On 31st July 2022 the group Stand4Uyghurs is staging a series of coordinated, international demonstrations outside Chinese embassies and consulates, including in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, writes Dan Ross.
The narrative of the Uyghur genocide or Uyghur oppression – it is seemingly not quite settled yet as to whether it is the one, the other, or both – is nonetheless a familiar one to most by now. Xinjiang represents a physical and ideological front line for the United States, its allies and cheerleaders in the press in the new Cold War against China.
It is hardly surprising either: a bombardment of reports in the media and from activist groups describe how terrible Uyghurs’ lives are in Xinjiang. People are concerned, despite having little knowledge of the culture, history and customs of the Uyghurs or their region.
So, how about learning some of the neglected facts that our media never tell us?
In the 73-year history of the People’s Republic of China, the population of the Uyghurs doubled, and doubled again, from 3.6 million in 1949 to 11.6 million today. In the last 20 years alone that population has grown by over 3 million, a higher rate than anywhere else in China.
Similarly, the region’s GDP has grown from ¥1.23billion (£146m) to ¥1.4 trillion over the same period. In 2021 President Xi Jinping declared victory in the decades long campaign to eradicate extreme poverty in China, a feat confirmed by the World Bank. Nearly 3 million rural Uyghurs have been lifted out of extreme poverty as a result of this astonishing achievement.
The Uyghur language (one of two officially recognised languages in Xinjiang) is written and spoken everywhere, from public signs, books, & radio and television programmes. There are many newspapers and magazines in different languages, since there are nearly 50 ethnic minority groups in the region. Children in Xinjiang have 15 years’ free education, more than the average nine years for children in the rest of the country.
Uyghur cultural heritage and customs are on the Chinese national heritage list and the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the latter supported by the Chinese government. Congress Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Shewkey Imin, and Government Chairman, Erkin Tunitaz, are but two of many high-ranking public officials of Uyghur origin.
There are over 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang. Islamic institutions have been renovated, including Masjid Yanghang and Id Kah Mosque. The China Islamic Institute provides education for anyone interested in working for Islamic institutes in China, and has built new ones across the region.
So why have these facts never been reported by our media, political figures and activist groups in the West, who claim to be ‘extremely concerned’ about people in Xinjiang?
All the West’s accusations, reports and investigations about Xinjiang are conducted by Adrian Zenz, a religious fanatic “led by God” in his motivated anti-communist and self-styled scholarly and academic work; by an ‘independent think tank’, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Defence; and organizations like the CIA’s ‘National Endowment for Democracy’ (NED).
Western media organizations amplify their words, even though most of the “proof” amounts to grainy satellite images, cartoon depictions, photo-shopped images and witnesses with enormous gaps and contradictions in their stories.
All of this is not to say that Xinjiang is a paragon of perfect peace and social harmony, certainly no less than any other developing region on the planet. There is a heavy security presence in Xinjiang because terrorist attacks have occurred frequently. Religious extremists have advocated violence, separation and even ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, a region that is, as previously noted, home to several ethnic groups.
Terrorist attacks were common across Xinjiang and even spread to the rest of China in the years up to 2017, causing both financial damage and great loss of life.
The Turkistan Islamic Movement (TIM), an ally of Al Qaeda, has carried out hundreds of attacks over the last 20 years, including a spate of bus bombings and a plane hijacking in the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games, and numerous bombings, gun attacks and knife attacks. It is proscribed as a terrorist organisation not just by the Chinese government but numerous others including Britain, the European Union, the United Nations and even, until 2020, the United States.
TIM extremists have also targeted not only the Han, but non-Uyghur minorities as well as moderate Uyghur Muslims, such as the imam of Id Kah Mosque, Juma Tayir, who was opposed to radicalism and brutally murdered at the age of 74 in 2014 by terrorists outside the mosque after morning prayers. 4 other imams of different mosques in Xinjiang have also been targeted and murdered. Where extremists have controlled areas, Uyghurs themselves have been forced to abandon their traditional Uyghur culture, including music and dancing, while crying at funerals and singing at weddings were forbidden, echoing experiences more familiarly reported from across the border in Afghanistan under Taliban and Mujahedeen rule.
Such tragedies in Xinjiang are rarely if ever mentioned in the West, by those who claim to care about the people living there.
To counter this campaign of terror the Chinese government used de-radicalization methods, similar to methods used in many other countries, providing people with proper education, and vocational opportunities.
Many graduates of such schemes run businesses, improved the yield of their farmlands, or use the computer skills they have developed to earn stable incomes.
As a result, not one terrorist attack has happened in Xinjiang since 2017. Villages have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Ethnic minority women work in every industry. Minority children receive full-time education. Household incomes have increased. Many tourists travel to Xinjiang every year. People of all religions celebrate their religious festivals without fear of reprisal.
The UNHCR visit to Xinjiang headed by the then High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, took place in April and May 2022. Following talks with people from all walks of life, including religions leaders, the agency found nothing in Xinjiang about forced labour by the authorities, let alone evidence of genocide.
Are these realities enough to confound the West’s false Xinjiang narrative?
This information is readily available to anyone that cares to look. If you were convinced that China was conducting a secretive genocide before, and remain convinced that it is conducting a mass repression under a clever PR strategy still, or that you think this article simply peddles tired old ‘communist propaganda’, I ask: just what, if not evidence itself, would it actually take for you to change your mind?