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Current Affairs

Xinjiang’s Uighur Camps

Such a sensitive subject must be handled with care: but it cannot be allowed to continue.


21th February 2021 17:00 GMT

Xinjiang, the most North-Westerly province in China has long been known for the conflict between the Muslim Uighur people and the Chinese. The Turkic Uighurs make up the majority of the region but have been strongly persecuted for their beliefs since the 1950s. Government policies promoting Chinese culture have clashed with their own culture and religion, and there has always been strong tension between them and Han Chinese people. There have been several terrorist attacks performed by the Uighurs, but none since 2015. The World Uighur Congress denounces any form of terrorism.  


But this conflict has never been stronger than it is now. For the past three years, the Chinese Government has run constant campaigns against their culture, closing mosques and banning long beards and head coverings. The most worrying act, however, is the detention camps. Named “vocational training centers” by the Chinese Government, these camps were kept away from western eyes until 2018, and even after their discovery, media coverage was slim. On July 8th, 2019, 22 countries signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, calling for China to end the ‘mass arbitrary detention’ of Uighurs.


The Camps are still running, with more prisoners than ever. Perhaps over 1 million people. It is the largest scale of ethnicity-based detention since the holocaust. Inside the camps, prisoners are drilled to believe not in a God, but in Xi Jinping Thought, and are beaten if they say otherwise. The women are forcibly sterilised, and there is no prayer allowed. Even Uighurs outside the camps must attend indoctrination sessions. These camps are crimes against humanity to the highest order.


And yet, there is little being done. Since Trump’s final day in office, where Mike Pompeo called it genocide, a move which surprised many, the US government has not called it that. The UK government has done the same so far. There are questions as to whether it should be called genocide at all. “If they are not killing those imprisoned, is it genocide?” But mass sterilisation, essentially ending the bloodline of these people, must be counted. But if there is no action to be taken, it weakens the governments that do not act upon it. Calling it genocide, and then doing nothing, is worse than not calling it genocide at all.


But it is genocide, and something must be done. Most Chinese people would not agree with its government’s actions if it knew what it was doing, but westerners telling them only makes it more likely that they will believe the lies of their own government. Calling it genocide when there is no killing will make this more of an issue.


Furthermore, the Chinese-American relationship is an important one for other global issues, none more important than climate change. China’s CO2 emissions are still the highest on the planet and deals with the US are the best way to reduce this. Biden’s relationship with Xi Jinping is also something he has boasted already, after he met with the Chinese president during Obama’s time in office.


It ultimately lies with Biden and his administration as to what to do but running in all guns blazing in a display of ‘the American way’ will not end well for either side. This approach is unlikely given his current ideals but sitting back as much as he is now will not help end the conflict either.

Strength lies with the Chinese people. It will be their actions that decide the result of this horror. Keeping them on the right side of the truth, away from the lies of their own government, can empower them to rise up. This is a difficult situation, but human rights must always come first, and the torture that the Uighur people have had to endure must come to an end.

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