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The Chinese government’s documented murder campaign

Our Uighur neighbors and the modern reality of genocide

A Uighur protester in Istanbul, Turkey, holds up a sign. Associated Press/Photo by Emrah Gurel, file

The Chinese government’s documented murder campaign

Among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) many depredations and malevolencies, it is now attempting to exterminate its population of Uighur Muslims.

So determined the Trump administration, which rightly labeled China’s oppression of the Uighurs as “genocide.” The Biden administration reaffirmed this finding.

And now, even the United Nations agrees. As feckless, corrupt, and beholden to dictatorships as the UN often is, now and then it still does the right thing. Such is the case with the release last week of the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documenting the CCP’s extermination campaign against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province in western China.

The report makes for grim reading. For years the CCP has subjected millions of Uighurs to forced labor, concentration camps, rape, coerced sterilization, widespread imprisonment, organ harvesting, and executions. Beijing’s campaign seems driven by a deadly cocktail of racism, religious persecution, and neo-imperialism. The CCP leadership’s ethnic Han majority despises the Uighurs as racially inferior. The CCP’s official atheism seeks to control or eliminate all religious belief, including Islam. And the Politburo lusts after Xinjiang’s rich mineral deposits, and territory for the Chinese military’s nuclear missile siloes.

The UN report almost never came to be. In her one tightly scripted visit to China, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet had parroted Beijing’s propaganda, and then kept the draft report in uncertain limbo for a year. Beijing’s bullying and pressure inside the UN further blocked its release.

This is part of the CCP’s decades-long strategy to control or otherwise undermine the UN and many of its agencies. The most visible recent example is the World Health Organization and its complicity in China’s COVID cover-up. But as scholar Rana Inboden (who, in full disclosure, is my wife) has documented, China regularly uses its UN membership to target its critics and engage in subterfuge against any scrutiny of its repressive practices.

So it was no small victory that in the final hour of Bachelet’s final day on the job, perhaps mindful of her legacy and the imperatives of justice, she released the Uighur report. It almost certainly will not stop the CCP’s repression. But it does put the world on notice, shows solidarity with the Uighurs, and gives free nations more information to use in pressuring China.

The continuing silence of almost all Muslim-majority nations on the plight of their Uighur co-religionists is a scandal.

There are many reasons why American Christians should care for the Uighurs. Most urgently, doing so fulfills the biblical command to love our neighbor—especially when those “neighbors” are suffering in concentration camps 10,000 miles away. Supporting the Uighurs promotes religious freedom, which also benefits our fellow Chinese Christians. And any efforts that can weaken China’s repression of its own citizens can also help bring more accountability to Beijing and ease its international aggression.

China’s repression in Xinjiang is horrific, but it is not new. Almost two decades ago, when I worked in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, I visited Xinjiang. It had taken months of extensive negotiations with the Chinese government to gain permission for me and two colleagues to make the trip, since even then China resisted any outside scrutiny of its coercion in the region.

During our several days there, Chinese security officials closely monitored our every move, and the Uighur people and sites we saw were so tightly and crudely choreographed by the CCP that it made Potemkin villages seem authentic in comparison. Yet that repression and control was in its own way revealing of the hate and fear with which the CCP has long regarded the Uighurs.

While at the State Department, I also helped with America’s advocacy on behalf of imprisoned Uighurs in China. At the time the most well-known among them was Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman and activist imprisoned for six years merely for her effort to meet with a visiting group of American scholars from the Library of Congress. In 2005, vigorous pressure on Bejing from President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice secured her release and subsequent asylum in the United States, where she has lived ever since.

I met with Mrs. Kadeer at the State Department a few days after her arrival in Washington D.C. Though malnourished and traumatized from her ordeal, she spoke movingly about the plight of her people and her gratitude to America. At one point I asked her which other nations had also supported her during her imprisonment. Never will I forget her response. Her eyes flashing with passion, she exclaimed “No other countries! Not the Muslim nations, not anyone else—only the United States cared for me!”

Then and now, the continuing silence of almost all Muslim-majority nations on the plight of their Uighur co-religionists is a scandal. And for those who doubt whether the United States is an exceptional nation, Rebiya Kadeer has some thoughts she could share.

William Inboden

William is a professor and director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He previously served as executive director and the William Powers Jr. chair at the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House and at the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and a special adviser in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

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