Hit China’s rich and powerful with sanctions – just like the Putin oligarchs

Published by The Mail on Sunday (4th September, 2022)

According to the Chinese government, the primary human right is to have an enjoyable life – and nowhere demonstrates its laudable desire to spread a little happiness better than the Western province of Xinjiang.

Last week they sent a letter to the United Nations describing this region – home to about 12 million Uighurs – as a beautiful nirvana where ‘people of all ethnic groups are living a happy life in peace and contentment’.

Thanks to their noble efforts, they said, everyone in Xinjiang can ‘enjoy social stability, economic development, cultural prosperity and religious harmony’.

If only this vision was remotely true. But sadly, these were the grotesque words of a regime that seems to have adopted George Orwell’s 1984 as a textbook for its twisted rule reliant on brutality, surveillance and spreading lies.

Beijing’s letter was attached to a groundbreaking UN report that, for all its hesitancy and weakness, finally saw it condemn China for ‘serious human rights violations’ against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang that may amount to crimes against humanity.

This is a highly significant moment. ‘Claiming ignorance is no longer an option – failure to act now is wilful complicity in genocide,’ Rahima Mahmut, the UK director of the World Uighur Congress, texted me shortly after publication.

Activists such as Rahima and survivors of horror have spent years trying to wake up the world to the atrocities, barbarities and cruelties inflicted on their people by the Chinese government – and now it is official.

True to form, Beijing tried to block and bully Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner who wrote the report. First it tried to control her visit in May to Xinjiang, then it pursued delaying tactics to frustrate publication, before finally dismissing her document as a smear and sending out that ridiculous letter.

In reality, few parts of our planet are more miserable than Xinjiang. For it has been turned into hell on earth by a repulsive Communist dictatorship trying to crush the culture, language, religion and traditions of its indigenous communities.

At least a million Uighurs have been sent to concentration camps where they are brainwashed, drugged and tortured.

Families are routinely broken up, children snatched from parents, women forced into late abortions and sterilisation.

We know from leaked documents that President Xi Jinping, the hardline nationalist dictator, personally ordered this crackdown that combines modern technology with medieval savagery.

He sent in his hand-picked henchman to oversee the clampdown. Chen Quanguo trialled their tactics in Tibet, cracking down on its Buddhist religion and gentle traditions so harshly that it led to scores of self-immolations in protest.

Under their regime’s reign of terror in Xinjiang, it is deemed a crime for citizens to study scripture, grow a beard, complain about poverty or travel overseas.

Cameras, checkpoints and facial recognition technologies are placed everywhere. Entire villages have been rounded up and despatched to camps. Survivors talk of gang rapes. 

Thousands of mosques and shrines have been destroyed. I have reported for this paper on the horrific stories of people sent into the gulags. ‘When the officers picked out the prettiest girls, you knew what was going to happen,’ said one camp survivor.

And I have heard from families whose relatives have disappeared and at first hand the terrible tales of women forcibly sterilised and doctors who tried to protect them. I will never forget the testimony I heard in Istanbul two years ago from a 30-year-old nurse, Zumret Abdullah, who spent three years working in a maternity ward where she saw about 90 forced abortions. ‘I still have nightmares,’ she said.

She told me expectant mothers were made to swallow pills to abort foetuses or, if more than five months pregnant, suffer fatal injections into the head of their unborn child. One mother, seven months into her pregnancy, begged to die after her baby was killed. Afterwards, they threw the foetus in a plastic bag ‘like it was trash’.

Last year, a former Chinese police officer tormented by guilt, remarkably confessed to me about the torture in Xinjiang, telling me how they used electric batons on the genitals of prisoners and shackled people to special chairs for up to two weeks.

The Chinese claim to be fighting terrorism and release sickening videos showing Uighur women singing and dancing to prove their happiness. It smears those daring to challenge such propaganda. Beijing’s campaign of ethnic cleansing began before the turn of the century when Han Chinese flooded into Xinjiang, taking land and exploiting natural resources.

As in Tibet, party chiefs sought to eliminate traditional cultures and break the hold of religion. One mother who found refuge in Sweden told me about discovering that her three-year-old son was having his mouth taped up in kindergarten to stop his use of their language.

Xi ramped up repression after taking power in 2012 – just as he has done across Chinese society to smash dissent, destroy rival factions, force businesses to toe the party line and shut down the slightest space for civil society.

After anti-government protests and attacks in Xinjiang, he ordered his acolytes to show no mercy. This led to the re-education camps, the forced labour programmes and the world’s most intrusive surveillance system.

Yet the violations detailed in this UN report also implicate the global community. For complacent politicians in democracies along with governments of Muslim nations ignore genocide to appease a rising superpower and win a sliver of trade.

Western businesses put profits before morality to buy cotton and tomatoes grown with forced labour in Xinjiang – and even to trade in the hair shaved from heads of women captives, such a sinister echo of past atrocities in concentration camps.

We have seen that Xi’s brutish regime, increasingly aggressive towards neighbours, cannot be trusted.

Look at how China destroyed Hong Kong’s freedoms in defiance of the handover deal with Britain after the eruption of pro-democracy protests.

And it covered up the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, hampering efforts to stymie an emerging pandemic, then frustrated all attempts to investigate the origins.

They were aided by politicians, media and scientists who ignored the coincidence that a lethal new virus had emerged in the city that is centre of secretive research into bat coronaviruses and home to China’s top-level biosecurity laboratory.

Perhaps one day we will see some straight talking from the UN on this issue too.

It is a step forward, however, to see this conflicted and weak institution state firmly that China is guilty of atrocities in Xinjiang – even if it has shied away from accusing China of genocide, unlike the United States and British MPs.

Now we need to see tough action to confront the perpetrators.

There should be judicial accountability with a genocide investigation launched by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Democracies should ban China’s surveillance firms such as Hikvision, cleanse supply chains of stained goods or companies linked to forced labour, and impose sanctions on China’s political and corporate leadership, starting at the top.

Wu’er Kaixi, a Uighur who led the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, suggested to me recently that the West should follow its stance toward’s Russia’s crimes in Ukraine with sanctions on China’s 200 top families to stop their travel and strip them of wealth.

Or will we simply let China’s evil dictatorship under Xi Jinping keep on spewing out lies that it is spreading happiness in Xinjiang when the world knows beyond slightest doubt that it is carrying out some of the darkest crimes against humanity?

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