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An overview of Human Rights Violation in Xinjiang

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) clampdown on Uighur and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has attracted profound scrutiny and polarized the international community. As many as 1.5 million, have been pitilessly detained in large networks of recently constructed camps, where they are forcibly reeducated and politically indoctrinated.

These vexatious developments have not only molded Chinese politics at home but also international politics and debate. Chinese authorities have tactfully pressurized countries with the Uighur population to repatriate them to China. Beijing has established an international coalition to support its draconian policies: when 22 countries had sent a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council mandating China to refrain from its unjustifiable internments in Xinjiang, that letter was contradicted by another letter from 37 countries defending the Chinese government’s “deradicalization, counter-terrorism, and vocational training policies.” The issue exacerbated tensions between the U.S. and China which lead to the U.S. putting sanctions against individuals and companies coming from China.

The Chinese policies in Xinjiang are glaringly disturbing and repugnant. Any effort to change the situation requires a substantial understanding of the threat perceptions of Chinese in the region, specifically the recent strategy of intensified collective repression.

Decoding China’s Repressive Strategy in Xinjiang

After the XUAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo returned from the Central National Security Commission symposium in Beijing, the CCP policy in Xinjiang started to spring in 2017. The time frame of this upsurge is puzzling as the public security officials had repeatedly claimed that the strategy was working and there had been fewer cases reported that involved Uighur in Xinjiang, or anywhere in China. Surprisingly, CCP changed strategies after the period.

Various domestic factors have resulted in China’s long-standing security buildup and oppression in Xinjiang: political violence and contention involving the Uighur population in the region; the establishment of second-generation minority policies under President Xi Jinping that made CPP’s turn towards assimilations; and the leadership of XUAR Party Secretary Chen. The increased oppression that took place in 2017, however, was largely motivated by China’s external security threats- most significantly the belief that the terrorist networks may diffuse back into Xinjiang from cross borders.  

There are two reasons attributed to the heightened Chinese insecurity. First, the CCP was alerted by the handful of contacts between Uighur and Islamic militant organizations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East in 2014-2016 which also included arrests in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, additionally, up to 5000 Uighur fighting alongside the militant groups in the Middle East.

The connection of Uighur groups abroad to the violent incidents in Xinjiang is highly questionable. The western scholars are doubtful, and even the most generous calculation of Uighur militant capability does not imply that the insurgency inside Xinjiang is present, or even impending. Additionally, the contacts that took place in 2014-16 were confined to a few cases. Nevertheless, these contacts exposed the shift of possibility of cooperation between Uighur and Islamic militants groups in Southeast Asia and the Middle East from completely theoretical to an emerging operational reality. In 2015 and 2016, leaders of several militant groups in the Middle East with some associated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State also made statements signaling their desire to target China.

The aforementioned developments seem to have got the CCP’s notice. In 2019, the New York Times published leaked documents that quoted Xi saying, “East Turkestan’s terrorists who have received real-war training in Syria and Afghanistan could at any time launch terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.” The documents reveal the fact that despite the Chinese party-state uses the eloquence of terrorism to deflect or reduce international pressure and justify oppressive actions; senior party members including Xi himself fear terrorist threats from abroad subverting their rule at home.

The other element that added to the CCP’s shift in strategy was a change in how the party perceives the nature of domestic threats to regime stability. In 2014, Xi disseminated a new “comprehensive security” framework, which cautioned that international happenings could destabilize regime at home and called for heightened vigilance. The framework required party workers to focus on the increased vulnerability to jihadist infiltration, as they compared it to a virus: even if people showed no sign of radicalism they could still be infected by the extremist virus unless they were properly inoculated. 

The two developments reshaped the Chinese perception of counterterrorism and its incidental domestic security policies. As a result, Beijing increased deployment of counterterrorism activities abroad, while at the same time its military delegates visited the Middle East and grew regional counterterrorism cooperation with the Southeast Asian countries. The CCP also targeted diaspora networks to prevent terrorist threats from reentering China; they suggested that detention and reeducation should psychologically and politically make the population resilient to jihadist infiltration.

Eventually, the CCP is unjustifiably imprisoning and forcibly re-educating a large number of people who have merely shown any inclination towards anything except normal Uighur cultural or Muslim religious practice, based on threat perceptions that may be inaccurate in most cases. 

The nondemocratic nations often get threat assessments wrong simply because they have difficulties in obtaining good information to initiate with. The very narrative of vaccination, paradoxically, makes that clear: people who are evidently “symptom-free” are nevertheless being thrown in detention and reeducation camps on a massive and intensive scale.

Beijing’s policy of “preventive repression” in the context of counterterrorism took a threat that was at a low level, to begin with, and sought to make sure that it would never materialize into anything more significant. The consequences of this approach have resonated inside China and across the world.

Implications for Current Policies

The United State’s policy concerning Xinjiang should balance two objectives: acknowledging that there may be some genuine concern about terrorism on Beijing’s part and criticizing the use of that concern to justify the indiscriminate repression and collective punishment. The objectives are not paradoxical, but segregating them will require a careful adoption of measures on the part of the U.S. and international policymakers.

Involvement with the CCP’s efforts to curb the terrorist threats doesn’t mean uncritically accepting its response to the problem. Moreover, for the United States or the international community to assist China in fighting terrorist threats, it’s pertinent that Beijing remains transparent. The Chinese security behaviour, characterized by the inability to know the situation may become a hurdle in cooperation against security threats as countries don’t know what will be done in their name.  

The United States should focus its rhetoric and policy on the large number of innocent people who are trapped in Beijing’s counterterrorism dragnet. It is pertinent that policymakers make efforts to communicate with the people who have suffered due to Beijing’s draconian policies. The United States and the international community should acknowledge that the CCP’s policies are targeting and punishing people who don’t qualify as “terrorists” under any rational definition of the word. The international community must find ways to exert pressure on Beijing over the human rights consequences of the current measures while at the same time limit its attempts to modify current international human rights norms in a way favourable to it.  

The American policymakers and other advocates have, over the past year, shifted their stance towards a simplistic “it’s not counterterrorism” argument that discharges CCP’s insecurities. The engagement of blatant arguments over whether Xinjiang is a case of counterterrorism may not be effective, especially when it appears that the CCP at least partly perceives it that way. The possibility of persuading the CCP to change course on a counterterrorism basis may not be helpful, but the chances of success may be probably higher if the issue is treated solely as a matter of human rights violation.

Though CCP’s emphasis on counterterrorism has largely been instrumental there are risks involved in the current approach. Turning down Beijing’s assertion of security concerns will only set up the CCP to dig in and display graphic images of violence to justify and prove that it faces a real threat. If Beijing successfully convinces domestic non-Uighur audiences in China or in other countries that the Uighur is a threat to security the U.S. dismissals could backfire. Additionally, this approach is neither a helpful tool for American foreign policy nor does it minimize human rights violations in Xinjiang. Consequently, the United States and other democracies should collectively say that no matter how real the CCP perceives the terrorist threats to be, they are not a blank check to approve of Beijing’s massive human rights violations. To add more, the U.S. and European democratic counterparts should keep on pressuring China on the emergence of human rights violation from Xinjiang but to effectively confront the situation they must refrain from getting bogged down in an unhelpful “is it counterterrorism” debate.

Another alternative is that other countries could stress upon the use of indiscriminate repression and false positives in the use of violence, which is commonly backfired: if the CCP is only concerned with regime preservation, the strategy it has adopted in Xinjiang is incredibly risky. For instance, the Uighur who have been targeted unjustifiably after living their lives as “model citizens” may challenge the CCP as a result of being repressed.

The aforementioned approach is of particular significance for countries that must decide on how they take a stance and what are they going to do about the opposing stances adopted by the U.S. and China on this issue. Taking into consideration that most countries are concerned about counterterrorism and seek to be respectful of human rights may align with the United States, weakening the global support for the legitimacy of China’s preferred approach. This will facilitate the United States to emphasize more credibly that Beijing’s linking of international terrorism with its domestic policies of repression poses an unnecessary conundrum for nations that aim to genuinely collaborate with China to reduce common terrorist threats. The mass internment of Chinese Muslims makes it harder for countries with a sizeable Muslim population to approve of the law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation with China. Turkey, in recent criticism of China’s Uighur Policy, stated the approach as “a great embarrassment for humanity”.

However, if these countries see an increased risk of terrorism at home as a result of cutting off counterterrorism cooperation with China, they may have to face significant potentially difficult tradeoffs. Countries that have significant counterterrorism cooperation with Beijing are mostly absent from the U.N. letter adopting a public stance on Xinjiang. To be realistic, the United States may not be able to convince every country to dramatically change their stance on China’s counterterrorism approach as some of them are well known for their own human rights violations. As a consequence, the United States should try to be on the record for trying to offer realistic alternatives.

The deployment of the aforementioned principles can effectively address the problem of foreign fighters from Xinjiang who participate in Syria and the broader Middle East. This challenge is not confined to China, as it is a global one that reflects the absence of common democratic or international proposal for resolving such glaringly disturbing issues. If international democratic community doesn’t create a mechanism Beijing will tactfully work bilaterally with the countries to simply meet its repatriation demands to punish and re-educate its own nationals, adding to the already devastating human rights violation while leaving the broader global issue unresolved.

Rather than conceding to China’s initiative on this issue, the United States and its allies must lead the way for initiating an international solution to address and validate security concerns among countries. Additionally, the measures should be compatible with human rights: they do not rest on repatriating individuals where they will be persecuted or executed without any justifiable trial. This will lead the United States and the international community to remove Beijing’s internal and external justification for its current policies, making it harder for it to defend at home or abroad.

To sum up, the international community should keep its focus on China’s massive human rights violations in Xinjiang. To do this effectively, it’s pertinent that it must carefully and strategically engage with China’s counterterrorism narratives.

Ms. Saraswat is pursuing her Bachelors in Global Affairs (Hons.) at the Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana, India. The author can be reached at 19jsia-anushka.s[at]jgu.edu.in

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East Asia

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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