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October 19, 2021

Is Uyghur genocide denial going mainstream?

A disturbing new trend is becoming increasingly apparent among the so-called ‘anti-imperialist’ hard left: denial of the atrocities carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities the Xinjiang region of western China.

Unfortunately, the scale of the problem is significantly larger now, and this discourse of denial has lingered from the hard left to the mainstream.

In an interview with journalist Aaron Maté, Professor Lyle Goldstein, a researcher at the US Naval War College, hardly a fringe character with a pro-China agenda, said the following things: “What basis is there for this claim that the re-education camps are like concentration camps? From the little we do know, it appears the majority of people sent for re-education in Xinjiang are there for three days or less to sing patriotic songs, learn Chinese and acquire job skills.” 

“Clearly there is a surveillance state in China,” Goldstein went on, “clearly there is repression of separatist movements and some ethnic minorities, clearly the Chinese state is authoritarian, but that's not the same as some of the claims being made about genocide and millions in camps.”

A Pattern of human rights violations

Many scholars and human rights organisations have long been consistent in exposing and opposing China’s persecutory policies against the Uyghurs, even when conflicting with the American establishment's realpolitik.

Amnesty International’s first report on atrocities against the Uyghur dates back to 1992, documenting a “pattern of human rights violations that appears to have emerged in Xinjiang since 1989,” including secret detentions, extrajudicial executions and suppression of religious expression.

Human Rights Watch's has also been imploring the US government to press China on its treatment of the Uyghurs since 1998, when then-President Bill Clinton exhibited reticence on the matter for the sake of securing US-China trade relations.

A Very Credible Case

According to a formal legal opinion by a respected UK-based QC (an independent expert in their field) who assessed the evidence and the law, it seems that there is a "very credible case" that the Chinese government is carrying out the crime of genocide against the Uyghur people.

The legal opinion concludes there is evidence of state-mandated behaviour showing an intent to destroy the largely Muslim minority in north-western China. This includes the deliberate infliction of harm on Uyghurs in detention, measures to prevent women giving birth - including sterilisation and abortion - and the forcible transfer of Uyghur children out of their community.

Significantly, it states that there is credible evidence that Chinese President Xi Jinping is himself responsible for these crimes against humanity. "The close involvement of Xi Jinping," in the targeting of Uyghurs would support a "plausible" case of genocide against him, the opinion reads.

"On the basis of the evidence we have seen, this Opinion concludes that there is a very credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide," it further states.

The opinion does not have a legal standing, like a court judgement, but can be used as a basis for legal action. This opinion was commissioned - but not paid for - by the Global Legal Action Network, a human rights campaign group that focuses on cross-border legal issues, the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project

Yet, some sections of the hard left continue to dismiss reports of China’s atrocities as an American imperialist ploy.

A dismissive approach 

The most steadfast bastion of denialism has been the Grayzone, which describes itself as “an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire.”

Its modus operandi is to focus primarily on discrediting some prominent messengers calling attention to the Uyghur’s persecution while leaving the vast body of evidence behind the message largely untouched. The Grayzone of published several pieces about the subject. 

In February 2020, A group of international scholars have signed an open letter to the Monthly Review, a New York City-based socialist magazine, condemning the publication of a report they claim is dismissive of China’s crackdown on Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

“We wish it were the case that talk of the internment camps was a myth, fabricated by the National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA. But it is not,” reads the letter, alluding to a denialist conspiracy theory according to which the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang is fabricated by American spy agencies.

The letter condemned the Monthly Review’s article displaying “agnosticism, let alone denialism, towards what is clearly a shocking infringement of the rights of Uyghur people." 

It appears that such “anti-imperialist” activists and scholars, and, as mentioned, others from more mainstream establishments who now echo their claims, choose to ignore the evidence against the Chinese government, despite the fact that much of it emanates from within the Chinese state apparatus itself.

This includes: 

  • Census data showing the long-term demographic replacement of Indigenous Uyghurs with the dominant Han ethnic group - encouraged by government incentives for Han migration and settlement.
  • Statistics revealing a precipitate decline in Xinjiang birth rates by 33 percent (from 15.88 percent to 10.69 percent) and in population growth rates by 46 percent (from 11.40 percent to 6.13 percent) between 2017 and 2018; this data was misrepresented by Grayzone as a decrease of only 5 percent, even as it excoriates its ideological opponents for “statistical malpractice” and “data abuse."
  • Counterterrorism laws and 'de-extremification' regulations targeting religious practices such as wearing a veil and growing a beard.
  • Leaked lists of detainees, such as the Aksu and Karakax lists, detailing the extrajudicial detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims for such "offenses" as studying the Quran, traveling abroad or being "generally untrustworthy."
  • A government-issued "telegram" specifying procedures for the operation and expansion of these internment centres, methods of political and psychological indoctrination and instructions for maintaining “strict secrecy” and “preventing escapes."
  • State “bulletins” indicating the scale of detention - with 15,683 people reportedly rounded up into camps from four prefectures over the course of one week in 2017 alone.
  • Official policies such as Physicals for All, which mandates mass biometric and DNA collection, and Becoming Family, which dispatches government officials to live with and monitor Uyghurs in their homes.
  • Policy documents laying out plans for the mass institutionalisation of Uyghur children in residential schools, and the mass sterilisation of Uighur women - who are commonly referred to by the Chinese state as "baby-making machines."
  • Official government-issued White Papers and other propaganda materials erasing Uyghur peoplehood, dignity and identity, and describing the large-scale transfer of Uyghurs out of their indigenous territory for labour programs.
  • Statements by public officials ordering to “break [the Uyghurs’] roots, break their lineage, break their connections, and break their origins,” and referring to Islam as a “malignant tumour,” a “virus,” and a “weed” - evidence of an intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a people, which answers to the definition of genocide under international law.

In many ways, what we are witnessing now is a denial of the Uyghur genocide; this time the denial isn't carried out only by politicians who wish to avoid a clash with the Chinese government, but by a group of anti-imperialist thinkers who seem to have forgotten about their original goals of protecting persecuted minorities, wherever they are.

FairPlanet reached out to Grayzone, as well as the to the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project and asked for comments about denialism of the Uyghur genocide. As of the time of the publication of this article, they have yet to respond.  

Image by Simon Sun.