Uyghurs: can we speak of genocide in China?

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After the United States and Canada, the Netherlands have just recognized that the Uighurs are victims of genocide in China. The Chinese government vehemently denounces these positions.

It is not so much the defense of the Uighurs that annoys the Chinese authorities as the specter of a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. More deeply, it is all of Xi Jinping’s policies that are under attack. To the point where Xi’s reign could be shaken and he could be forced to step down from the presidency.

1. Can we speak of genocide?

As much as it is impossible to remain indifferent to the suffering suffered by the Uighurs, it is as difficult to accuse the Chinese government of genocide in the strict sense of the term. Genocide, according to the UN definition, involves the physical and planned disappearance of a people. However, Chinese re-education camps are not concentration camps. Uighurs are not systematically killed there. Testimonies tell us that Uighur women were forcibly sterilized there. However, for there to be genocide, it would have to be proven that this practice is systematic. This proof has not been made. Moreover, forced sterilization, as bad as it is, is widespread across China for women who have often had abortions or for those who have more children than the law allows.

2. Can we speak of cultural genocide?

Cultural genocides do not have a recognized status in international law. By cultural genocide, we must understand actions which aim knowingly to make a culture disappear in a given territory, but sparing the lives of the people who carry it. However, for decades the Chinese government has encouraged Chinese of Han origin, the majority ethnic group in China, to settle in Xinjiang, so that the demographic weight of the Uighurs has greatly diminished in their own territory. In addition, the mosques of the Uighurs are destroyed. Their homes were razed to make way for buildings mainly occupied by the Chinese Hans. All of these actions can be seen as inherent parts of a vast plan of cultural genocide.

3. Are the Uighurs just victims?

Some Uighur groups carry out terrorist actions in China. Islamism also infects the Uighurs. It is nourished by the policies of interior colonization and forced sinization.

4. Should we boycott the Beijing Olympics?

The cultural genocide of the Uighurs is probably not sufficient in itself to justify a boycott. But viewed in a broader context, this boycott is defensible. Indeed, the government of Xi Jinping violated the treaty with the United Kingdom by intervening brutally in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, against the democratic movement, in the name of national security. It imposes on its population a prison-type surveillance that even George Orwell would not have dared to dream of. Worse, it exports this new model of totalitarianism. Finally, Xi Jinping’s government does not hesitate to try to intimidate countries which dare to criticize him or which do not bow to his will.

5. Is Xi’s power at stake?

The opacity of the Chinese government has again become such that it is difficult to know what is going on among the top leaders. But the sharp deterioration in China’s external image resulting from Xi’s policies could undermine the president’s power. Boycotting the Beijing Games could send a salutary message of support to Xi’s opponents.