According to the United Nations, between 1 and 2 million Chinese citizens comprised of mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are currently interned in "re-education camps” Xinjiang, China. Supposedly, these de-facto concentration camps were created in or around 2015 under the regime of current Chinese President Xi Jinping. His government’s alleged primary objective: to change “the political thinking of detainees, their identities and their religious beliefs via indoctrination and torture.” Purportedly, these facilities are staffed by armed guards, surrounded by walls and fences and are under 24-hour surveillance. Allegedly, almost none of the internees were granted a trial. This makes sense; because according to sources, the vast majority of the prisoners housed in these facilities have never actually been accused of or convicted of any offense.
Remarkably, despite lawmakers from both sides of the political divide imploring President Trump to stand firm in his negotiations with China, and 24-hour news coverage about China, tariffs and trade, there has been minimal coordinated global action to mitigate these purported human rights violations. Is the reason because it’s not worth an American politician’s time to allocate resources to the Uyghurs' cause? Because reporting on alleged events in Northwestern China attract scant interest (and eyeballs) that drive advertising revenue? Or is it because there is a lack of hard evidence about these “re-education” facilities and what allegedly transpires in them, or combination thereof?
You might have noticed that we’ve taken special care to preface potentially inflammatory statements with “According to,” “Supposedly,” “Purportedly” and “Allegedly. Reason being, we do not have any conclusive proof to corroborate them. That said, there is a reasonable amount of credible evidence, albeit from a small sample size, that they could be accurate.
In an article originally written by David Stavrou published in Haaretz Magazine with a moving excerpt reprinted in TheWeek, former detainee Sayragul Sauytbay detailed her experience and what she says she witnessed on a routine basis inside China’s re-education camps.
According to Ms. Sauytbay, prisoners are routinely:
· Housed in cramped quarters
· Fed soup and bread
· Forced to defecate in a bucket
· Forced to recite Communist Party songs
· Forced to say “I am Chinese,” and “I love Xi Jinping”
· Forced to serve as guinea pigs for medical experiments
Earlier this month, Republican Senators Jim Inhofe and Roger Wicker implored President Trump to take an even more defiant stance on Chinese intellectual property theft. In a joint statement, they said “if Chinese companies are allowed to remove the profit incentive for standards-based wireless research with repercussions, we will soon face the globally undesirable reality that the only companies conducting this research will be those in non-market economies that do not share our values or have our best interest in mind.”
A few months prior to that, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer made his case to Trump, urging him to “hang tough on China” and not to “back down.” Schumer reinforced his point by noting that “strength is the only way to win with China.” GOP Senator Lindsey Graham took a similar stance: “I support the idea of trying to get China to do better before it’s too late.” At the G7 summit in late August, President Trump shot back at critics calling on him to sign a trade deal with China expeditiously. Trump argued that those criticizing him “don’t have the guts” to see his tough negotiating stance through.
Trade Is Vital But...
Successfully negotiating a trade deal with China is imperative. But what is a more pressing issue? Reporting on the granularity of when and by how much a tariff might be applied or repealed, the value of agriculture products China will purchase from us and intellectual property protections, or that Chinese minorities are alleged to have been murdered, raped, electrocuted, beaten, starved, shackled, shaved, brainwashed and in some cases rendered sterile?
The reporting on the respective issues has been skewed. It disproportionately covers trade at the expense of (what very well could be) human suffering and degradation on a grand scale. Indeed, for every one article about millions of people apparently being detained in Xinjiang, there are multiple articles about the minutia of the ongoing trade negotiations. This is a misallocation of resources. The mainstream news media should give at least equal coverage to the tenuous situation in northwest China.
Trade is vital. But if lawmakers from both political parties are going to beseech Trump to stand firm against China, shouldn’t they also be urging Trump to “get tough” and demand answers to the accusations of systemic human rights abuses?
What Is The Truth?
China’s one-party system of collectivism is unfamiliar and unnerving to many Westerners. A farmer’s house might be leveled to make way for a highway. Cities are blanketed with cameras to monitor their citizens. The media is censored. The legal system is opaque. And make no mistake, China neither tolerates nor accepts those who refuse to fall inline. That said, the often heavy-handed policies enacted by the Communist party have enabled hundreds of millions of people to exit extreme poverty. China is now the second largest economy in the world. Many of its citizens are highly educated. It has a formidable military. The country has also forged strategically important industrial, logistical, military, and financial partnerships with nations throughout the world via its “belt and road” initiative.
We have spoken with people who have experienced working in China intermittently or have actually lived there. None said they ever felt scared or uncomfortable. Perhaps they were terrified to acknowledge they were terrified, perhaps not. But one American expat summed it up like this:
“The Chinese make tough decisions but I don’t know anyone in China who feels oppressed. I appreciate the safety of China’s cities. You don’t fuck around in China. Stealing, fighting, drinking and driving, etc., come with harsh punishment. But guess what, ~3 million people live in Chicago, they have 2,000 shootings and 500 murders a year. ~25 million people live in Shanghai, violent crime is almost nil.”
Might the individuals who have spoken to the press be dissidents who are attempting to subvert the Chinese government and its one-party system? Is China attempting to improve the communal assimilation of a particular group of Muslims in Xinjiang as social harmony is a pillar of Chinese culture? Might it also be the case although politically unpopular to contemplate that China is taking a proactive stance in rooting out Islamic extremism? Do Chinese authorities resort to some or all of the measures depicted above to enforce their strict rules? We would not be surprised if a few nonconformists were tortured. We would be surprised if millions of innocent Muslims were.
The article sourced from The Week sounded particularly extreme. That said, in the 1930s and 1940s, leading up to and during World War II, Jews were rounded up, placed in concentration camps and murdered. The vast majority of nations and their leaders, religious leaders, celebrities etc., did not know, did not want to know, or refused to do anything about the genocide in Europe. The result: ~6,000,000 dead Jews. The rest of Germany never felt oppressed during this time either.
In 1994, over just a ~3-month span, ~800,000 (mostly) Rwandan Tutsi’s were murdered by Hutu extremists. Unlike during World War II when information flow was slower and incomplete, most of the developed world was well aware of the ethnic cleansing transpiring in central Africa. Regrettably, the international response was negligible. Said former U.S. President Bill Clinton who publicly admitted his contrition for not acting sooner to stop the genocide in Rwanda: "If we'd gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost...it had an enduring impact on me." At TQC, we credit Clinton for being one of very few leaders to own up to this massive abdication of responsibility.
Contrasting the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide with Xinjian is not an apples to apples comparison; but it could be a fruit to fruit one.
We respect the Chinese authorities’ right to be proactive, make difficult choices and impose their will to improve the lives of the vast majority of China's citizens even if that means disenfranchising a select few. That is the Chinese way. We must not meddle in their internal affairs. Utilizing facial recognition software is being proactive. Displacing a peasant and leveling his hut to build a road (as long as he’s compensated) is also proactive. Forcing a million innocent people to “live” shackled in a jail cell and defecate in a bucket in the name of being proactive, is not proactive, it’s torture.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Despite China’s relatively closed ecosystem, could atrocities on a scale of what’s been discussed be kept hidden behind impenetrable physical walls and digital fire walls? Possibly, possibly not. The Chinese deny these prisons exist. State media “have reported on these facilities and generally referred to them as ‘counter-extremism training centers'".
At TQC, we are staunch believers in transparency and due process. We cannot and would not accuse any person or government of committing a crime, let alone the ones depicted above, unless we could corroborate the stories that underpin the accusations. It is improper to make an indictment without giving the subject an opportunity to articulate their position. As such, the Chinese government has the right and should be given an appropriate platform to defend itself against these horrific allegations.