The time has come for the world to unite on the issue of large-scale human rights violations by China to force it to mend its ways or face a boycott by most world capitals, opines  Syed Nooruzzaman

The United States and other Western democracies have at last woken up to the realisation that China must be bluntly told that large-scale human rights violations in its Xinjiang province on various pretexts can no longer be tolerated. The US, leading the charge, announced severe sanctions against China, besides Myanmar and North Korea, coinciding with the December 8, 2021, virtual Summit for Democracy

which drew participation from over 100 countries.

Now US companies are barred from importing anything manufactured in China’s Xinjiang province unless it is conclusively proved that the imported products have been manufactured without bonded labour (most Uyghurs are forced to work as bonded labour as a way of punishment to them for their refusal to abandon their religious practices and ethnic traditions).

The Chinese Winter Olympics also faces diplomatic boycott owing to the repression of Uyghurs and other minorities by calling them terrorists or separatists without any convincing argument.

The London-based Uyghur Tribunal, an independent agency, ruled on December 10 that China had committed genocide in the case of Uyghurs and other minorities and, therefore, it must be punished, as stated by the International Forum for Rights and Security. In such a situation, the sanctions against China cannot be questioned forcefully.

China did try to manage the narrative in Xinjiang that all that is being reported by the Western media was “propaganda reportage” but without success. Very few people outside China believe Beijing today as it has lost much of its credibility because of being a closed society.

Taking on China head-on for its excesses in the overwhelmingly Uyghur-majority province, US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said a few days back, “Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”

This led to the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, the UK and Canada too as a coordinated drive to bring to bear on China that its inhuman behaviour in the case of the Uyghurs has been highly disturbing for the entire global community. Giving fancy names like “re-education” camps cannot make the world blind to the torture, forced labour and sexual abuse going on in Chinese detention centres.

According to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the manner in which Uighur Muslims are treated in China is no less than “appalling violations of the most basic human rights”. In his opinion, what is happening in Xinjiang under the authoritarian Chinese rule is “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”.

As many human rights organisations have pointed out, around one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking people, mostly Muslims, have been incarcerated in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, with forcible sterilisation of women. China must be taken to task for its such hateful activities.

The sanctions imposed by the US included Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime for coming out with facial recognition programmes that can determine a person’s ethnicity, the obvious target being Uyghurs.

Those who have experienced horrors in Chinese “re-education” camps but somehow managed to escape to Western countries have been trying to convince the world community that the Uyghur detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), renounce Islam, sing paeans for communism and learn Mandarin. Is this not repression? This is worse than repression as proved by the numerous horror stories narrated by the victimised Chinese.

Reports point out that China’s “re-education” camps were first noticed in 2014 . Thirty-nine such camps existed in China during 2017-2018, covering an area equivalent to 140 soccer fields. However, there is no way to get to the bottom of the Chinese detention programme to force Uyghurs and other Muslims to renounce their own (Islamic) way of life and accept what is dished out to them by the Chinese authorities.

China’s atrocities against its own citizens have been perpetrated for a very long time, but only now Beijing is being questioned forcefully. China has so far managed to remain off the hook by perfecting a strategy with the help of its military and financial muscle power. Its companies, obviously state-owned, invest heavily in a needy country on the pretext of aiding the recipient nation’s development programme, so much so that the country concerned virtually becomes a colony of China or gets incapacitated to raise its voice against the Communist giant’s crimes against humanity. Such countries cannot open their mouth

against acts of injustice meted out to mainly Uyghurs, who insist on leading life with their own traditions – religious, cultural and social.

Nowadays, it is easier for China to punish anyone refusing to toe its official line. The Chinese authorities describe such people as terrorists and separatists so that no one, not even the sympathisers of such people, can dare raise one’s voice to defend human rights as outlined by the United Nations. This explains why even Muslim-majority countries have so far preferred to keep quiet on the Uyghur repression issue despite knowing it well how the authorities in China have been treating the hapless Uyghurs in the name of carrying on their cultural “re-education” programme.

It is, therefore, not surprising that in July 2019, when a group of European countries sent a joint letter to the UN human rights chief exposing China’s inhuman actions in its Xinjiang province, a number of other countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, came out with their letter in praise for what they called China’s “remarkable achievements” in the area of human rights in Xinjiang. How shameful it was, but the world remained helpless. The European drive was weakened by those who swear by Islam day in and day out!

Interestingly, Xinjiang province is a resource-rich mining region, important for agricultural production, particularly cotton and tomatoes, and home to a booming industrial sector.

Among the Muslim-majority countries, Turkey is, perhaps, the only nation which has forcefully raised its voice against the Chinese ill-treatment of Uyghurs. In July 2021, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, though very politely, that Turkey was greatly concerned about Uyghur Muslims and wants that these people must be treated as “equal citizens of China”.

According to an estimate by UN experts, over one million people, mainly Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and other Muslims, have been incarcerated in recent years in a vast system of detention camps in China’s western Xinjiang region. And this shameful thing is happening in the 21st century! How sad it is!

However, the time has come for the world to unite on the issue of large-scale human rights violations by China to force it to mend its ways or face a boycott by most world capitals. China, despite its massive military and financial muscle power, can be forced to respect human rights of Uyghurs provided most countries of the world unite and take a bold stand on this significant issue. Will they?

[The writer, a Delhi-based political columnist, is a former Dy Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.]

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