Why is China so angry with the UN report on Xinjiang?


China has reacted with fury to a United Nations report into alleged human rights abuses in its northwestern region of Xinjiang targeting Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic minorities. The report has been in the works for years and was released despite Chinese efforts to delay or block it, aware of how it could validate claims that more than a million ethnic minorities were forcibly sent in centers which, according to them, were intended for vocational training.

Those who were detained, their relatives and watchdog groups describe them as prison-like re-education centers where inmates were forced to denounce Islam and their traditional culture, while swearing loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.

The camps are part of a broader campaign of repression in Xinjiang, which reportedly includes involuntary sterilizations of women, forced labor, the demolition of mosques and other religious sites, the separation of Muslim children from their families and the harassment of members of minorities living abroad.


Xinjiang is a vast but sparsely populated region of mountains, forests and deserts in the far northwest of China that borders Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian countries. The ancient Silk Road ran through parts of it, and various Chinese nationalities and empires controlled its cities and oases over the centuries, with the Communist Party taking full control after 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 at the forefront of their Cold War rivalry and remains important as an assertion of Chinese influence in China’s backyard. Moscow.


The Uyghurs of Xinjiang, along with the closely related Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, are predominantly Turkic Muslims who are culturally, religiously, and linguistically distinct from the dominant Han ethnic group in China. Repression under communist rule, especially during the violent and xenophobic Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, sparked deep animosity in Xinjiang towards the government, compounded by Han migration to the region and their domination of political and economic life. .

The Uyghurs established two short-lived independent governments in Xinjiang before the Communist Party seized power, and the desire for autonomy has endured and been fueled by resentment against authoritarian Chinese rule. A protest movement began in the 1990s and remained at a relatively low level until seething anger exploded in a 2009 riot in the regional capital of Urumqi that left around 200 people dead. Further violence followed in Xinjiang and as far away as Beijing, prompting Chinese leader Xi Jinping to order a massive crackdown beginning in 2014.


With Xi’s blessing, Xinjiang’s hardliner leader Chen Quanguo, who took office in 2016, began sending Uyghurs and others to a vast network of fortified camps without due legal process. It remains unclear what criteria were used to determine whether a person should be sent for what authorities called retraining or de-radicalization, but those who showed religious leanings, well-educated people and anyone with ties to abroad were particularly sensitive.

Conditions in the camps were described as overcrowded and unsanitary, with people inside forced to renounce their religion and culture and praise Xi and the Communist Party. Severe penalties were meted out to those who refused to comply, and the length of sentences was indefinite. While China claims to have closed the camps, many of those detained have since been sentenced to long prison terms in a system that remains extremely opaque. The United States and others have called China’s policy against minorities in Xinjiang “genocide.”


China has consistently denied targeting Uyghurs and others for their religion and culture, denouncing the accusations as a fabrication of lies by the West and saying its crackdown was aimed at crushing separatism, terrorism and religious extremism. . He said participation in the camp was voluntary and no human rights were violated, although internal Chinese documents have frequently contradicted these claims.

Beijing has also cited carefully choreographed visits by journalists, diplomats and, most recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, to validate its claims. Some observers say the wave of criticism may have prompted Beijing to end detentions sooner than expected to save its reputation among Muslim nations and in the developing world.

In a note accompanying the UN report, the Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva expressed strong opposition to the findings, which it says ignore human rights achievements in Xinjiang and the damage caused by terrorism and extremism to the population.

“Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and on presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts Chinese laws, wantonly defames and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs. China,” the note reads in part. .


China’s authoritarian rulers have openly defied criticism of their policies in Xinjiang, but have failed to thwart international sanctions against the officials involved and bans on cotton and other commodities from the region. The release of the report comes despite China’s growing influence in the UN and its lobbying campaign against criticism from the human rights community.

China has maintained its defiance and appears to believe that its policies have been effective and should continue, despite the costs to its international reputation. On Thursday, his foreign ministry mocked the UN report, saying it was “orchestrated and produced by the United States and certain Western forces and is completely illegal and void”.

“It’s a patchwork of fake news that serves as a political tool for the United States and other Western countries to strategically use Xinjiang to contain China,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

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