China not only handled the onslaught of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 successfully but earned the respect and esteem of numerous countries of the world by extending help and support to combat the pandemic. Chinese economy took some battering due to the scourge of the epidemic but is bouncing back to normalcy. Whereas most international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO) lauded China’s selfless efforts, some detractors chose to target Beijing with baseless charges. They initially claimed that China was not transparent in sharing information about COVID-19, now they are targeting China’s soft underbelly Xinjiang.
A decade ago, due to various reasons, Xinjiang was underdeveloped and deprived of the economic boom of China. The impoverished Uyghur Muslims, who comprise the majority population of Xinjiang were insidiously instigated into protesting as well as launching terror attacks. China handled the challenge prudently. Dealing with the terror mongers firmly as well as removing the causes of heartburn by launching massive development projects to provide the ethnic minorities of China including the Uyghurs with employment opportunities to raise their quality of life.
Once that issue was taken care of, the conscientious objectors, who wanted to pull China down, raised the bogey of torture cells in Xinjiang, where the Uyghurs are alleged to being subjected to torment and brainwashing. China invited international diplomats and academics, including this scribe to visit and judge for themselves the veracity of the situation. The propaganda was thus nailed.
Now China’s disparagers have launched a fresh propaganda campaign claiming that abortion, and coercive family planning against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang is being carried out as part of a continuing campaign of repression.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, a polished and suave diplomat was queried regarding this allegation. His response was measured and in accordance with diplomatic nuances. He asserted that the Chinese government equally protects the legitimate rights and interests of people of all ethnic groups, including ethnic minorities. In fact, China’s population policy has long been leaning toward ethnic minorities. From 1978 to 2018, the population of Uyghurs in Xinjiang grew from 5.55 million to 11.68 million, registering a 2.1 times increase and accounting for about 46.8 percent of the total population of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The statistics of the Uyghur population growth belies the baseless charge of forced family planning. Moreover, the European Union recently criticized the human rights situation in Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council but 46 countries in a joint statement voiced their support for China’s position and measures on Xinjiang, expressed appreciation for China’s remarkable achievements in human rights, and reaffirmed their opposition to the practice of politicizing human rights issues.
When Zhao Lijian was asked to comment on the issue, his reply was that since the previous year, in response to several countries’ practice of hyping up Xinjiang-related human rights matters on multilateral occasions, a large number of friendly nations and developing countries have been voicing their support for China’s achievements in counter-terrorism and deradicalization in Xinjiang as well as measures to guarantee the human rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang according to law, and their opposition to interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights. In the latest UNHRC session, 46 countries overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for China’s Xinjiang policy in a joint statement. The attempt of several Western countries to smear China failed again.
Lijian, who has served with dignity at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad as the Deputy Head of the Mission, pointed out that Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion as some forces claim, but about countering violence, terrorism and separatism. Faced with severe challenges of violence and terrorism, the Chinese government took a series of anti-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang to combat these activities and prevent their recurrence, which address both the symptoms and their root causes. Those measures, in compliance with Chinese laws, are China’s concrete and effective steps in implementing international initiatives on counter-terrorism and deradicalization. Thanks to them, Xinjiang hasn’t seen a single terror incident over the past three years or so, and people’s rights to life, health and development have been effectively safeguarded. It is universally acknowledged by the international community that China has contributed to the global human rights cause and counter-terrorism efforts.
The Foreign Office Spokesperson assured that China will continue working with all sides to make sure multilateral human rights mechanisms remain committed to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, deal with human rights issues in an objective, impartial and non-selective manner, and promote the sound development of international human rights cause through constructive dialogue and cooperation. He reiterated that China opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, and urge countries concerned to change course, rejects politicization and double standards, and stops interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs under the disguise of human rights.
It was elaborated by Lijian that the so-called “forced labor” is just a concoction by some US and Western institutions and personnel. Nothing could be further from the truth. The rights and interests of workers from ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang as part of China’s large workforce are protected by law. They are free to choose a profession and can decide on where to work of their own free will. There is no restriction whatsoever on their personal freedom. Their customs, religious beliefs and spoken and written language are all protected by law. Relevant enterprises provide good living and working conditions for ethnic minority workers and make sure all their needs are attended to. The government of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region takes active measures to guarantee to the maximum the right to work and employment of people from all ethnic groups based on their own will. According to statistics on hand, since 2018, altogether 151,000 people from impoverished households in southern Xinjiang found employment away from home, with many earning an annual income of 45,000 RMB. Thanks to the income, all their families got out of poverty. How can anyone call this “forced labor”?
This scribe has toured the length and breadth of Xinjiang and has been visiting the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region since 1974 and is an eyewitness to the transformation of the once backward region into a moderately modern state. There was a time when curfew was imposed and post sunset entertainment was curbed but now the people of Xinjiang are living peacefully, enjoying the benefits of modern living. A tour of Xinjiang last year presented stark contrasts from earlier visits. Previously there was no night life, the sidewalks along commercial centers were fenced, shoppers could only enter through security gates. Because of improved security conditions, the fences have been removed, at night we saw thousands of Chinese of all ages and minority groups dancing in the square. We used the newly installed Urumqi Metro, which is both modern and efficient. These are visible signs of tranquility returning to Xinjiang; a far cry from the negative propaganda.