Baba’s Explainer – UN Report on Xinjiang

  • IASbaba
  • September 5, 2022
  • 0
International Relations
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  • GS-2: India and its neighbourhood
  • GS-2: Human Rights
  • GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

Context: The United Nations human rights office has released a long-delayed and damning report into conditions for the Uyghurs ethnic minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region.

The report details serious rights abuse against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and states that such treatment by China may amount to “crimes against humanity”.

India is currently the third largest carbon emitter in the world, behind the US and China.

Where is Xinjiang and why is it important to China?
  • Xinjiang is a vast but sparsely populated region of mountains, forests and deserts in far northwestern China that borders Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian nations.
  • The ancient Silk Road ran through parts of it and various nationalities and Chinese empires controlled its cities and oases over the centuries, with the Communist Party taking complete control following its 1949 victory in the Chinese civil war.
  • The region contains a wealth of natural resources, including oil, gas and rare earth minerals, but perhaps its most important value is as a strategic buffer that extends China’s influence westward.
  • While China and Russia have largely aligned their foreign policies in recent years, Xinjiang was on the front line of their Cold War rivalry and remains important as an assertion of Chinese influence in Russia’s back yard.
Who are Uighurs?
  • Xinjiang’s Uyghurs, along with the closely related Kazakh and Kyrgyz, are predominantly Turkic Muslims who are culturally, religiously and linguistically distinct from China’s dominant Han ethnic group.
  • Uyghurs established two short-lived independent governments in Xinjiang prior to the Communist Party’s seizure of power.
  • Repression under Communist rule, particularly during the violent 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, led to deep animosity in Xinjiang toward the government, aggravated further by the migration of Han to the region and their domination of political and economic life.
  • The desire for self-rule endured and was nurtured by resentment against heavy-handed Chinese rule.
  • A protest movement began in the 1990s and remained at a relatively low level until simmering anger exploded in a 2009 riot in the regional capital of Urumqi that left an estimated 200 people dead.
  • More violence followed within Xinjiang prompting Chinese leader Xi Jinping to order a massive crackdown starting in 2014.
What are the key highlights of the recent UN report and what is Chinese counter?
  1. Mass Detention
  • Mass Confinement in name of tackling extremism: Beijing has enforced severe security measures in Xinjiang in recent years in what it says are efforts to combat separatism and religious extremism. As part of those operations, Beijing has been accused of confining more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention facilities called “Vocational Education and Training Centres” (VETC) – facilities where individuals are sent for “de-radicalization” and “re-education”.
  • Allegation of Abuse: The UN said there were credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and poor conditions in the VETCs and other facilities, as well as forced medical treatments and incidents of sexual and gender-based violence. The UN also called on China to release all those detained arbitrarily in VETC, prisons, and other detention sites.
  • Legal Systems still in place: Though the Chinese government claims the VETC system has been significantly reduced in scope or retired entirely, the legal frameworks and policies that allowed for the arbitrary and mass detention of the Uighur minority remain in place, the UN said.

Chinese Counter:

  • China claims that the implementation of vocational training in Xinjiang was “in strict compliance with the laws” and with “rigorous, legal oversight”.
  • The training was focused on de-radicalization and behavioural intervention to help trainees change their mindset, re-enter society and re-join their family.
  • According to China, trainees at the VETCs enjoy personal freedoms in terms of movement and correspondence. Trainees return home regularly and can apply to leave the centres to attend to personal matters.
  1. Religious persecution
  • As per UN report, state policies in Xinjiang have also placed severe restrictions on Uighur religious identity and expression.
  • UN report also says that Chinese policies are restricting the right to privacy, freedom of movement, and violations of reproductive rights of Uighur people through discriminatory family planning and birth control policies.
  • Elements of coercion and discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds were also evident in labour and employment schemes purportedly to alleviate poverty and prevent “extremism”.
  • Evidence of the destruction of religious sites in the region is mentioned in the report. The authors say they analysed satellite imagery and found that many religious sites either appeared to have been removed or tampered with.
  • The report also notes that China’s Regulations on Religious Affairs prohibit holding or organising religious activities in the centres.
  • Those who were held, their relatives and monitoring groups describe VETCs as prison-like reeducation centers where inmates were forced to denounce Islam and their traditional culture, while swearing fidelity to the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese Counter:

  • China claims that VETCs respect freedom of religious belief, customs, traditions, and trainees can use their minority spoken and written languages.
  • China says that trainees are, in fact, covered by pension and medical insurance, and receive free health checks
  1. Mass surveillance
  • Surveillance of the Uighur population in Xinjiang, according to the UN report, should not infringe on the freedoms and basic rights of individuals.
  • The UN also called on China to clarify reports of destruction of mosques, religious shrines, and cemeteries – and to suspend such activities in the meantime.

Chinese Counter:

  • China states that the installation of security cameras in rural and urban public places in Xinjiang is consistent with established international practices, and the measure is not designed to target any particular ethnic group.
  1. Rape and sexual violence
  • Several spoke about sexual violence, including rape, at detention centres. Some interviewees said they were forced to perform oral sex during interrogation, while many were stripped naked. Some also recounted being subject to invasive gynaecological examinations
  • The report finds credible indications of violations of reproductive rights in the region. Official figures indicate a sharp decline in birth rates in Xinjiang from 2017, with the birth rate dropping from 15.88 per thousand in 2017 to 8.14 per thousand in 2019.
    • The report, however, adds that the lack of available official data makes it difficult to conclude the full extent of the current enforcement of these policies and associated violations of reproductive rights.

Chinese Counter

  • Beijing registered a strong opposition and denied any abuses in Xinjiang in a 122-page rebuttal.
  • “The so-called assessment is orchestrated and produced by the US and some western forces. It is completely illegal and null and void,” China stated.
  • It further stated that the report seriously violates the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and undermines the credibility and impartiality of the OHCHR.
What will be the outcome for China?
  • The report’s release comes despite China’s growing influence within the U.N. and its pressure campaign against critics in the human rights community.
  • Some observers say the tide of criticism may have prompted Beijing to wind down the detentions earlier than planned to salvage its reputation among Muslim nations and in the developing world
  • Nevertheless, China has maintained its defiance and believes its policies have been effective and should continue to de-radicalize certain sections.
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the U.N. report, saying it was “orchestrated and produced by the U.S. and some Western forces and is completely illegal and void.”
  • China has stated that “The UN report is a patchwork of false information that serves as political tool for the U.S. and other Western countries to strategically use Xinjiang to contain China,”.
  • Thus, we can say that along with Taiwan, Xinjiang will become the contesting point in the tussle between US and China.

Mains Practice Question – How do you analyse the recent UN report on Chinese treatment of Uyghurs in its north western Xinjiang region?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.

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