Uyghur protest china
A pro-Uyghur demonstration (Image: SOPA/Viola Kam)

Following Beijing’s move to implement harsh national security legislation in Hong Kong, critics of China’s ruling Communist Party — including Australia — have stepped up pressure over its egregious human rights abuses of about 10 million ethnic minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

Beijing’s point-blank denial of well-verified concentrations camps, which hold more than 1 million people, and serial inhumane treatment of Uyghurs inside and outside the camps — including torture and various measures of forced birth control — was laid bare in a train-wreck BBC interview with China’s UK ambassador Liu Xiaoming.

Liu was shown a video of several hundred handcuffed and blindfolded detainees at a train station in Xinjiang. The video was uploaded to YouTube and has been verified as being filmed on or around August 18, 2018.

Despite this Liu — looking rather ill by this time — denied that his country has concentrations camps for ethnic Uyghurs, saying: “They enjoy peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups of people. 

“There is no so-called pervasive, massive, forced sterilisation among Uyghur people in China. Government policy is strongly opposed to this kind of practice.”

Indeed, for quite some time Beijing completely denied the existence of the camps which it began building in 2016, despite independently verified satellite images that showed dozens of facilities in use and under construction.

But the evidence was ultimately so overwhelming that it changed tack, admitting camps but describing them as “re-education” centres aimed at better equipping Uyghurs and other Central Asian ethnic minorities, including Kazakhs.

“The training has only one purpose: to learn laws and regulations … to eradicate from the mind thoughts about religious extremism and violent terrorism, and to cure ideological diseases,” Human Rights Watch quoted a speech by the Chinese Communist Youth League Xinjiang branch from March 2017.

“If the education is not going well, we will continue to provide free education until the students achieve satisfactory results and graduate smoothly.”

Beijing has long instituted campaigns again the Uyghurs who are Muslim and ethnically Turkic, including an early policy of “Hanisation” — sending millions of the majority Han ethnic Chinese to live in Xinjiang. A similar policy has been executed in Tibet.

In June veteran Chinese researcher and German academic Adrian Zenz released research detailing the state subjecting minority women to pregnancy checks, forced implantation of intra-uterine devices, sterilisation and abortion.

Beijing has a particularly poor track record when it comes to population control. Honed during the dark years of the one-child policy from 1979-2015 when forced abortions — including late-term terminations and sterilisation — through its Orwellian family planning bureaucracy.

However, most ethnic minorities in China, particularly those in impoverished rural areas, were exempted from the one-child policy, allowing the populations of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang to grow in recent decades.

After Zenz’s report, a group of 27 countries including Australia and New Zealand filed a letter with the UN saying: “We call on China to uphold its national laws and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief in Xinjiang and across China.

“We call also on China to refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uyghurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.”

Since becoming Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister in 2018,  Marise Payne has moved China’s human rights abuses to the fore and has spoken out regularly against its action in Xinjiang. They had previously generally been swept under the carpet by her predecessor, Julie Bishop, most likely over fear of trade-based retribution.

It is not just in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China that Uyghurs suffer egregious persecution. It also happens in countries including Australia. The Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department has a program of harassment against the estimated 500,000 Uyghurs living outside China and engage in abuses against family inside China.

China’s abuses of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are the first gulags of the 21st century, no different from Nazi Germany’s concentration camps or Soviet Russia’s gulags.

China’s aim is to destroy Uyghur culture, identity and future population. It’s time we called it what it is: genocide.