About 12 million Uighur Muslims call the far northwest region of China, Xinjiang, home. For many of them, however, their identity is a death sentence.
The Uighur population mostly resides in China, with some of the population scattered throughout Asia and the Middle East. The group has its own language–a part of the Turkic language family–and is ethnically different from the Han ethnic group, which makes up most of China’s population.
The Xinjiang region is an autonomous region, which means that it has self sovereignty under the national Chinese government. Nevertheless, the Chinese government does not appear to be very keen on allowing its autonomous regions to self govern, as shown by the many Hong Kong protests against China’s extradition laws over the past few years. Thus, it is impossible to expect China to respect any of its autonomous regions’ laws. Citizens of Chinese autonomous territories are subject to mainland Chinese laws, and because of this, those in Xinjiang have been suffering.
Eighty-five internment camps exist in Xinjiang’s land, and since 2017, over a million Uighurs have been detained. These camps exist, according to the Chinese government, to “re-educate” members of the ethnic group, but accounts of forced sterilisation, killings, rape, and psychological and physical torture are common from those who have been inside.
The accounts are awfully reminiscent to the events that took place during the latter stages of the Holocaust, which should sound a moral alarm to any listener. An ethnic genocide has been occuring for years, and in a fashion all too familiar, the United States and far too many other countries have not done anything substantial to stop the progression of it. Why? It is a complicated answer.
Several multi-million dollar companies outsource to countries–like China–where cheap, quick labor is affordable. Major companies with high levels of American consumption, such as H&M, Abercrombie, or even Adidas, are able to benefit from the cheap labor that Uighur prisoners are able to give them, and because the United States relies on these companies to make the economy go round.
In addition, economic trade is a major part of the reason why the United States has not done much to combat the rise of Uighur oppression. When President Trump began the trade war with China in early 2018, he had no idea what the future had in store for the American economy. The United States was smacked by Chinese trade tariffs, with a 2019 report estimating that the American gross domestic product was affected by anything ranging from 0.3% to 0.7%. Though President Biden has only been in office for a few weeks, it is unlikely that he would do anything to strain the relationship between the United States and China any more than it already has, and therefore will likely be unable to influence China in terms of their ongoing ethnic genocide.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what will happen to the Uighur Muslims in China, and it is very possible that this genocide will continue to harm Xinjiang’s citizens. Until a country or international governing body denounces and takes steps against these horrible acts by the Chinese government, the horrifying experiences of those in Uighur camps will remain the reality.