The Uighur Crisis Needs Acknowledgement and Action | Daniel Hawker
On 1 July, the ruling Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary, an event that featured both the conventional flag-waving and also threats against anyone who dares ‘bully, oppress or subjugate China’. Since its founding in Shanghai in 1921, the CCP has come to dominate all aspects of the People’s Republic, using its unlimited powers and resources to repress dissenting voices, control the narrative of media outlets and ensure that its totalitarian regime continues well into the future. This has been seen most notably with the suppression of Hong Kong democracy protests. However, despite the horrific array of situations the CCP are involved in (including their attempted seizure of Taiwan and military actions in the South China Sea), the Uighur crisis in the province of Xinjiang should and must be the most pressing issue for the West, on a purely moral level.
A Turkic ethnic group numbering around 14 million in China, the Uighurs since 2014 have faced despicable abuse by the Chinese government, the likes of which includes forced sterilisation and labour, not to mention their forced internment in so-called ‘re-education’ camps: since 2017, this has been the fate of over one million innocent Uighurs.
This multitude of explicit human rights abuses has until recently faced weak pushback and uncaring statements from much of the West. The United States avoided punishing China over the camps due to former President Trump’s concern about trade talks, whilst the UK Parliament took until April this year to officially declare the situation a genocide. This hesitation, especially by the UK, really shows the influence China has gained over the past decade or so via it’s utilisation of soft power – hardly anyone dares to call out its actions.
Recent months however have proved exceptional in bringing attention to this situation. March saw the Biden Administration release a report which labelled the CCP’s actions as a genocide, and as I’m writing this, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is moving through the U.S. Congress (which would change U.S. policy on Xinjiang, and ensure American entities aren’t funding forced labour by Uighurs or other ethnic minorities). Domestically, the UK Government imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 4 CCP officials in March.
This crucial change in attitude hasn’t been seen in all aspects of British society however, with academia (Cambridge University most notably) having remained unconvinced or unmoved by China’s atrocities. The most well-known academic in this category has been Professor Peter Nolan, the Director of Jesus College’s China Centre. A regular speaker at the China Development Forum (run by the Chinese Government) since 2000, Professor Nolan has cautioned students against debating the Uighur crisis, warning it wouldn’t help ‘mutual understanding’. Equally concerning is the steadfast ignorance still present amongst some of our political elite – the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable stated in an article in The Independent that “shouting at China over alleged Uighur genocide won’t help”. It appears that Sir Cable refuses both intelligence reports confirming the camps and also that the West should be doing anything about it. To be truly effective at combating Chinese brutality, we as a nation must be unified in our opposition, not hesitant in our condemnation.
The 20th Century saw us as a nation fight alongside other beacons of liberty against a regime and an ideology that embodied the principles of totalitarian and repressive rule: the Third Reich, guided by National Socialism. Much like the Nazis, China in 2021 is engaged in a large-scale effort to systematically imprison and silence a group of people because their ethnic identity poses a threat to their control, and the dominance of one race. For Hitler, this was the Aryans, whilst for President Xi, it is the Han Chinese, who make up an estimated 92% of the population.
The next few years present an invaluable opportunity for liberal democracy. If we organise an international coalition, challenge China’s abuses (at the UN and NATO, but also when engaging in policy talks), and form new democratic trade alliances (CANZUK springs to mind), then we can aid the Uighurs and stop the rise of this new Red Menace. We must stand up for religious freedom. We must stand up to China.