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Religious Persecution in China
The idea of a Chinese monoculture is integral to the Communist Party’s control over its citizenry. As a result of the Chinese centralized government, religious persecution in China has arisen as a consequence of the country’s ethnic composition.

Chinese nationals are predominantly Han Chinese (more than 90 percent), while the remaining population is divided into 56 minority ethnic groups—each having distinct cultures and belief systems. As a communist nation spanning an enormous territory, China has strategically excluded these minority groups from its vision of the Chinese nation-state. 

Since assuming power, President Xi Jinping has exerted intensifying pressure over China’s religious and spiritual communities. This affront on global religions—including Buddhism, Christianity and Islam— continues to take place in China. The surveillance and detainment of clergy members and religious dignitaries have accompanied the closure and destruction of churches and monasteries.

In Western China’s Xinjiang province, the Communist Party has begun to corral and ‘re-educate’ the Muslim Uighur demographic under the guise of national security. This targeted campaign against the Uighurs has been the subject of worldwide criticism and stands as a blunt example of China’s disregard for basic human rights.

The Uighur Muslim minority experiences the highest degree of religious persecution in China, primarily because of their proximity to the Middle East and supposed threat to the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping has attempted to curb the potential for domestic terrorism and insurgency in the majorly Muslim province of Xinjiang through a series of legal measures to police, deny and indoctrinate.

Indoctrination Camps

In response to an escalation in anti-government violence in 2014, the Communist Party launched a large-scale indoctrination campaign against the Uighurs. Following an attack that year, the Communist Party expanded its surveillance and grip on the region. Such efforts culminated in the building of a ‘re-education’ facility located in a remote part of the Taklamakan Desert. 

Today, the world recognizes this facility as an internment program; the re-education camp quickly became the site of the most alarming religious persecution in China. Under these oppressive living conditions, Uighurs must renounce Islam and submit to party dogmas. To date, estimates determine that these facilities have detained at least 1 million Uighur Muslims.

Limitations on Movement

Beginning in 2016, the Chinese government imposed a Passport Recall Policy on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. With the pretense of terrorism prevention, the policy restricts Xinjiang residents from being able to freely travel, especially to zones that it deems high-risk (i.e. the Middle East). When applying for passports, Xinjiang residents are subject to rigorous and invasive bureaucratic procedures not required of citizens hailing from other provinces. These include arbitrary application and passport renewal fees, as well as the processing of biometric data (DNA, blood samples and 3D imaging, etc.). 

Forced Labor

The idea of indoctrination through labor is reminiscent of inhuman labor practices from the Cultural Revolution, which had the intention of bolstering party loyalty. Comparatively, Uighurs and other Muslim detainees released from the Xinjiang camps must work in Chinese factories. Accepting lowly factory jobs is often a condition of release from the camps. In many cases, preexisting restrictions on mobility leave factory jobs—such as textiles and agribusiness—as the only employment options available for those released. As early as April 2018, the local government hatched the factory labor program, aimed at utilizing citizen labor to bring lucrative industries to the region. 

Solutions

While Uighur religious persecution in China has gained international attention the issue persists; there are various ways to aid protection of human rights for the Uighur population.

One way to advocate for the human rights of the Uighur population is to support the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a nonprofit subsidiary of the Uyghur American Association (UAA). UHRP works to advocate for democracy and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People Republic of China. The sensitive geopolitics of the region can cause the relief efforts of international human rights organizations to become ineffective. UHRP helps to bolster relief efforts by supporting victims in telling their stories, increasing global media coverage of the religious persecution in China and exerting pressure on the perpetrators of this crisis.

Additionally, with increased awareness in the United States, the U.S. House recently passed an Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. If enacted, this legislation would direct resources to China that will address human rights infringements and abuses. Supporting endeavors such as these will aid to end arbitrary religious persecution in China.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

 

Poverty in China’s Xinjiang ProvinceXinjiang is a remote autonomous region in northwest China. While Xinjiang had periods of independence, the province became part of communist China in 1949. There are 40 different ethnic groups in Xinjiang, but the Uighurs, who are the traditional inhabitants of the area, and the Hans Chinese compose the ethnic majority of the region. While the economic disparity between the Hans and Uighurs gave rise to a certain amount of ethnic tension, the Chinese government’s recent treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang led to many human rights violations and poverty in Xinjiang.

Poverty in China’s Xinjiang Province

The historic racial tension between the Uighurs and Hans seems to be the root cause of poverty in Xinjiang. The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslim minority in China. In general, the Hans Chinese and the Uighurs disagree on who has the historic claim to Xinjiang. Since 1949, and centuries before, the Uighurs resisted the Chinese control over Xinjiang. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a surge of support for the Uighur separatist groups within Xinjiang. The Chinese government feared that this Uighur support for separatism might lead to the region declaring itself as a separate state called the East Turkestan. Due to this fear, the Chinese government started to characterize the Muslim traditions, practices and activities of the Uighurs as a national security threat.

The Chinese government’s hostile stance against the Uighurs had a wide-reaching effect throughout Chinese society. After years of the Chinese government’s repression of Uighurs’ religious practices and culture, it has presented the Uighurs as terrorist sympathizers to the general Chinese public. This perception of the Uighurs is a further cause of poverty in Xinjiang. According to The Guardian’s reporter Gene A. Bunin, it is common for businesses to deny service to a Uighur person. Due to the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Uighurs, many Uighurs are losing their rights, livelihoods and potentially their lives. Bunin reported that Uighur restaurants in inner-China are the only ones on their street that Chinese flags and posters about the determined struggle against terrorism cover.

China’s Strike Hard Campaign

In 2014, the Chinese government launched the Strike Hard campaign, which aimed to quell these Uighur separatist sentiments. While the government presented this campaign as a campaign to eradicate terrorism within China, the Strike Hard campaign justified the establishment of political reeducation camps throughout Xinjiang. An estimated 800,000 to 2 million detainees are Uighurs and other Muslims. Reports suggest that Chinese authorities arrested these detainees for trivial reasons such as traveling to a Muslim country, attending services at mosques and sending texts containing Quranic verses. While official reports about the detention camps are scarce, some have made allegations against the Chinese government for torture, sexual abuse and mistreatment of the detainees.

The Xinjiang Economy

While Xinjiang’s economy largely depends on agriculture, there is a recent push to develop the region’s mineral resource harvesting and heavy industries. The recent growth in China’s energy needs further increased the importance of the region to the Chinese government. Some estimations state that Xinjiang has 38 percent of coal reserves, 30 percent of crude oil output and 30 percent of natural gas output in China. During China’s economic boom in the 1990s, the Chinese government invested heavily in Xinjiang’s industrial and energy projects. This, however, meant the mass migration of the Hans Chinese into Xinjiang. The Chinese government stated that this mass migration of the Hans to Xinjiang happens in the name of national unity and inter-ethnic mingling. However, many Uighurs protested that the Hans Chinese were taking their jobs, making it difficult for the Uighurs to support themselves.

In 2018, the Chinese government launched a three-year plan to eradicate poverty in Xinjiang. While people do not know the exact amount of money the Chinese government will spend on its poverty relief program, the $960 million the Chinese government spent in 2017 gives hope to many people in Xinjiang. In addition, many think that the forced detention of the Uighurs, which caused poverty in Xinjiang, is the result of the Chinese government’s desire to secure Xinjiang in its Belt and Road Initiative. Since Xinjiang will play a big part in the project, many think that the Chinese government is trying to eradicate any possibility of separatist activity in Xinjiang.

Poverty in Xinjiang presents a bleak picture. More specifically, poverty in Xinjiang is the story of the Uighurs. The picture of Uighurs forcefully detained against their will is reminiscent of the Orwellian dystopia that many are familiar with. While the Chinese government’s heavy investment in Xinjiang might have improved the economic conditions in the region, many are still doubtful that this improved economy is benefiting the already marginalized Uighurs. The international community still looks to China, hoping that China will improve its human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr