Biden cannot ignore Uyghur ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang
Beginning in 2017, up to 1.8 million Turkic Muslims, many of whom are Uyghur and Kazakh, have been interned in re-education camps in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. While imprisoned, they suffer bullying, brainwashing, and beatings simply for practicing Islam, mild acts of dissent, and contact with Uyghurs living abroad.
In an interview with National Public Radio, researcher Adrian Zenz said this qualifies as a genocide, as the Chinese party-state is engaging in “suppression of birth,” a key criterion of the United Nations Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. In addition, the Australian Security Policy Institute has uncovered the presence of more than 380 of these facilities in Xinjiang, suggesting a widespread network of camps across the region with no end to the internment in sight.
The Trump administration’s response to this human rights crisis has been inconsistent. Earlier this year, Trump delayed censuring China on the mass internment of Uyghurs, citing his concern regarding trade talks with Beijing. On June 17, 2020, however, Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 into law. This act condemns Chinese party-state actions in Xinjiang, requires continued monitoring for the potential use of sanctions, and discusses harassment of Uyghurs currently living in the United States.
While the Trump administration has not labeled the atrocities in Xinjiang as a genocide, National Security Council Spokesman John Ullyot condemned Beijing’s actions, citing “horrific acts against women, including forced abortion, forced sterilization and other coercive birth control methods,’” among other human rights violations.
Now that a new administration is set to enter the White House in January of 2021, the question turns to how Mr. Biden should approach what appears to be a worsening situation. His administration should take the following three steps:
Engage in multilateral efforts to publicly censure China: The best way forward is for the Biden administration to work with allies that also have large Uyghur exile populations. In particular, the new administration should support Germany in taking greater action. While German politicians have spoken out earlier on this matter, Angela Merkel has avoided the issue, ostensibly to prioritize economic issues. These are not mutually exclusive, and the U.S. and its Western allies should both condemn the violence in Xinjiang and work to foster constructive economic relations with China.
In addition, the United States and its allies should use their influence at the World Bank to ensure that China does not receive funding that would support the internment camps or the persecution of Uyghurs in any way. Finally, while it may seem as though working with Muslim majority states would be an appropriate strategy, this avenue is not expected to be fruitful. These states demonstrate less solidarity with the Uyghurs, as they continue to welcome Chinese investment.
A consistent human rights stance: Aside from China, Mr. Biden should also challenge other countries that commit human rights atrocities. Doing so would present a contrast with the Trump administration, which ignored rights violations in Saudi Arabia, a United States ally. Trump also ceased to criticize North Korea after beginning discussions on a nuclear deal. Also, in the interest of a commitment to justice on United States soil, the new administration should protect overseas Uyghurs from harassment. Finally, the Biden administration should open the borders to Uyghurs who want to immigrate to the United States and grant them asylum. In addition to being a model of freedom at home, allowing Uyghurs to establish themselves permanently in the United States will serve as a way of protecting Uyghur culture outside of China.
Responsible technological cooperation: The United States can continue to work with China on technology, but it should make sure that it is not contributing to surveillance in Xinjiang. The Biden administration can commit to cooperating with China on green technology so that it may continue to make strides in reducing emissions. Even so, the new administration should ensure that American companies do not sell technology that would aid in the continued surveillance of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
The incoming administration has an opportunity to constructively engage with China without ignoring the human rights atrocities in Xinjiang. Articulating a firm stance without alienating Beijing is the best way for the United States to have a meaningful impact with regard to this issue.