During assembly on Wednesday, October 30, Madeline Dornfeld '21 spoke on behalf of the Current Events Club about the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province. Her prepared remarks follow:
Good morning, Mr. Abbott, faculty, staff and students. I am here on behalf of the Current Events Club to discuss the current ongoing crisis in the Xinjiang province in China. This issue has been widely reported but is still relatively unknown among the general society.
Muslim minority groups claim to have have been arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned in China’s western province of Xinjiang since 2016, according to numerous media sources and a large spread diaspora of Muslim people who claim to have been incarcerated and/or have family incarcerated by the Chinese communist government in Xinjiang. Maybe the largest population of people affected by these actions are the Uighur people, a minority Turkish ethnic group that is native to the Xinjiang region of China. More than a million of these people are estimated to be imprisoned and held in detention camps, according to the United Nations, but some sources, including the Washington Post and the Guardian, report that this number of incarcerated Uighur people (including men, women and children) could be as high as three million.
The Communist government in China reports that these camps are “vocational training centers” that aim to teach people helpful skills and the Chinese language. Challenging this official narrative is a growing body of evidence including videos, satellite imagery and first-person accounts claiming these are mass internment camps equipped with armed guards, forced labor and barbed wire fences. [Madeline showed some drone imagery of the camps.]
Evidence from first-hand sources provides that prisoners inside these centers are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist propaganda, forced to renounce Islam, and pressured to eat pork as well as drink alcohol in violation of their religious beliefs. The Chinese government has also built several crematoriums in attempts to eradicate Muslim burial and funeral traditions. Some have reported that these crematoriums are connected with a growing grey market business of organ harvesting as a way to dispose of evidence of significant human rights violations (as documented in a recent PBS podcast).
Testimonies of several witnesses in video interviews conducted by PBS also mention that detainees are subject to rape and torture within the camps. According to Business Insider, prisoners are medically experimented on and many pregnant women are forced to have abortions. It is important to note that the Chinese government has continued to deny all of these allegations. China has said that it is responding to “ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities” and they have labeled the Muslim people populating the area of Xinjiang as violent extremists. China has provided very little public explanation for how it deals with the ongoing situation in Xinjiang, and because the communist Chinese government controls access to the territory and media within the country, it’s been hard for anyone to receive impartial information about what is happening there.
The Xinjiang territory in which the Uighur people and other Muslim ethnic groups reside is rich in minerals and resources, so by carrying out this operation, China is able to maintain tight control over this valuable land. It is also noteworthy that President Xi Jinping recently launched the Belt and Road Initiative, a trade policy that relies on Xinjiang as a core land route.
The United States has recently formally addressed and condemned this crisis as an ethnic cleansing of Muslim minorities. On October 7, the U.S.’s decision to blacklist top Chinese surveillance companies marked the first concrete policy response to the human rights crisis in China’s western region of Xinjiang. The U.S. Commerce Department cited 28 state security bureaus and tech companies that are prohibited from doing business with American companies without being granted a special U.S. government license. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement, “This action will ensure that our technologies, fostered in an environment of individual liberty and free enterprise, are not used to repress defenseless minority populations.” This is the first time the Trump administration has cited human rights violations as a reason to take economic and diplomatic action.
The Chinese government responded angrily to the United States allegations and actions, and the foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said "There is no such thing as these so-called 'human rights issues' as claimed by the United States. These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China's internal affairs."
It is important that we as aspiring global citizens stay educated and don’t turn a blind eye to important issues — even if they may seemingly have no direct effect on us or our communities. I urge all of you to continue to research this topic, and if you have any questions regarding the Uighur people, please don’t hesitate to ask me. Thank you for your time.