By Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado

What exactly is the information on which Pompeo and his team have based the definition of the situation in Xinjiang as genocide? We do not know for sure. The most popular report of the tragedy in Xinjiang is the one elaborated in August 2018 by a United Nations panel on racial discrimination, in which the conclusion was that there was a campaign of public discrimination against the Uyghurs. However, members of this panel elaborated very different conclusions. Ms. McDougall, vice-chair of the Committee, placed the number of Uyghur detained at two million, although she offered no source for that figure[1]. Meanwhile, another panel member, Yemhelhe Mint Mohamed, referred to “arbitrary and mass detention of almost 1 million Uighurs”[2]. How can so despair numbers come from the same committee? What is more, in the official report they wrote: “Estimates of the number of people detained range from tens of thousands to over a million”[3]. What is the credibility of the later declarations to the media then? The media reports talk often about “numerous reports” without specifying any, but among all the sources one standed out: the one by “activist group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, which said in a report last month that 21 percent of all arrests recorded in China in 2017 were in Xinjiang”[4].

 

Interestingly, this report by Chinese Human Right Defenders[5], based on official data from the Xinjiang autonomous government published online, puts the number of people arrested in Xinjiang (in general, not only Uyghur) in 330,918 between the years 2013-2017. The number was very high in comparison with the rate in the rest of the country, and showed an obvious increase in the rate of people arrested in the last years of the study. But it does seem that this report does not hold the declarations of the panel members. However, if you read any article or news today regarding Xinjiang, you will see repeated that there is evidence that “a million of the Muslim minority group are being held in camps”[6]. Not only the number is clearly exaggerated as per what the facts show, but it is even expressed in a way in which the arrested people are, in the present, still held. Not that they entered and exited through the years, as all personal accounts of former arrested show and the CCP affirms, but that there is currently and indefinitely one million Uyghurs in (concentration) “camps”. Until when will it be stated of implied that this “1 million” Uyghurs “are” in those alleged camps?

After this report, another number, 1.1 million, became commonly mentioned: it was the result of a report by Adrian Zenz, an extremely controversial scholar, a declared anti-communist and extremely religious person that stated that he felt led by God to fight communism, who seems to be the only scholar in the world able to discern what is going on in Xinjiang since his reports are cited by a large majority of the news in Xinjiang. Try to find a news report in which Zenz is not mentioned, it will be hard. So, we have that in a research published in a think tank (so, not peer reviewed), Zenz estimated the CCP “held anywhere from 100,000 to slightly more than a million people”[7]. Such a broad estimate! The very subjective analysis was based on just how much food the institutions (what kind of institutions we do not know for sure, they could be prisons, detention camps, normal schools… It is all up to Zenz’s discretion from a desk in Germany to decide) were purchasing. After this report, the number was again repeated everywhere and can still be found as the main source for the allegation of genocide in Xinjiang: “Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, said the number ‘could be closer to 1.1 million, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region’”[8].

 

Another key report in which allegations of genocide are generally based is, of course, provided by Zenz, “who quoted official Chinese documents showing a surge in the number of sterilizations performed in the region – from fewer than 50 per 100,000 people in 2016 to almost 250 per 100,000 people in 2018”[9]. It is interesting that, being official public documents, Zenz seems to the only academic able to find and study them, and so he becomes the source of all news, despite the large number of scholars in the field of China Studies competing for visibility. Even more surprising is that he has to publish his studies in “think tanks” rather than in peer-reviewed academic journals. Definitely his investigations raise some questions and would deserve deeper corroboration, and I am not in position to utterly reject them. CNN published the response[10] of the Xinjiang government in regards to the publication of Zenz’s article. The Chinese response was that “the birth rate in the region had dropped from 15.88 per 1,000 people in 2017 to 10.69 per 1,000 people in 2018”. This numbers, even if shocking, put the birth rate in Xinjiang in numbers similar to those for the whole of China: 10.94 per 1,000 in China in 2018[11] and 10.48 per 1,000 in 2019[12].

 

The communication by the Chinese government continued by affirming that this decrease was caused by “the comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy”, while alluding that “the population of Xinjiang rose by more than 3 million people, or almost 14%, between 2010 and 2018, with the Uyghur population growing faster than the region’s average rate”. The Chinese government and its media also contend that the natural population growth in Xinjiang went from 11.4 per mille in 2017 to 6.13 per 1,000 in 2018, while nationwide it was 5.32 per mille in 2017 and 3.81 per 1,000 in 2018. Therefore, there seems to be a drastic reduction of population growth in Xinjiang but it is still almost double than in the rest of China[13]. The key here is that, as far as we know, the measures adopted by the CCP seem to simply equate or bring closer the birth rates and population growth in Xinjiang with that of the rest of the country. Of course, one can dislike this, like many citizens dislike abortion (Zenz most likely does, since he is a conservative Christian) and the one-child policy, but this does not seems to qualify as genocide.

The CNN report also added that “up until 2015, the Chinese government enforced a ‘one-child’ family planning policy countrywide, which allowed most urban couples no more than one baby. Ethnic minorities, such as the Uyghur people, were typically allowed to have up to three but Xinjiang expert Zenz said that families from these groups often had many more children”. It seems, then, that the new policies introduced around 2016 came to assimilate Xinjiang to the rest of China. It seems an interventionist manoeuvre, accompanied with lack of religious freedom (as in Tibet, as in the rest of China for that matter), and more. But is that genocide? Is it an extermination project according to the commonly understood definition of genocide? Or is it just a an opportunistic “wording” to exacerbate a Cold War, taking some traces of truth and then turning it into something what is not—the exact nature of the post-truth that runs the world since the arrival of Trump?

 

Of course, there is a question regarding the “voluntarily” (as the Chinese government claims) disposition of Uyghur women to be sterilised or to access birth control measures. There are plenty of reasons to believe that many women in Xinjiang have been forcibly sterilised, and this is brutal independently of whether these women already had several children, or whether it was done with good intentions of modernization and family planning, in order to avoid religious radicalism and to give women a more vibrant role in the economy. The question is that these abuses have been going on in China for decades, hand in hand with the one-child policy, and do not seem to be a new thing exclusively targeted to Uyghurs. The context is important and provides nuances on the possible goals that this measure can have. Also the contrast between sterilisations in Xinjiang in contrast with the rest of China deserves attention. According to the information provided by Zenz, the number of sterilizations per 100,000 inhabitants in China has been between 5 and 7 times higher than Xinjiang at least between 2010 and 2015, being virtually the same in 2016 (due to the drop in sterilizations in the rest of China and the demographic policy change). Then it reverted and increased greatly in Xinjiang compared to China during 2017-2018. However, from these same data it could be extracted that the previous birth policies on the Han population, whose sterilization ratios were as higher (in 2010 it was 143 per 100 thousand inhabitants in China and 20 in Xinjiang) as they have been recently in Xinjiang (according to Zenz, in 2018 it climbed up to 243 per 100,000 inhabitants in Xinjiang to 33 in China), were also an act of genocide over the Han ethnic. Of course, for Zenz “these actions fell under the United Nations definition of ‘genocide’ specifically ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’”[14]. The question is: all births or some births within the group? Will it stabilise at rates similar to the rest of the country once Xinjiang has caught up or will it go further? I cannot read the future, but some anti-communist haters seem to know perfectly well the intention of the CCP to exterminate Muslims in Xinjiang. The time will tell.

Besides Zenz, but not even having a shadow of his influence, a few reports by a couple of think tanks of doubtful credibility (like the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra-based think tank that is significantly funded by the United States arms industry among others, based its most famous report on the chiefly subjective analysis of satellite images from Google Earth, over the background provided by Adrian Zenz reports[15] and other ) and the accounts of some Uyghur exiles, there is not much clear and objective information about what is happening in Xinjiang.

 

This is not to say that nothing happens in Xinjiang, that it is all the result of a conspiracy. Nothing further. In Xinjiang it is clear that there is harsh discrimination against ethnic/religious minorities, that the arbitrary arrest of Muslims and their detention in re-education camps is a shameful fact. Also there are reasons to believe that the conditions of those arrested are quite dreadful. Now, from there to calling them concentration camps and equating them commonly with those of Nazi Germany (like Pompeo did when declared the genocide in Xinjiang one day before the end of Trump, think about the strategy behind this extreme decision at that time[16]) or with the Soviet Gulag (like the China haters in Taipei Times often do[17]), or to keep repeating the dubious number of 1 million as being “still” and forever detained, there is a world of exaggeration, a discursive strategy based on building an enemy at convenience. That is where the conspiracy is, not in this article.

 

What happens around Xinjiang and has been exemplified with the decision to call it genocide (while the United States has not yet considered the disaster that occurred in Myanmar with the Rohingya as genocide, even when there is objective evidence of mass killings and a massive wave of refugees that corroborates the severity of it), it would be the equivalent of basing a diplomatic measure on the Catalan independence bid based exclusively on what the Catalan secessionists and their propaganda apparatus had to say. Or to take a diplomatic stance on the conflict between Taiwan and China based solely on the reasons given by the staunchest pro-independence activists on the island. Or if we analyse the US elections by exclusively attending the perspective of those followers of Trump that claimed that elections had been rigged and there were plenty of proof of it. This is not about rejecting these opinions, far from it. The key to the problem is that, by pure logic, the positions of the activists most involved in the dichotomous struggle between good and evil, and the interviews to refugees who evidently hate China and also need to tell a story that supports their refugee status, often in Western countries where the anti-China narrative is well received, are biased. These must be studied but always under the doubt that all academic study requires, searching for proof in their narratives but not simply trusting whatever they have to say. The same doubt rests, of course, on the Chinese government’s assertions that nothing happens in Xinjiang, and that Muslims in the region simply go to class, to learn. Neither one nor the other, situated at both ends of the conflict, should be considered as the only legitimate voice and ultimately be the representatives of the absolute truth. Even less the US, a country founded over the genocide of the Native Americans and built on the backs of slavery; a country involved in the crimes against humanity of the “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, main supporter of the Israeli atrocities in Palestine (genocide?), and recent denier of the sovereignty of the Saharawi in Western Sahara. And Guantanamo (where there were Uyghurs), and the “Muslim travel ban”, the discrimination of Muslims in the US, etc. The fact that for the United States this is just another operation against China should make journalists contrast their information and measure their words much more than they have been doing, out of mere precaution.

 

The problem that arises once we have reached this point—a point that, on the other hand, seems obvious but nevertheless in these times of social polarization and fake-news deserves to be remembered daily, in big headlines—is that China, in effect, does not lend itself to an external investigation of what is happening in Xinjiang. As long as the only information that comes out of Xinjiang is that provided by the CCP and that drawn by exiles (with understandable reasons to be partisan in their reports) and exaggerated by activists entrusted by God to fight communism, it will be highly unlikely that we will get a clear idea of ​​what is really happening in the region. On the other hand, the reluctance of the CCP to allow foreigners to enter Xinjiang to report on this sensitive issue is quite understandable given the excessive creativity and tendency to misrepresent reality in negative terms shown by most analysts and journalists inserted in the anti-China narrative, which is the framework of the current Second Cold War.

 

And meanwhile, extreme measures such as calling what happens in Xinjiang genocide, comparing the CCP with the Nazis or automatically painting any news from China (the China virus) in black to make it fit with the vision of a Manichean conflict between good and evil… this only further polarize the conflict, feed identity nationalisms and hatred towards the “Other” at both sides. The question I leave in the air here is: who does all this benefit?

[1] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-un-committee-accuses-china-of-turning-uyghur-dominated-region-into-no/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights-un/u-n-says-it-has-credible-reports-that-china-holds-million-uighurs-in-secret-camps-idUSKBN1KV1SU?utm_source=reddit.com

[3] See page 7, Retrieved from https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=1196&Lang=en

[4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights-un/u-n-says-it-has-credible-reports-that-china-holds-million-uighurs-in-secret-camps-idUSKBN1KV1SU?utm_source=reddit.com

[5] https://www.nchrd.org/2018/07/criminal-arrests-in-xinjiang-account-for-21-of-chinas-total-in-2017/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/25/china-dismisses-pope-franciss-comments-about-persecution-of-uighurs

[7] https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-german-data-diver-who-exposed-chinas-muslim-crackdown-11558431005

[8] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/township-08062018145657.html

[9] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/21/asia/xinjiang-china-response-sterilization-intl-hnk/index.html

[10] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/21/asia/xinjiang-china-response-sterilization-intl-hnk/index.html

[11] https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/2182963/chinas-birth-rate-falls-again-2018-producing-fewest-babies

[12] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51145251

[13] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1211945.shtml

[14] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/21/asia/xinjiang-china-response-sterilization-intl-hnk/index.html

[15] Some of the mot important arguments (among many dubious and often misrepresented sources) of its most popular research, in notes 10 and 15, are related to Zenz research, while notes 11 and 27 are news reports that also uses Zenz as core sources: see https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/19/mike-pompeo-china-uighur-genocide-sanctions-xinjiang

[17] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/09/22/2003743846

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