Beijing’s remote and little-known westernmost province – as large as Iran but with less than 25 million people – is suddenly in the news.
Sinkiang’s predominantly Muslim population has become a victim of Communist Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s escalating controversial nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion”.
Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, claims that two million people are detained in “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, including 338 intellectuals. About 15 million Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group who live in East and Central Asia, mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, are one of China’s fifty-five officially-recognized ethnic minorities.
China massively increased security spending in 2017 in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are alleged to have been detained. Official figures show that “nearly all security-related facility construction” rose by 213% between 2016 and 2017 according to the US-based Jamestown Foundation.
Chinese diplomats deny the allegations, arguing that “[T]here is no internment camp, no concentration camp, there is only vocational training centers.” But critics of the regime argue over a million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been held in these camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the Party.
The push to “Sinicize religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture. Delivering his annual government work report, Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicization of religion in China.”
Events in Singkiang have finally attracted public criticism from foreign Muslim leaders, in Turkey for example, more often as not in the past to have been allies of Beijing in its arguments with the Western democracies.
China, stepping up its diplomatic defense, invited diplomats from carefully selected countries to visit in at least four separate rounds, a move that some observers saw as further displaying China’s worry concern over the growing international backlash.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has written the State Department castigating what they charge is the Trump Administration’s inadequate response to the situation. Arguing that it has “taken no meaningful action in response to the situation in (Xinjiang),” lawmakers wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, four months after they initially called on him to take action.
[…]In their letter Monday, the U.S. lawmakers, led by House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, said that “over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been interned in ‘political re-education camps’ without due process as part of a broader attempt to wipe out their separate identity, language, and history.” Based on local government tendering documents, at least several hundred thousand and perhaps over a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities could have been detained in Xinjiang.
Such estimates were also quoted at a UN human rights panel earlier this year.
But so far, Beijing has refused permission for UN special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, to go to Umruchi, the Singkiang capital to investigate. China has not yet replied to his February request, he said.
“I have requested for a visit to go there, because this a priority for me in terms of looking at what is happening there’, Shaheed said. “There is reason to be seriously concerned about reports coming out of the Xinjiang region” told a news briefing. Shaheed, a former Maldives minister, disclosed he was among several U.N. rights experts to write to China last November voicing anxiety at its anti-extremism program.