The Chinese government is trying to rebrand forced sterilization as feminism

The Guardian, 09 January 2021

Below is an article published by The Guardian. Photo Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

You know those horrific mass detention camps in China? Turns out we were all completely wrong about them. The Chinese government isn’t oppressing its Muslim minority population, it’s simply rounded up over a million Uighurs in order to open their minds. It’s not forcibly sterilizing Uighur women, it’s just teaching them feminist theory.

I know that may sound a little hard to believe, but the Chinese government has firmly assured us that this is the case. On Thursday the Chinese embassy in the US tweeted a link to the findings of a report on demographics in Xinjiang, a predominantly Uighur area. Birth rates have dropped dramatically in recent years – something that many international observers believe is down to forced sterilizations. That’s nonsense, according to the report, which was created by a state-run thinktank, and reported on by China Daily, an English-language newspaper owned by the publicity department of the Chinese Communist party. The real reason for declining Uighur birth rates is gender equality.

“[I]n the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines,” the Chinese embassy in the US tweeted. “They are more confident and independent.”

Does Twitter have any issue with this outrageous propaganda? Nah, of course not: the social network has said that the tweet doesn’t violate its policy against hateful conduct. That doesn’t mean you can say whatever you like on Twitter without censure, of course. If you incite a coup then you will be locked out of your account for 12 hours. Twitter takes its responsibilities very seriously!

The full extent of what China is doing to its Uighur population isn’t clear. However, evidence of what some experts have called a form of “demographic genocide” is mounting. An Associated Press investigation last year found that the state of Xinjiang “regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands”. If ethnic minorities have too many children they’re threatened with internment, the AP said.

The fact that China is brazenly rebranding demographic genocide as gender equality is outrageous and unconscionable – but not unprecedented. In the 1990s about 350,000 people were sterilized in Peru under a program promoted by President Alberto Fujimori, who argued a lower birth rate was the key to eliminating poverty. “Peruvian women should be the owners of their destiny!” Fujimori said in a 1995 speech to congress. He presented his family-planning campaign as a step forward for feminism, and even got funding from the US Agency for International Development, USAid. Many of the women who were sterilized, however, came from poor indigenous backgrounds and were coerced or forced into the procedure.

I find it hard to wrap my head around what’s happening in China: there are a million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps and the world is doing very little about it. Disney even shot Mulan in the same region as these camps –thanking the government entities in Xinjiang in the film’s credits. The fact that so many people seem to be turning a blind eye to what’s happening to the Uighurs, the fact that the Chinese government feels emboldened to crow about declining Uighur birth rates on social media, demonstrates the extent to which Muslims have been dehumanized by the “war on terror”.

The west must hold China to account for what is happening to the Uighurs but it must also hold itself accountable. After 9/11 you could infringe civil liberties with impunity in the name of combating extremism. Michael Bloomberg, for example, has never apologized for an unconstitutional mass surveillance program targeting Muslims after 9/11; indeed, he’s justified it. “Of course we’re supposed to do that,” he said. Treat a huge group of people as if every single one of them is a potential terrorist? That’s what you’re supposed to do? Because that’s exactly what is happening in Xinjiang. China is simply following a playbook that America put together.