LAHIRI: International answer to China is pertinent


Column: Ethical Questions

For much of the last decade, the Uighur people of Xinjiang have been subject to discriminatory surveillance, oppression, internment and many other forms of state-sponsored abuse at the hands of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Xinjiang party leader Chen Quanguo. 

In an effort to promote cultural, ideological and ethnic homogeneity, the Chinese government has targeted Uighurs, who they claim are dangerous religious extremists. In 2014, China enacted its harshest policies against Uighurs in the name of the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism.” 

The basis for these policies came directly from Xi's vocalization of the threat of terrorism and the necessity of the rule of law especially in underdeveloped regions with large ethnic populations, or more specifically, regions that are home to China’s 10 Muslim ethnic groups. 

The Uighurs, the largest ethnic population in Xinjiang, have long been subjected to discrimination by the Chinese government. As Muslims in a country that formally prohibits the practice of Islam and severely represses religious expression in the daily lives of its citizens, the Uighurs are seen as challengers to China’s Han majority and to the Communist Party of China (CCP) in general. 

Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang have amounted to violence which has claimed the lives of many. In 2009, 200 people, mostly Han, were killed in Urumqi surrounding these clashes. 

Xinjiang has smothered the Uighur identity by placing Uighurs in political re-education camps, marginalizing the Uighur language and prioritizing Mandarin and even banning Muslim names for Uighur babies, according to a 2018 report conducted by Human Rights Watch. 

Furthermore, the report found that the Chinese government gauges political loyalty among Uighurs by placing them in three categories: trustworthy, average and untrustworthy. 

Because the CCP has a tight grip over the dissemination of information surrounding its policies, the world lacks crucial data about the scope of China’s treatment of Uighurs. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a non-governmental organization, estimated in 2018 that 2 to 3 million Uighurs were forced to attend re-education camps or sessions. 

The CHRD report cites regulations introduced by China in 2017 entitled “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region De-Extremism Regulations” as the government’s justification for discrimination against and detention of Uighurs based on the nature of their physical expressions and actions, including but not limited to whether they have long beards, wear headscarves, consume Chinese media or follow Islamic dietary restrictions. 

One of the most disturbing aspects of the regime’s treatment of Uighurs is the role of biomedical technology in their oppression. In detention camps, Chinese officials have collected blood samples from Uighurs either under the guise of a “free health check” or without consent altogether. 

Genetic data collected from these blood samples and from other DNA samples, facial scans and voice recordings are then used by the Chinese government to create facial recognition technology that identifies Uighurs. This technology is integral to the racial profiling and surveillance of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in China. 

While China has long been notoriously pervasive in its policies of monitoring and restricting all of its citizens’ personal freedoms, it strengthened its regional data system, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, with artificial intelligence (AI) that relies upon the genetic data of ethnic minorities, all in the name of national security. 

The targeted and AI-augmented surveillance of Uighurs fuels the cycle of arbitrary detention that has ultimately become a genocidal campaign, in consideration of practices of forced sterilization that lead to infertility and even death. 

In October, two dozen countries supported a joint statement on Xinjiang at the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The statement condemned China’s mass detention and surveillance of Uighurs, among other human rights violations. 

The Uighur Act of 2019 was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits approval from the Senate. It calls for the implementation of sanctions against China until it closes its detention camps and ceases its abusive activity in Xinjiang. 

Efforts like these to condemn China for its human rights violations are crucial in light of China’s rising influence in world politics. The United Nations has largely been unable to take decisive action against China due to the country's position on the Security Council. China's military strength also makes it a difficult target for unilateral military interventions. 

If China is ever to cease its genocidal campaign, the world must renew its attitudes surrounding the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, to which the international community responded with crippling sanctions that China was forced to answer to. 

Anuska Lahiri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. Her column, “Ethical Questions,” runs on alternate Mondays.

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