Uighurs’ internment a wake-up call

By Gerrit van der Wees
Fri, Aug 31, 2018 

Over the past week, several reports were published in the US about the mass internment of Uighurs of East Turkestan, which started at about the beginning of last year.

The number of Uighurs incarcerated by the Beijing government has now reportedly exceeded the 1 million mark.

In the past week, three reports documented the building human rights crisis in great detail:

The Washington-based Uyghur Human Right Project (UHRP) issued a report titled “The mass internment of Uyghurs,” which states: “We want to be respected as humans. Is it too much to ask?”

The New York-based independent digital media company SupChina presented a detailed analysis titled: “China’s re-education camps for a million Muslims: What everyone needs to know.”

Foreign Policy magazine published an article titled: “China’s mass internment camps have no clear end in sight” by Rian Thum, an associate professor of history at Loyola University New Orleans.

The reports presented a haunting picture of the systematic indoctrination and repression of cultural identity in the internment camps, which are comparable to the gulag of the Soviet era.

The massive increase of the use of such camps by the Chinese regime represents a significant intensification of the much longer-lasting campaign by Beijing aimed at political repression, economic marginalization, curbs on religious practice, demographic engineering and sinification targeting the Uighurs.

The fact that at present more than 1 million people — out of a total of 11 million Uighurs — are incarcerated, means that a staggering 10 percent of the population has been pulled from their homes and regular livelihood.

As the UHRP report states: “While the intention of the camps remains undisclosed, reports of repetitive political indoctrination, sinification through Chinese language and culture sessions, and compulsory denunciations of Uighur culture and belief in Islam indicate the Chinese authorities are aiming to forcibly assimilate Uighurs.”

The report speaks of credible reports of deaths in custody, torture and systematic political indoctrination.

The SupChina report says: Xinjiang is now a totalitarian police state of historic proportions — it is widely cited as one of the most heavily policed places in the world today. Public security budgets have skyrocketed and futuristic surveillance systems have been pioneered in the region.

All of this is a wake-up call — if Taiwanese need yet another reason to be highly suspicious of Beijing’s advances and promises.

It shows clearly what would happen if Taiwan were to succumb to the pressures to accept the “one China” principle encapsulated in the so-called “1992 consensus” and “unification.”

What can or should Taiwan do in the face of such outrageously repressive behavior by China?

First, it is important to be informed and be aware of what is happening in East Turkestan, or Xinjiang. Reports like the ones above are extremely valuable and should be read, analyzed and distributed widely.

Knowledge is power.

Second, Taiwanese should speak out about the existence of the internment camps, and the systematic indoctrination and repression of cultural identity going on in them.

In this context, it is important to be reminded of the famous words of German pastor Martin Niemoller, who said [of the Nazi regime]: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Third, it is important for Taiwan to be clearly supportive of the rights and freedoms of Uighurs.

World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer has on many occasions courageously spoken out for freedom and democracy in Taiwan. It is time for Taiwanese to speak out for her and her people.

Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat who served as editor of Taiwan Communique from 1980 through 2016. He teaches Taiwan history at George Mason University in Virginia.