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How to fight China’s memory-holing of the Uyghur genocide

An internment facility in 2018 in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese Communist Party waged what the United States later officially designated a genocidal campaign against the largely Muslim ethnic minority. [Ng Han Guan/AP]

After nearly a decade, the genocidal crackdown waged by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Uyghurs — a distinct, mostly Muslim ethnic minority of about 11 million people primarily living in China’s Xinjiang region — appears to be lessening in severity. “Now the final stage has begun: an official forgetting,” Post reporters Eva Dou and Cate Cadell wrote last fall, after a nine-day reporting trip through Xinjiang. “As with the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Tiananmen in 1989 and other violent campaigns since, the party is moving to erase traces of its actions in Xinjiang from history.”

At the height of the genocide, 1 million to 2 million Uyghurs were held in concentration camps. Former detainees reported “reeducation” that included mental and physical torture, with Uyghur women subjected to forced abortions and sterilization. In a form of cultural eradication, Uyghur women were also reportedly forced into “marriage” to men of the Han ethnic group, China’s largest. Last summer, the United Nations issued a report strongly suggesting that China had engaged in crimes against humanity.

The reeducation sites seem to be emptying, according to Dou and Cadell, but they “stand as ominous warnings to residents to stay in line” and in any case, the “intense surveillance and intimidation of local residents” continues.

A brutalized people appears beaten into submission, but the Uyghurs’ suffering goes on, and we have no way of knowing when it will truly abate — if ever. But we are certain it happened. Mike Pompeo, as the outgoing secretary of state in 2021, formally declared that China had committed genocide against the Uyghurs; current Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed that assessment.

Yet it seems that many Americans are only vaguely aware of the Uyghurs’ plight. That knowing-but-not-knowing, unfortunately, is often the case when governments perpetrate evil against their own people and don’t want the world to know. The extent of the horror isn’t known until later, when it can be documented, as with Nazi Germany’s death camps or the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. China might indeed have permanently turned away from the genocidal path that culminates in mass slaughter, but nothing should be assumed about China’s retreat until the evidence is irrefutable.


(c) 2023, The Washington Post


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