China’s Campaign Against Muslim Minorities
Wall Street Journal, 09 August 2018
By Senator Marco Rubio – The phrase “re-education camp” invokes Mao’s Cultural Revolution or Vietnam after the communist takeover. But this form of repression is alive and well in Xi Jinping’s China. His government is imposing a “political re-education” campaign in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, targeting the Uyghur Muslim population, Kazakhs and other ethnic Muslim minorities.
Xinjiang today is “a police state to rival North Korea, with a formalized racism on the order of South African apartheid,” wrote one expert. Its residents make up only 1.5% of China’s population—but accounted for 21% of arrests in 2017. This massive increase over the previous year doesn’t include detainees in re-education centers.
China has detained as many as one million people in camps. While Chinese authorities deny that such camps exist, satellite images show the recent construction of massive structures in Xinjiang. Research from China scholar Adrian Zenz details Chinese government procurement and construction bids for new re-education facilities and “upgrades and enlargements” to existing ones.
Security personnel subject camp detainees in Xinjiang to torture, medical neglect, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and other deadly forms of abuse. They also force detainees to submit to daily brainwashing sessions and hours of exposure to Communist Party propaganda. The prisoners’ overseers require recitation of party slogans before eating.
Outside the camps, Chinese authorities aggressively suppress expressions of religious identity. Xinjiang residents face daily intrusions in their home life, including “home stays” where Communist Party officials live with local families. Chinese authorities prohibit “abnormal” beards and veils in public, as well as some Islamic names. Standard religious practices—abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and pork, or fasting during Ramadan—provoke the authorities’ suspicions.
The government has embraced tools Mao only could have dreamed of: big data, iris and body scanners, voice-pattern analyzers, DNA sequencers (including some sold by an American company) and facial-recognition cameras. Authorities use hand-held devices to search smartphones for encrypted messaging apps and require residents to install monitoring software in their smartphones.
Radio Free Asia leads in reporting on this crisis. In retaliation, Chinese authorities have detained dozens of family members related to Uyghur journalists working for RFA in the U.S. In recent testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, RFA journalist Gulchehra Hoja lamented, “It’s a cruel irony that we as journalists can find out so much about what’s happening inside China’s Northwest, yet so little about our own families and loved ones. We are afraid to ask our friends and others there, because any contact and communication could endanger them as well.” China also has used Uyghurs living in the country as leverage to gather information about exiled Uyghurs’ activities—or to compel some to return to China.
China largely has avoided consequences for this reprehensible behavior. It no longer should.
The U.S. should apply Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo. A Politburo member, he first gained experience with repression in Tibet. His tenure as party chief in Xinjiang has coincided with the proliferation of re-education camps, and he is seen as an innovator in his dark craft.
All government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance in Xinjiang should face sanctions too. The Commerce and State departments should add Chinese state security agencies to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.
Consistent with the administration’s commitment to “reciprocity” in relations with China, the U.S. should deny visas to executives and administrative staff of Chinese state-run media companies operating on American soil until all family members of RFA journalists are released.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the plight of RFA reporters and their families in July. Vice President Mike Pence has discussed the crisis publicly too. But words must be followed by action. State should work with like-minded governments to increase public pressure against China at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and many Muslim-majority nations have remained virtually silent, perhaps for fear of upsetting China. If the U.S. takes a bolder stance, other nations shouldn’t be afraid to follow.
Stability in Xinjiang is crucial to Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative. Public condemnation of China’s human-rights record, including its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, would be most unwelcome.
Despite its efforts to project a benevolent image around the globe, the Chinese Communist Party remains repressive, brutal and utterly intolerant. Consider what one official reportedly said about the “political re-education” campaign in Xinjiang: “You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one—you need to spray chemicals to kill them all.” American leaders must find the political will to confront this evil.
Mr. Rubio, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Florida.