An alliance of 39 countries rebuked China at UN for its actions at Hong Kong and Xinjiang. This group included the UK, Us and Germany. The allegations include forced labour, killings, torture and sterilization.
The German ambassador Christopher Heusgen said, “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and other minorities, and more reports are emerging of forced labour and forced birth control including sterilization.” He also said that the Chinese authorities should respect basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Beijing retaliated by saying that the camps holding hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities are actually “vocational education centres” intended for ideological correction of ideals like terrorism and religious extremism.
China’s allies supported China at the UN. Pakistan read out a statement on behalf of 55 countries. Pakistan stated that China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang are internal matters, and the UN should refrain from interfering in them. Cuba, on behalf of 45 countries said that China’s camps at Xinjiang are not a measure to prosecute minorities, but a necessary step against terrorism.
Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador at the UN confirmed this. He said that Xinjiang is not a religious, ethnic or human rights issue. The nature of this issue is counterterrorism.
China has also stated that it can invite independent observers as long as they keep an open mind. He added, “It should not be prejudged that China has violated human rights.”
The Hong Kong- China conflict goes back a long way. In 1997, the UK gave up control of Hong Kong to China. The Chinese government allowed Hong Kong a special constitution, according to which they were given certain rights not applicable for the rest of China.
These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In June 2020, when the rest of the world was reeling from Covid-19 cases and deaths, China introduced a new security law. This law prevents Hong Kongers from expressing anti-government sentiments.
Citizens of Hong Kong, outraged by this law, started protesting. On 10th October, the police intercepted one such peaceful demonstration and used tear shells and water cannons on the peaceful mass. The mass responded by fighting back with sticks and petrol-bombs. The situation at the protest escalated when the police opened fire. 66 were injured. One eighteen-year-old student took a bullet to the chest.
Refugees who have managed to escape Hong Kong have shared their experiences. Stories of blatant abuse of power and deportation to the Chinese mainland for investigation under torture are common.
Countries like Canada and the UK have opened their border to Hong Kong refugees seeking asylum. China has threatened Canada, stating that Canada should reconsider if it really cares about the “good health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians residing in Hong Kong and Canadian companies operating around Hong Kong.
The Uighurs or the Uyghurs are a Turkish, minority ethnic group. They live in China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang, located in the north-western region of China. The CCP has always been intolerant to this minority community, with conflicts dating back to the 1950s.
There have been instances where the Chinese Government has interfered in the religious practices of this ethnicity group. Allegations range from force-feeding during the month of Ramzan to forced incarceration.
The Human Rights Watch has described China’s minority policy as a “multi-tiered system of surveillance, control, and suppression of religious activity” enforced by the state authorities. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 Uighurs are currently being held up in “re-education camps.”
There have been reports that state that these camps practice forced labour, sterilization and birth control. Recently, the Chinese authorities have tried to restrict and reduce the Uighur birth-rate and increase the Han fertility rate. The Han community is also an ethnic minority who are in constant tussles with the Uighurs.
China has countered these allegations. According to the Chinese authorities, these measures were necessary to fight Islamic terrorism and Separatism.
Terrorist groups do exist in China. The most prominent among them is the Turkistan Islamic Party, who seek separation of “East Turkestan” from China. It was formed in 2007. After that, it has been responsible for many terrorist attacks. According to the Chinese authorities, the TIP is responsible for over 200 attacks, 162 deaths and 440 injuries.
Pakistani and Afghanistani Uighurs have joined forces with the Turkistan Islamic Party and participated in extremist conflicts like the Syrian Civil War.
The Chinese government believes that the Turkistan Islamic Party has links to the Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Al-Qaeda has supported the TIP several times. Once, it issued a statement naming the Xinjiang region “East Turkestan.” CCP believes that some members of the TIP receive their training directly from Al-Qaeda.
However, the existence of terrorist groups does not justify China’s arbitrary incarceration of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang area. Most Uighurs who join hands with Jihadist groups are the ones who had to escape China. In most cases, these citizens relocate to Pakistan or Afghanistan, where they are introduced to Islamic terrorist groups.
The ones to bear the brunt of China’s anger are often the peaceful Uighur Muslims living in China. They are often deported to re-education camps for reasons as petty as fasting during the month of Ramzan. The arbitrariness of these incarcerations, harsh treatments, and lack of following due process are abominable.
The many different trade and aid policies being pursued by China globally have been heavily criticised but can developing countries become more independent or will China’s policy reform?