Quite literally, China is destroying the Uyghur Muslim identity, turning the new generation into Han Chinese

by John Dobson

London: If you travel to Turpan in the Xinjiang region of Western China, thousands of miles from Beijing, you’ll come across a huge building complex. The Chinese government calls this a “vocational education and training centre”. You’ll notice something rather odd about the complex. At regular intervals around the high walls and barbed wire are watchtowers, the kind you normally see around prison compounds. These watchtowers are permanently manned by armed guards. If you try to photograph the complex you will almost certainly be arrested by the police. Don’t bother though, it’s perfectly clear on Google Earth.

There’s no point in asking the locals what’s going on inside the complex as they will be too scared to talk to you. They look up and see facial recognition cameras on lampposts every 50 metres or so, complete with sensitive microphones which can hear every whisper. They know that any cooperation with foreigners would result in almost certain incarceration.

Turpan is just one of many such complexes throughout Xinjiang region. Satellite imaging has revealed 73 different camps, some of which have doubled in size over the past two years. They have been specifically designed to accommodate around a million of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities, mostly Uyghurs, but also Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. All of them are Sunni Muslims.

So what’s so secret about a “vocational education and training centre”? To get an answer you have to talk to former “detainees” who have fled China. They will tell you that they were herded into these camps under the threat of violence. Once there they say they were forced under the threat of torture to renounce Islam, while pledging loyalty to China’s ruling Communist party. They talk of endless brainwashing and humiliation. All are required to study communist propaganda for hours every day and chant slogans, giving thanks and wishing for a long life to President Xi Jinping.

A particularly disturbing report by the BBC this month revealed that Xinjiang’s children, as young as 2, are being systematically separated from their families and placed in secure “state boarding schools”. They are forced to speak Chinese and spend days chanting communist propaganda. Official documents available online show that in the past few years there has been a vast programme of building such schools in Xinjiang region. Critics of China’s government claim that this is an orchestrated programme to isolate and re-educate the children from their Uyghur Muslim communities.

The policy of the Chinese government, always long-term, is absolutely clear. They are attempting to control the whole adult Muslim community in Xinjiang region while raising a new generation, cut off from their parent’s religious beliefs, cultural knowledge and even their own language. Quite literally, they are destroying the Uyghur Muslim identity, turning the new generation into Han Chinese. Many are calling this “cultural genocide”.

There is also a darker side to Chinese activity in Xinjiang; harvesting of human organs. At the recent international “China Tribunal” in London evidence was given that over the last 18 months, literally every Uyghur man, woman and child, about 10 million people, have been blood and DNA tested, compatible with tissue matching for organ transplants.

The China Tribunal focused mainly on the Falun Gong, another Chinese religious minority numbering about 20 million, concluding that “beyond reasonable doubt they are a principal source of forced organ harvesting for the lucrative transplant industry in China”. While admitting that it did not have sufficient evidence of forced organ harvesting from the Uyghurs, the Tribunal did conclude, however, that “by virtue of their incarceration, blood and DNA testing, their vulnerability to being used as a bank of organs is obvious”. Some would say that Uyghur forced organ harvesting is inevitable.

But what does the Chinese government claim is their reason for spending such a staggering amount of money in Xinjiang? “Internal and external hostile forces including separatists, religious extremists and terrorists are distorting history and facts to split the country apart”, the state-run Xinhua News Agency stated last Sunday. Beijing denies any allegations of torture or political indoctrination and insists that the camps are simply “vocational training centres designed to fight Islamic terrorism”.

Last week, in a letter to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, a group of 22 nations urged China to end its “mass arbitrary detentions and related human violations” and called on Beijing to allow UN experts to access the region. Eighteen EU countries plus Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand were co-signatories.

As China’s action is against Muslim minorities, you might expect Muslim countries to lead the way in condemning China. Far from it. Not a single Muslim nation appeared among the signatories.

Incredibly, four days later, 37 other countries which had clearly been recruited by Beijing, jumped to China’s defence with their own letter praising China’s human rights record and dismissing the reported detention of Muslims. “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation measures”, the letter claimed, adding “the people there are happy, fulfilled and secure”. Nearly half the signatories were Muslim majority nations, including Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

So why are these Muslims countries, especially Pakistan, which normally supports the plight of Muslims worldwide, shamefully kowtowing to China in the face of such convincing evidence? Why are they not only turning a blind eye but actually sanctioning one of the biggest assaults on Islam in modern times? The answer lies in China’s formidable power in finance and trade. Pakistan is a major recipient and its acquiescence in praising China rather than supporting its Muslim brothers indicates that the Belt and Road Initiative has been weaponised and is now a force-multiplier in China’s international diplomacy. Sadly for the Uyghurs, however, the Belt is fastened securely around their mouths to prevent them from talking, and the Road leads to a concentration camp.