In 2018, Radio Free Asia released a report that claimed 120,000 Uyghurs were being held at “re-education” camps in China. Meanwhile, we are seeing headlines of 1 million Muslim Uyghurs allegedly in concentration camps in China. Then the articles go on to say that 1 million Han mobilised to take what belongs to Uyghurs forced out of their homes. Who is right? What is truly occurring in China? Who is responsible for these reports and the circulation of the “1 million people” figure? Which organisations are making these claims? What is the larger, overarching agenda?
As alternative superpowers are rising, even historic client states of imperialism are looking elsewhere for investment and arms. Other nations have already been war-zones, overrun by both military and trade wars, between conventional Western imperialists and emerging global powers. We are all aware of the imperialist wars waged by capitalists against revolutionary, nationalist governments in the third world pursuing socialist/progressive policies which endanger Western corporate mercantilist monopolies. While China cannot be considered communist anymore, there is no question the trade war between the US and China is hotter than ever before. China’s influence in the developing world is ever-increasing due to their less predatory and more even-handed trade practices. This puts the force and Supremacy-based trade of neo-colonial powers at risk.
In order to legislate this war- both military and economic- mass paranoia among the weary masses is necessary.
NATO states are now well aware that ground invasions are far more difficult than they expected in the past. Thus, proxy war has been chosen and the only boots on the ground required are those which provide logistical support.
Xinjiang in modern times and the Turkic people
The term Uyghur is a relatively modern construct, it was used in the early 20th century to characterise the historic Turkic nomads living in what is now Western China. Many Turkic people reject[ed] the name “Uyghur”, preferring to be called Turkic. With over 4 dozen ethnic groups residing in it, Xinjiang is among the most diverse provinces in all of China and it has been similarly diverse throughout history. Uyghur population (as they are known now) has grown in recent times, making them the largest/equally largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.
Traditionally, those who utilised the term “Uyghurstan” were pro-USSR and the USSR agreed with their inclusion into their umbrella of diverse people. The Turkic people, however, were quite diverse in their sympathies, with others holding “pan-Islamist” pro-Ottoman sentiments.
The USSR supported groups including Turkic ones against Kuomintang Nationalist rule in China. Xinjiang was split between pro-USSR rule under Shicai and Kuomintang rule in the West. While the Soviets left Shicai’s side in East Turkistan to fight the approaching Nazis, Sheng Shicai opportunistically betrayed the USSR and turned to Kuomintang China. Meanwhile, other Turkic nationalists were anti-Communist from the beginning, such as Masud Sabri, and were loyal to the Kuomintang Nationalist government of China.
After the Sino-Soviet split, the USSR backed Turkistan revolutionary parties against communist China as well. As a result of this and China’s rapprochement with the West, China backed the Mujahedin aligned fighters in Afghanistan.
Separatism and Separatists Today
This is where Western powers and “Islamists” become involved. Since the 1990s, terrorists have actively been engaging in “Jihad” against what they call “occupying, atheists, Communist China”. This includes the Turkistan Islamic Party, a terrorist group aligned with Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. It receives support from Turkey and other key pro-Western states in NATO’s sphere of influence. The TIP is also known for fighting in Syria as part of the international “Jihad” campaign spanning over decades; this “Jihad” is conveniently always waged against enemies and competitors of Western imperialism. The Muslim Brotherhood and other forebears of Al-Qaeda were main players of this international pro-Western, anti-Socialist, anti-Communist “Jihad”.
Among the training camps in Afghanistan were many Uyghurs who were trained for so-called “Jihad” against China- this diverse group of “Islamist” fighters operated in the presence of Osama bin Laden as late as 2001 and were to travel/return to places such as the Libyan Jamahiriya and Serbia to assassinate their leaders or overthrow their governments. They also went to Somalia, Egypt, Chechnya, Yemen, and Iraq to fight. Eric Margolis shed light on who was involved and who oversaw this.
“The CIA was going to use them in the event of a war with China, or just to raise hell there, and they were trained and supported out of Afghanistan, some of them with Osama bin Laden’s collaboration. The Americans were up to their ears with this.”
Fighters trained here attempted to assassinate Libyan revolutionary guide Muammar Gaddafi on multiple occasions. Today, remnants and successors of this same web of “Jihadis” is fighting in Syria against the Syrian Arab Army and its allies. They maintain close relations and collaboration with Al-Nusra (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Fateh in Syria.
Turkey’s appeals to the Uyghur population as well as their fueling of separatism with both their propaganda and political support has effectively made them a third-party proxy for NATO to fight China. Lately, their preoccupation with the Kurdish issue has drawn their full attention from the “Xinjiang problem”.
The forces leading separatism have been responsible for a large number of terrorist attacks in China such as the Kashgar attack before the Beijing Olympics. Suicide bombings and stabbings are common; separatist riots have been portrayed as peaceful protests in the Western media and by Al-Jazeera. The Turkistan Islamic party and Al-Qaeda have both assumed responsibility for many of these attacks.
Terrorists with separatist sympathies also stabbed and killed Imam Juma Tahir who was returning home from Fajr prayer, soon after Eid al-Fitr 2014. The Jamestown Foundation, South China Morning Post (formerly owned by Rupert Murdoch), and World Uyghur Congress blamed alleged Chinese repression of the Uyghurs for the murder of the Imam. The ETESA (based in Turkey) and the UETESA (both Turkic “Islamist” separatist groups) applauded the assassination and lauded the killers.
Turkey has repeatedly called for boycotts and other methods of political and economic pressure against China under the pretext of China’s alleged repression of the Uyghur Muslim community. Naturally, these calls were echoed by the US as well. US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, was in Beijing in 2011. Under the foolish notion he could capitalise on the so-called “Arab spring”, he yelled “take down China!” in the streets of Beijing. He was laughed at and mocked, but the hostility of the West and its contempt for international sovereignty was exposed (if it hadn’t been before).
Which organizations are alleging Chinese human rights abuses against the Uyghurs?
Of the main fronts leading the charge publicising the repeated “1 million people” figure are the following- World Uyghur Congress, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), Radio Free Asia, the Jamestown Foundation, and the NED (extension of the US State Dept). These are the sources using the buzzwords “concentration camps”, “mass internment”, and “religious persecution”.
Firstly, these organizations claim UN conducted an investigation and confirmed their reports and allegations. The UN did not conduct any such investigation- nothing was ever reported about 1 million imprisoned Uyghurs. This uproar began with a Reuters headline which the NYT, Intercept, and Washington Post all repeated.
Secondly, these sources which used misleading headlines are repeating the figure of “1 million” for dramatic effect. However, in the text, they claim that 1 million Han were transferred to Xinjiang to replace the Uyghurs in order to change the population bias. The figure of 1 million, contrary to their titles, is not the number of detained Uyghurs. In these articles, different figures of Uyghur detention exist. Radio Free Asia, CHRD, and the reports in different newspapers all have varying figures.
CHRD, or Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is a group headquartered in DC. They are backed by neocons and given healthy donations from a host of pro-Western special interest groups and governments, just like the White Helmets in Syria. The majority of their revenue came from government grants and so-called NGOs which are nothing but fronts of the State Department. Led by exiled opportunists such as Rabiya Kadeer, the CHRD is no different from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Rabiya, who became a millionaire in China, reports about the alleged human rights abuses committed against Uyghur Muslims in China emerged from her in the comfort of her Western home. Not to mention her fraud and her relatives’ engagement in similar activities.
The members of this group are hardcore neocons, open advocates of neo-Colonialism, and espouse support for all of NATO’s imperialist wars and Israel’s terrorism. From Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine- Liu Xiaobo, Renee Xia, and their colleagues supported military action against them.
On the board of The Jamestown Foundation are current and former State Department and CIA staff. Names such as Dick Cheney, Mika Brzezinski, and William Casey were/are members of the foundation.
The NED (National Endowment for Democracy), a front of the US State Department, openly shows its financial contributions to pro-Uyghur groups in China. They are listed below.
“International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation $187,918 to advance the human rights of ethnic Uyghur women and children. The Foundation will maintain an English- and Uyghur-language website and advocate on the human rights situation of Uyghur women and children.
International Uyghur PEN Club $45,000 to promote freedom of expression for Uyghurs. The International Uyghur PEN Club will maintain a website providing information about banned writings and the work and status of persecuted poets, historians, journalists, and others. Uyghur PEN will also conduct international advocacy campaigns on behalf of imprisoned writers.
Uyghur American Association $280,000 to raise awareness of Uyghur human rights issues. UAA’s Uyghur Human Rights Project will research, document, and bring to international attention, independent and accurate information about human rights violations affecting the Turkic populations of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
World Uyghur Congress $185,000 to enhance the ability of Uyghur pro-Democracy groups and leaders to implement effective human rights and democracy campaigns. The World Uyghur Congress will organise a conference for pro-Democracy Uyghur groups and leaders on inter-ethnic issues and conduct advocacy work on Uyghur human rights.”
Feasibility and alleged scale of mass internment
From a few hundred thousand to 1 million to 3 million, the figures of Uyghur incarceration in these reports vary. Publicity surrounding these claims is relatively fresh; before 2018 stories were vague and publicity was on and off. For 1 million people in Xinjiang to be kidnapped in such a time frame is laughable. Such an abuse could be easily compared to Nazi rounding up of Jews or Japanese internment camps in the US. It would require a full domestic mobilisation of the army and much more evidence than “credible reports” and evidence-barren emotional WhatsApp and Facebook videos would exist.
Xinjiang province’s population is almost identical to that of Texas but its physical size is more than twice as large. Its population is sparse outside major cities and extremely dense in metropolitan areas. For one million Texans to be rounded up over the course of a few years with limited media attention and limited evidence would be impossible. This would be especially difficult in China with so-called “Islamists” and Western powers looming over, eager to spark the next trending clickbait story about China, Russia, North Korea, or Syria. The claims are ridiculous.
China’s total prison population is 1.649 million people and the nation’s population is nearing 1.4 billion people. If 1 million or 3 million Uyghurs are incarcerated for suspicions of terrorism, this would mean that Uyghurs make up 60 percent or 180 percent of China’s total prison population, depending on which source’s figures are used. One figure is impossible, the other is ridiculous. What about other Uyghurs in prison for non-Terrorism related offences? Would this mean even more are imprisoned altogether?
If Uyghurs were excluded from the figures these “reports” provide, China would have one of the smallest incarceration rates in the whole world and less total incarcerated people than countries with a fraction of its population. If one is to consider the “1 million” figure, China’s non-Uyghur prison population would be only 650,000 for over 1.3 billion people. This is extremely low for China’s immense population. By comparison, the US has over 2.2 million prisoners and a total population of 325.7 million people. If one took the figure of 3 million Uyghurs detained, non-Uyghurs would make up a negative percentage of incarcerated people. Uyghur population in China is between 11.3 and 15 million people. If 1 million, 3 million, or even 100,000 Uyghurs were rounded up out and imprisoned or sent to re-education camps, the world would have heard about it much earlier and evidence would be widely accessible. Imagine the scope of an operation to intern every person in Austin (950,000 people) or Houston (2.3 million people)- and consider that Uyghurs make only 0.01 percent of China’s total population.
Required reflection and reevaluation
This poses a pertinent question to Muslims of the world and humanitarians interested in protecting the rights of Muslims! When western imperialists, their clients, and their backwards proxies have killed, starved, and brutalised more Muslims than any force in the world, are the ones decrying alleged oppression and incarceration of Muslims, are no warning flags displayed? Are their vested interests not visible? Being Muslim does not automatically qualify an involved party in a conflict to be the victim.
Turkic/Turkistani separatists have proven the danger they pose to society, be it in Syria or China. The Chinese government has continued to build mosques over the past few decades for Muslims, ensures religious freedom as a right for all of its citizens, encourages Muslims (including government workers) to perform Hajj, and allows Muslims to pursue Islamic education after schooling if they please. These privileges are not exclusive to Hui Muslims as pro-separatist organizations say, they’re available to all law-abiding Chinese people. Chinese Muslims retain their historic identities, their vibrant culture, their distinct food, and most importantly, their spiritual beliefs.