Content Warning: This article discusses violence, torture and genocide.
On Oct. 5, CNN published a whistleblower report from a Chinese ex-detective, detailing the brutal treatment of Uyghur communities by Chinese officials in Xinjiang — the Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The informant, who goes by ‘Jiang’ to protect his identity and his family’s safety, was deployed several times to Xinjiang from his normal post. On these deployments, he and his fellow officers were ordered to forcibly arrest hundreds of ‘suspects’ in Uyghur communities overnight, most of whom Jiang believed were innocent of any wrongdoing. He went on to detail the graphic torture of detainees, including hangings, sexual violence, electrocutions, waterboarding and brutal beatings. The victims, including men, women and children as young as 14, were mercilessly tortured until a confession was made. This report is the latest of a long series of harrowing accounts regarding the detainment and internment of populations within China.
Since 2014, reporters have documented what many experts have defined as the cultural genocide of the Turkic and predominantly Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang. However, oppressive tactics used by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies, like nuclear testing in Xinjiang, the systemic erasure of identity, culture and religion, forced sterilization and abortion and extrajudicial and indiscriminate killings and torture have been documented as early as 1989. In addition to several horrifying accounts from survivors and those formerly involved, satellite images have shown how Uyghur detainees are forced to work in factories near concentration camps.
Though this crisis has gained international attention over the past few years, this whistleblower report shows just how little has been done to prevent further violence from being committed. It wasn’t until earlier this year — over seven years after initial reports were made — that the U.S. government officially recognized the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide. It still remains to be seen whether concrete action will be taken beyond simply expressing intent to back an independent investigation. The United Nations, ostensibly one of the most important international institutions in the sphere of human rights, has expressed deep concern over these allegations but has yet to officially categorize these atrocities as a genocide.
While many people echo international concern about the situation, others still express skepticism toward the claims made against the CCP. Despite the undeniable evidence of the CCP’s brutality in Xinjiang, many Western self-proclaimed ‘anti-imperialists’ have sided with the CCP based on suspicion of sinophobic U.S. rhetoric. This gravely mistaken sentiment which occupies many American leftist spaces shows the detrimental and hypocritical effects that can arise from ardently misinformed opinions.
A rudimentary understanding of relevant historical contexts makes it clear that the Uyghur situation is far from a recently manufactured fabrication of American political manipulation. Rather, the current genocide is a continuation of a prolific history of settler-colonial domination and exploitation by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. Furthermore, one can logically assume that the United States and other world powers would not accuse one of their primary trade partners of genocide and jeopardize valuable economic gain without irrefutable evidence of egregious wrongdoing.
While Sinophobia is an incredibly important issue to confront, there must be room for nuance in discerning unsubstantiated generalizations of Chinese people, culture and politics from valid criticism of the CCP’s oppressive policies. These faux anti-imperialist claims that the story of this genocide is purely the fiction of American anti-Chinese rhetoric are sorely misinformed and ignorant of the tangible violence and oppression that Uyghur people continue to face.
We as a collective public have two responsibilities. Primarily, it is our responsibility to be adequately and critically informed on incredibly important human rights issues before presuming that our skepticism discredits the voices of survivors, victims and those with relevant lived experiences. Additionally, we must then apply persistent pressure on national leaders and international human rights organizations, urging them to acknowledge the existence and the gravity of the atrocities being committed. Without the implementation of strategic and targeted political and social actions, it will become more difficult to intervene and stop the progression of further atrocities and thus hold CCP officials accountable for the crimes they have committed against the citizens of Xinjiang. It is our collective responsibility to prevent this kind of cruelty from progressing through the lives and societies of the global community.