The repression of China’s Uighur Muslims by the ruling Communist Party has been continuing on for decades, but in the spring of 2017, a crackdown began on Chinese Muslims in which they were detained in “re-education” camps. The reasons for being incarcerated were flimsy excuses such as contacting friends who lived abroad or growing a beard. China has detained over 1 million Uighurs in these concentration camps (upto 3 million according to the US Department of Defense). A BBC report on the these camps can be viewed below:
In the past few years, there have been protests and demonstrations throughout the world against China’s suppression of Uighur Muslims. And at the UN Human Rights Council on July 8 2019, ambassadors from 22 countries, including the UK, Canada and Japan (but significantly not including the US) signed a joint letter criticizing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Not a single Muslim-majority country signed the letter. In fact, Muslim regimes backed Beijing’s policy. For example, during a visit to China at the beginning of July 2019, Turkish President Erdogan said, “It is a fact that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang are leading a happy life amid China’s development and prosperity” [Reuters].
On 12 July 2019, a second letter addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and eventually signed by 50 countries, commended China for its “remarkable achievements” in “protecting and promoting human rights through development.” The letter also “call[ed] on relevant countries to refrain from employing unfounded charges against China”. The signatories included several Muslim countries, such as Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the UAE (see below for a list of countries signing both the first and second letters):
As far back as November 2017, US President Donald Trump also supported China’s policy towards the Uighur Muslims, explicitly telling Xi Jinping he shoud continue with the building of the camps. This was recently exposed by Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton in his explosive new book The Room Where It Happened, which the White House unsuccessfully tried to ban:
“Beijing’s repression of the Uighurs also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China because of its treatment of the Uighurs, a non–Han Chinese, largely Muslim people, who lived primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province. Ross had warned me that morning Trump didn’t want sanctions because of the China trade negotiations. The issue of the Uighurs had been wending its way through the NSC process, but it was not yet ready for decision. It only got worse. At the opening dinner of the Osaka G20 meeting, with only interpreters present, Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do. Pottinger told me Trump said something very similar during the 2017 trip to China, which meant we could cross repression of the Uighurs off our list of possible reasons to sanction China, at least as long as trade negotiations continued.”
[John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, Simon & Schuster, pp. 282 to 283 of e-book]
In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Bolton writes:
“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.”[‘The Scandal of Trump’s China Policy’, John Bolton, Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2020]
Trump’s main concern was his re-election as President in 2020, and he saw a successful trade deal with Beijing as being one of the keys to his eventual victory in the upcoming US elections. So while Congress was drawing up legislation to implement sanctions against Beijing due to its treatment of the Uighurs, Trump’s White house was opposed to the plans. In an endnote to the above passage, Bolton cited a New York Times article dated May 4, 2019 and entitled ‘In Push for Trade Deal, Trump Administration Shelves Sanctions Over China’s Crackdown on Uighurs’. The article states that “[s]ince 2018, Democratic and Republican members of Congress have pushed the White House and agencies to impose sanctions and limit trade with Chinese companies involved in Xinjiang.” However, “[a]fter Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China talked over a steak dinner in December at a Group of 20 meeting in Argentina, the administration decided to shelve the proposed sanctions”.
At the time of writing it has emerged that, after intense pressure following the revelations in John Bolton’s book, Donald Trump has signed into law the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which seeks to punish China for “gross human rights abuses” against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the country’s western Xinjiang province. But as the saying goes, this is closing the stable doors after the horse has already bolted. The United States administration had the opportunity to voice opposition to the concentration camps more than three years ago. Now, as top Pentagon official Randall Schriver stated last year, the number interned is “likely closer to 3 million citizens”.