Some officials may have crossed the line and committed human rights violations in an otherwise legitimate integration and poverty eradication drive or in their perhaps overzealous fight against terrorism, targeting real or perceived Islamist troublemakers. But they did not use drone strikes as the U.S. government does to blow up entire wedding parties or innocent families with small children because of a single Islamist terrorist suspect, let alone launching a retaliatory war against the region for terrorist incidents (such as the U.S. did against entire countries whose governments were not even involved in the 9/11 terror attacks against the U.S.).
Instead of the American way of fighting symptoms by investing in weaponry and using bombs to the satisfaction of its almighty military-industrial complex, China preferred to address the root causes of radicalization and terrorism by investing in poverty eradication and education.
No, China does not claim to be a country for the majority Han Chinese. In fact, it repudiates such a claim as ethnic chauvinism. It was therefore nothing extraordinary when a Uyghur athlete represented China at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games and when an ethnic Korean Chinese represented her people at the Games in a traditional Korean hanbok (or Chosŏn-ot) dress, as one of the 56 ethnicities of China.
What was mind-boggling, however, were the attacks she was subjected to by leading South Korean politicians, who bashed China for allegedly laying claim to their culture. China has the second-largest ethnic Korean community (2.4 million) outside Korea, after the U.S. (2.5 million). Of course, the horde of Western politicians and activists falsely accusing China of a cultural genocide did not come to the defense of that Korean Chinese lady, to whom Korean politicians deny the right to wear a traditional Korean dress, and of China, against South Korea’s arrogance and smears when China showed nothing but respect for the culture of an ethnic minority. It proved not only the absurdity but also the hypocrisy of their accusations of cultural genocide.
The forced sterilization claim
Another serious accusation is that of forced sterilization. This was a nefarious practice carried out by many countries in the past. In the U.S., for example, minorities and disabled people were subjected to forced sterilization far into the twentieth century.
In China’s case, detractors presented the benefits of its birth control strategies (one-child policy) as a genocide. Without it, the Chinese population would likely be substantially higher than two billion people (it is currently at 1.4 billion), competing for food, medical care, education, water and many other natural resources, constituting a huge, untenable strain not only on the country but also on the entire planet.
China began to carry out the one-child policy in the late 1970s, targeting the majority Han Chinese population but exempting all ethnic minorities. Four decades later, the policy was slightly relaxed for Han couples who were both single children of their respective families, allowing them to have a second child. From the mid-2010s, all Han couples were allowed to have a second child and more recently the government, in a reverse of its population policy, began to encourage couples to have a third child, as the country’s population has been aging fast.
When China relaxed its population controls, it also decided to treat everybody equally. Minorities such as Uyghurs no longer had a privileged position and some China critics, once again, called this a genocide.
Now that China’s birth rate is plummeting for reasons that could be seen in many other countries before, the argument of forced sterilization has become completely baseless.
Xinjiang has seen steady population growth over the last decades. This was also higher than the country’s average growth.
Natural reasons rather than coercive government policies also led to a sharp population drop in Japan. Stuart Gilmour, Professor of Biostatistics at St. Luke’s International University, Japan, tweeted this chart and explained that “the number of births that were ‘lost’ in Japan due to falling birthrates since 2010 [was nearly] 1 million over just 10 years! Shocking! But no outcry from western think tanks.”
Indeed, Western think tanks that use falling birth rates in China to support their genocide theory did not seem to bother about the same phenomenon elsewhere.
It’s striking that the birth rate in China as a whole in 2019 was 10.52 per 1000, and dropped to 7.52 per 1000 in 2021, a drop of 28% in just two years. If such a drop happens at a national level there must be a wider variation in regions and small areas – some areas will have a smaller drop, some will have a larger drop – so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect some areas to see a 50% drop in two years. In fact Xinjiang was just ahead of a trend that is now being observed in the rest of the country, as Prof. Gilmour discusses in his thread.
The claims of forced labor in Xinjiang
In 2020, the U.S. banned all cotton imports from Xinjiang, claiming cotton farms were using forced Uyghur labor.
When I heard the news, an anecdote came to my mind: Many years before this boycott, after a hectic day of business meetings, I relaxed in a Beijing restaurant watching a traditional Chinese cultural show. I was surprised to see people at neighboring tables who looked and talked differently from the Han Chinese. I was curious and asked where they were from. They answered that they were tourists from Xinjiang. I then asked what they were doing and what life was like there. They explained that they were farmers and owners of cotton fields.
Since then, I have heard from both foreigners and Chinese who have visited Xinjiang that the vast majority of farms there are owned by Uyghurs. I have also learned that the Uyghur farmers have other worries and are busy making a living rather than enslaving their fellow Uyghurs.
One Uyghur farmer complained to American businessman Shaun Rein recently that “20 years ago a worker cost me 2 or 3 RMB a day, now it costs me 300 RMB (= 48US$) a day and I can’t even find Uyghurs to do the job because the job opportunities are so good.” He added that he was obliged to go to Gansu province to find workers. Gansu is known for its earthquakes, droughts, and famines, which at times cause waves of unemployment.
Apparently, this farmer is quite lucky, as 95% of Xinjiang’s cotton harvesting and processing is now automated. But the automation level has caused farmers another headache: Because of U.S. sanctions, they can no longer buy any John Deere or other U.S. equipment, which Xinjiang farmers still consider the best at picking and processing cotton. Before the sanctions were imposed, Xinjiang farmers purchased huge quantities of John Deere’s machines and the sales of U.S. manufactured cotton-harvesting machinery in China rose in 2020 by a whopping 4000% compared to a year before.
This shows that the forced labor accusation is just another bogus claim.
Foreign organizations, such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) which had an office in Xinjiang for eight years, never found a single incident of forced labor and neither did a similar organization, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, as British-Australian blogger Jerry Grey explains.
He notes that the BCI pulled out of Xinjiang as its American CEO, Alan McClay, happens to also be the CEO of a massive U.S. cotton brand that uses American cotton, a direct competitor to the type of cotton grown in Xinjiang.
Global importers, retailers, producers and manufacturers spend lots of money on announced and unannounced audits and employing associations such as the BCI to ensure forced labor is not involved in their supply chains. And 53 American-listed Fortune 500 companies are operating in the region.
Why did the U.S. government not ban their operations for using forced labor, Grey asks? Because there isn’t any. The real reason for banning cotton and tomatoes is to allow inefficient and more expensive American producers to reclaim their lost market share to Xinjiang’s better-quality products.
Jerry Grey concludes that the boycott is bad news for Xinjiang’s cotton farmers, many of whom were recently lifted out of poverty, but good news for the less competitive American corporate cotton producers. In addition, the American cotton producers may actually benefit from the use of prisoners, which is allowed in many U.S. states, some of whom are forced to work even in medieval conditions, he argues.
The bigger picture
The ban on Xinjiang cotton and tomatoes, based on unsubstantiated allegations of forced labor, is ultimately a political ploy to destroy Chinese rivals for the benefit of American competitors. In a growing Sinophobic climate, China has been accused of a litany of crimes including genocide as part of a highly orchestrated campaign that has included allegations of a national security threat posed by Huawei, a global technology leader, which was also meant to destroy another unwelcome Chinese rival for the benefit of its less competitive American rivals.
The largest of China’s provinces, sparsely populated Xinjiang covers one-sixth of the country’s total area. With 58 million hectares it has the second-largest grassland area among the provinces of China, and it enjoys rich water resources, with more than 570 rivers. It has huge biological resources with thousands of wild plants. Its energy reserves, with large coal and oil deposits, are substantial.
Last but not least, it is very rich in mineral resources, with more than 100 different minerals, making up 80% of the country’s total. Given its huge importance to China, its enemies have recognized that not Tibet or Hong Kong, but Xinjiang is the country’s Achilles’ heel.
Some believe China may be paranoid about the U.S., as the latter uses China’s minorities to go after it, and that China is therefore carrying out a harsh campaign against U.S.-backed separatists and their sympathizers and of course against terrorists which, unsurprisingly, Washington removed from the U.S. terror list in 2020.
But the threat is very real: Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, confirmed that Xinjiang is nothing but a strategic U.S. plot to destabilize China from the inside. He made it clear that “the third reason we’re there [in Afghanistan] is because there’re 20 million Uyghurs [in Xinjiang] … Well, the CIA would want to destabilize China and that would be the best way to do it, to foment unrest and to join with those Uyghurs in pushing the Han Chinese and Beijing from internal places rather than external.”
As honest as the puppet master?
Defectors have often been useful dupes to help the United States further its global interests. Even estranged family members of North Korea’s leadership living outside the country were recruited as CIA collaborators. One of America’s most useful accomplices in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was Iraqi refugee Ahmed Chalabi, who pushed a skewed case for war against his motherland.
As this video shows, the U.S. media and its Western media followers are now using a tried and tested playbook by spreading Uyghur horror stories to build a hostile, pro-war sentiment against China, even though these tales often fall apart under scrutiny.
In January 2021, former CIA director Mike Pompeo (“We lied, we cheated, we stole”) presented Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese Muslim from Xinjiang, with an international “Woman of Courage” award. The U.S. State Dept. pompously declared that “Sauytbay became one of the first victims in the world to speak publicly about the CCP’s repressive campaign against Muslims, igniting a movement against these abuses.”
To the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper, Sauytbay made these claims:
1. There was no violence.
2. There were only three kinds of food (rice soup, vegetable soup and naan). There was no meat.
But to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, she claimed this:
1. Uyghur Muslims are forced to eat pork meat against their will and against their religious beliefs.
2. She saw people returning from a room, covered in blood, some of them without fingernails.
Uyghur Tursunay Ziyawudun claimed in one interview she was not beaten or abused, but in another she claimed she was tortured and gang-raped on three occasions.
Here are the links to both interviews.
- BBC: ‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape
- BuzzFeed: She Escaped The Nightmare Of China’s Brutal Internment Camps. Now She Could Be Sent Back.
Since the CIA started targeting China’s Xinjiang province as the most effective lever to destabilize China and to bring down a strong rival, groups seeking to establish a state of East Turkistan on Xinjiang’s soil or demanding Xinjiang’s independence have emerged over the last few decades.
These include the U.S.-feted World Uyghur Congress and the East Turkistan Government in Exile. Between 1997 and 2014, another secessionist group of Xinjiang origin, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) committed frequent terrorist attacks claiming hundreds of lives in Xinjiang and the rest of China.
And it was no coincidence that, at about the same time, a number of anti-China scholars emerged, helping to mobilize Uyghur diaspora groups in spinning out misinformation about the Uyghur “genocide” in Xinjiang. The U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a federally funded U.S. régime-change organization, has overtly funneled millions of U.S. dollars to Uyghur diaspora groups campaigning against China.
And there is a lot more to come: Recently, the U.S. Congress allocated 500 million US$ more to the anti-China disinformation campaign.
The Asia Times reported that “Washington threw its full weight behind the so-called Arab Spring, and the CIA-trained jihadists in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime in Damascus”; and that “thousands of Chinese Uighurs were also fighting in Syria.”
In 2017, the Iraq-Syria based terror group ISIS released a video of Chinese Uyghur Muslims threatening to return home and “shed blood like rivers” in China. The Asia Times also mentioned that “Chinese intelligence had tracked jihadists trained by then-U.S. Commander in Iraq David Petraeus as they infiltrated back into China.”
So the implementation of the U.S. strategy to destabilize China is in full swing: a synergistic combination of an intense economic and propaganda war against Xinjiang, China’s most vulnerable attack point, together with covert actions to strengthen the capacity of anti-China Uyghur military fighters.
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About the Author
Felix Abt is the author of “A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” and of “A Land of Prison Camps, Starving Slaves and Nuclear Bombs?”
He can be reached via his Twitter account.