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Human Rights Situation in China’s Xinjiang Region

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

Being characterised as a potential superpower of the world, specifically due to its gigantic population, massive economy and huge military, the People’s Republic of China is a country in East Asia, with a population of around 1.404 billion, and covering about 9,600,000 square kilometres (3,700,000 sq mi), as the fourth largest country by total area in the world.

Having the position of the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods, China has the world’s largest standing army and second-largest defence/defense budget, being recognized as a nuclear weapons state, ruled by the Communist Party of China. 

As the world’s most populous country at the moment, China’s economy has been one of the world’s fastest-growing, with a GDP of $13.28 trillion in 2018, according to official data. 

Despite the growing economic, political and military position in the world, the various human rights organizations and human rights defenders are not happy and satisfied with the human rights situation in China. 

A World Report (2019) by Human Rights Watch has shed some light on human rights situation in China, which includes such issues, concerns and abuses, as the human rights violations of human rights defenders (human rights lawyers, human rights activists and their families) both within China and abroad; opposition of freedom of religion (particularly Christians/churches, Muslims/mosques and Buddhists); control over freedom of expression (like harassment and detention of human rights journalists and their families); ban on and removal of certain contents on social media; the ongoing circumstances, in regards to such human rights, as free expression, association and political participation, in Hong Kong; severe restrictions on religious freedom, assembly, movement, speech by authorities in Tibetan areas and land grabs and mining issues by local officials; the human rights condition in Xinjiang (one of the five autonomous regions in North-western China), like the hostility of Chinese authorities to various expressions of Uyghur identity, restrictions on personal lives of Turkic Muslims by the authorities; the problem, in relation to asylum seekers and refugees; the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation and girls’ and women’s rights, etc.

China’s Xinjiang Region: Being the biggest region of the country, Xinjiang is situated in the far-west/north-west of China, where less than half of the roughly 26 million population of the region are Uighur Muslims. Thus, the Muslims in western China’s Xinjiang region make up, approximately, 11 million. Xinjiang is one of the five autonomous regions, bordered by various countries, like Mongolia, Afghanistan and India. The Uighurs, living in Xinjiang, are having a language close in resemblance to Turkish. Most of the Uighurs are Muslims and class themselves to be related to the people of Central Asia by ethnicity and culture.

As reported by Roland Hughes of BBC News on 08 November, 2018, captioned: ‘China Uighurs: All you need to know on Muslim’ ‘Crackdown’: The same report says that China’s Xinjiang region is facing growing criticism over its persecution of some Muslim minority groups, huge number of whom are allegedly held in internment camp. 

It was claimed in August, 2018 and reported to the UN Human Rights Committee that some one million Uighurs (majority being Muslims) might have been put into detention by the Chinese government in a huge internment camp where detainees are expected, supposed and even put in a situation where they will have to learn Mandarin Chinese, remove or give up and criticise their belief or faith and be committed to be faithful or loyal to President Xi Jinping instead.

As reported by the Human Rights Watch, the Uighur people experience such controls and checks on their lives, from the Chinese authorities, as QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) on their doors, facial recognition cameras, biometric tests, severe restriction and checks on their using social media, etc. 

However, such claims are denied by China, and it rejects the availability and existence of any internment camps in the area. Instead, as clarified by China, the same internment camp programmes are a situation where people are given vocational training in Xinjiang. 

Historically, China was regarded as not much aggressive empire when compared with another contemporary empire of the world, which means that the people of China are more peaceful, peaceable and peace-loving than any other nation of the world. Notwithstanding its advent and emergence (the process of coming into existence or prominence) as a huge military, political and economic power in the globe, China believes in and implements its policy of peaceful development, known as “China’s Peaceful Development”, which is based on assuring other countries that the rise of China will not be a threat to security and peace in the world. This policy is implemented by China by externally promoting a peaceful international environment and internally harmonizing China’s society. By applying its ‘Policy of Peaceful Development’, China wants to characterize itself as a responsible world leader, while emphasizing on using soft power (the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction) instead of hard power, which is the use of economic and military means for influencing the interests or behaviours of other political bodies. China also vows that it is committed to dealing with its own domestic issues and problems and promoting the betterment and welfare of its own people instead of interfering in the world affairs. 

By doing so, China seeks to keep away from unnecessary and useless international confrontation. Thus, China does not confront any other nations and avoids interfering in the affairs and matters of other countries provided its own interests are not under threat, but are safe, secure and not jeopardized or damaged by others.

Therefore, the human rights issues, perceived by outside world is defined and characterized by China differently, as China considers that its handling of such issues inside China are not  human rights abuses and violations, but the steps and measures, taken by China for resolving such issues are positive, just and accurate initiatives, which are beneficial for the development of China and its people instead. 

Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at www.qasimswati.co.uk or info@qasimswati.co.uk.

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