The interviewee has requested anonymity. They will be referred to under the pseudonym Asahd in this article.
Finding out that your brother has been detained by the authorities in an act of sinicization is not easy. In late March of this year, Asahd, who lives abroad, received a cryptic call from an employee of his in Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority province northwest of China, with minimal information on the whereabouts of his brother. In fear of the state’s heavy monitoring, with further discretion it was confirmed that his brother’s disappearance was not random. His brother, who is of Uighur ethnicity, is one of many from the Muslim-Chinese community who have been forcefully taken from their homes and placed into what is believed to be internment camps shrouded in secrecy in the Xinjiang region for “re-education” purposes.
These internment camps are a result of China’s ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs. To date, one million Uighurs are detained with no contact with the outside world. The reason behind all of this? China’s goal for their political indoctrination is to maintain a homogenous nation where all beliefs, values, and practices are aligned with the communist country’s agenda.
China’s history with the Uighurs dates back to the 18th century when Xinjiang, officially referred to as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, came under Chinese control in 1949. Xinjiang hosts about ten million Uighurs and a few other Muslim minorities. Uighurs, unlike the Han Chinese majority ethnic group, share similarities with the Turkish, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks when it comes to language, culture, and religion.
Rising tensions between the Han and the Uighurs have led to the assimilation of the latter. In the crackdown, the Chinese government has prohibited the use of the Uighur language and has banned all educational institutions from teaching it since 2017. Under the guise of eliminating religious extremism, in their new legislation, religious practices such as praying and observing fast in the Islamic month of Ramadan are forbidden, as well as wearing full-face coverings and growing beards. Hua Chunying, the Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman said that “China is committed to ensuring the religious freedom of the Chinese citizens,” yet reportedly, those detained in the internment camps are forced to renounce their religion. Several accounts say that detainees were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol (both prohibited in Islam), recite the Communist Party’s propaganda songs, and undergo physical and psychological torture.
Furthermore, China has increased censorship and surveillance with Xinjiang being its guinea pig. When asked about the current situation, Asahd replied that the state has been applying the latest high-tech instruments for controlling the population such as by mandating surveillance trackers in cars and ordering the surrender of passports.
Xinjiang is also the centerpiece in China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” initiative. For China to start their campaign for global dominance and investment into the Occident, control of Xinjiang is necessary. The province, which once used to be the heart of the Silk Road, borders seven countries and is a crucial gateway for imports and exports in and out of Central Asia. Xinjiang is a transportation, commercial, and logistics hub and is the best place for China to expand their connections not only with neighbouring countries but as well as with the west.
China has received international backlash, but little to no action is currently being taken. The UN Committee called for an immediate end of the internment camps and for China to release wrongly accused individuals with no misdemeanour to their names. The US State Department and the Trump Administration are reportedly considering sanctions against companies linked to the Xinjiang crackdown, as well as those involved in the development of the internment camps and surveillance systems.
China’s response? Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, said that if any sanctions were to be imposed, the Chinese government would have no choice but to respond in a proportionate manner.
“If such actions are taken,” Cui reportedly stated, “we have to retaliate”.
By Sumaiya Hassan
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