According to Business Insider, over 2 million Uyghurs have been forced into internment camps in Xinjiang, an independently controlled area of northwest China. There, they face countless forms of physical and mental abuse. The majority of these camps, which Vox reports to now outnumber 380, were constructed between 2017 and 2018, though this problem continues to run rampant today.
Uyghurs are a Turkish ethnic group and account for over 11 million of Xinjiang’s population of 21.82 million people, although they remain a minority in China, according to Britannica. Mostly village dwellers, their most prominent cities are Urumqi, in Xinjiang as well as Kashgar, close to the border of China and Russia.
Depending on the territory, they speak different dialects of two languages: Standard Xinjiang and Standard Soviet. Many Uyghurs still consider the Xinjiang area by its former identification: East Turkestan, where the large Uighur population continues their devout practice of Sunni Islam.
In recent years, huge numbers of Uyghurs across the area have begun disappearing at the hands of the Chinese government. PBS News Hour reports that some are taken for growing beards; others for wearing veils, both traditional for Muslims.
According to The Associated Press, it is not uncommon for Uyghur women to be punished or threatened if they refuse to comply with the government’s forced sterilization imposed on this minority, yet another attempt to reduce the Chinese Muslim population. In the largely Uyghur populated areas in Xinjiang, population growth rates dropped 84% in just three years, says the British Broadcasting Corporation.
No matter the accusation, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reports they all face the same fate: time in “Vocational Education and Training Centers,” or perhaps more accurately, indoctrination camps. According to BBC News, a leaked government document outlined some rules for these camps, listing instructions such as, “Never allow escapes,” “Increase discipline and punishment of behavioral violations,” and “[Ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots.”
In these places, Uyghurs are forced to intensely learn communist propaganda as well as idolize current Chinese President Xi Jinping. Other torturous methods include waterboarding and sexual abuse. Many others are killed. As a result, Vox reports that this conflict has become the largest internment of an ethnic-religious group since World War II.
Even if individuals are somehow able to escape this fate, life outside of these camps appears to be just as hopeless. According to the New York Times, every inch of Xinjiang is covered by security cameras and officials can instantaneously identify those caught on the footage.
Through use of advanced technology, they can find anyone’s address, hospital visits, education, family tree, etc. This surveillance system is specifically being used to arrest Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Officials are also able to track their citizens’ use of electricity in order to monitor suspicious behavior, which can include anything from a person refueling a car that is not their own to if the person stops using their cell phone.
In the cases when someone is considered a threat, the system is notified each time the individual leaves his or her neighborhood. Such methods make it infinitely more easy for the government to arrest minorities on account of any unusual behavior.
According to the Combat Terrorism Center, China justifies the oppression of this minority through claiming they are terrorists and a threat to security, citing 2013 and 2014 attacks by Uyghur radicals. The nation fears Islamic extremism and any possible threat to the ruling Communist party. However, the Chinese government is hiding a more politically driven motive for such persecution: The 2013 Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
According to Business Insider, this trillion dollar plan will connect the capital of China, Beijing, through a global transportation network via huge infrastructure projects. Xinjiang happens to be smack dab in the middle of the route. As well as being a key territory for the BRI’s construction, this heavily Uyghur populated area accounts for 20% of China’s energy reserves. These two factors explain why China is so adamant in controlling this territory.
Adding to this problem, Muslim countries have surprisingly come to China’s aid amidst this conflict. The Cable News Network reports that in 2019, though 22, notably Western countries, expressed criticism of China’s use of internment camps, 37 others came to the communist nation’s defense.
Half of these advocates have huge Muslim populations, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. It is not a coincidence that most of these countries have strong political and economic ties to China. Even more, according to the New York Times, on Dec. 14 the International Crime Court declared that they would not be investigating the issue as said persecution is occurring internally in China, which is not a member of the court. With such powerful nations overtly favoring economic advancement over human rights, it is nearly impossible to predict when this issue will be resolved.