Cultural Genocide In The Far East’s Far West
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) occupied the East Turkestan Republic in 1949 and renamed it the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In 1951, just south of Xinjiang, the Communists invaded Tibet and absorbed into the PRC as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Neither province is autonomous in any respect.
Their sheer size makes Xinjiang and Tibet important. Historic Tibet—before the PRC transferred half its territory to Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces—accounted for 25 percent of China’s total landmass. Adding Xinjiang’s 16.6% share to the current TAR total of 12.5 percent, the PRC’s two westernmost provinces still make up nearly 30% of the fatherland.
The two far western provinces have vast geopolitical, navigational, and energy-producing significance. Tibet is China’s buffer against the Indian subcontinent. Xinjiang insulates the PRC from the five Central Asian Republics that were formerly part of the USSR. The Yangzi River, Asia’s longest river and China’s lifeblood, originates on the Tibetan Plateau. Xinjiang is home to the world’s richest oil and gas reserves.
China will never cede control of either province. On the contrary, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tightened the screws on both regions. The CCP continues to justify its conduct as a necessary response to the non-violent Tibetan protests and a series of murderous Muslim attacks perpetrated by Xinjiang separatists. The Uighur transgressions—including a driver steering his vehicle into fifty people at Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate, the stabbing of a hundred and fifty more at the Kunming train station, blowing up an outdoor market in Urumqi, and a series of assaults on police stations and innocent Han settlers—are undeniably significant. However, the PRC’s response to those demonstrations and atrocities has been grossly disproportionate and dehumanizing.
The Rasputin in this morality play—the common denominator in both provinces’ punishment—is the ethnic Chinese soldier-cum-politician Chen Quanguo. Displaying Berian zeal, Chen served as Tibet’s Party Secretary between 2011 and 2016. He assumed a similar position in Xinjiang after “stabilizing” the TAR. Comrade Chen’s performance in Tibet and Xinjiang assures his future induction into the totalitarian hall of fame.
Chinese President Xi Jinping portrays himself as a pragmatist dedicated to preserving all citizens’ rights, including those of the PRC’s non-Han minorities. Nothing could be further from the truth. His regime—even before Xi abolished term limits—has turned all of China into a police state. The PRC has installed 176,000,000 CCTV cameras countrywide. It plans to have 676,000,000 in operation by 2020.
Both Tibet and Xinjiang have the appearance and atmosphere of war zones. What the Communists started in Tibet they have perfected in Xinjiang. They are maximizing their technological prowess and combining it with overwhelming low-tech enforcement. The PRC (1) requires its citizens to carry ID cards containing a wealth of biometric, ethnic, arrest, and other information; (2) operates small “convenience” police stations every hundred meters; (3) has installed millions of street cameras that recognize facial features and track people’s movements; (4) set up multiple checkpoints where police scan ID cards, irises, and phone contents; (5) X-ray people’s bags and wave wands across their bodies as they enter stores, banks, and other public buildings; (6) installs GPS tracking systems on all vehicles; (7) loads spy apps on all phones, allowing police unilateral access to users’ texts, calls, and other content; and (8) collects DNA from every citizen and stores the information on a central data base.
In Kashgar prefecture — undeniably the most rebellious Xinjiang enclave — the government has collected DNA samples from all 4,000,000 residents during the PRC’s mandatory “health checks”. Organizations able to penetrate the provinces’ borders — Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Asia, the World Uighur Conference, Amnesty International, and intrepid reporters with The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal — have reached the consensus view that Xinjiang Province is the most heavily policed area in the world, outstripping even East Germany in its diabolical heyday. The PRC’s arbitrary arrests, disappearances, reeducation camps, and executions are about more than security. China’s leaders are determined to exterminate their minorities’ ethnic identities, religious faiths, culture, and language. Their ultimate goal is to recast all subjects as Han Chinese.
To that end, in Xinjiang Province face coverings are disallowed, “abnormal” beards must be shaved, village chiefs are demoted for not smoking, Ramadan fasting is prohibited, shops are required to sell alcohol, and parents cannot give their children Islamic names. Radio Free Asia reported that government officials in southern Xinjiang ordered the blanket imprisonment of 40% of a local Uighur population. Another researcher estimates that 800,000 Xinjiang residents—from a population of 22 million—have been detained, sent to reeducation centers, or imprisoned in forced labor camps.
World leaders haven’t addressed China’s atrocities. Ignorance isn’t the reason. Although the PRC’s western frontier is remote, Tibet and Xinjiang aren’t real-world Wakandas, invisible underneath a holographic dome. The silence of the US, Europe, Japan, and Pope Francis is a product of their spiritual myopia, lack of empathy, and self-interest.
The secular powers are disinclined to criticize the big bully on the block, a superpower that is one of their major trading partners. Pope Francis has a different motive. The Vatican has been seeking a rapprochement with Beijing over the status of the PRC’s 12,000,000 Catholics. The Pope seems willing to compromise the Church’s right to appoint bishops—even if it means selling out Chinese Catholics—to secure his place in history for restoring relations with China and being the first pontiff to visit there. Francis’ preoccupation with the Reds manifested itself in 2014 when he refused the Dalai Lama’s request for a meeting. The Pope admitted that he based that decision on his “delicate situation” with Beijing. His priorities haven’t changed. During his 2018 Easter sermon, he prayed for peace in numerous strife-torn areas. Francis made no mention of the PRC’s human rights violations.
Looking into the future, three things seem clear. First, the conditions in the Tibetan and Xinjiang gulags will become worse with the passage of time. The PRC will continue to scan, ban, and outman their hopelessly overmatched subjects. The Reds are also winning the war between the sheets. In 1949, Uighurs constituted 90% of East Turkestan’s total population. Because of state-sponsored mass settlements, its demographic share is down to 45%. The population shift in the TAR is headed in the same direction. Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs have become minorities and outcasts in their own lands. China’s de facto apartheid becomes more deeply entrenched with each passing day.
Second, the Chinese won’t allow Tibetan Buddhists to select a Fifteenth Dalai Lama when their 82-year-old Rinpoche passes away. That refusal could cause the entire Tibetan Plateau to explode. Third—and of little consequence—I have a greater chance of winning a Nobel Prize than having my op-ed escape PRC censorship and find its way into the hands of a single Mainland Chinese.
Thomas V. Harris, a former trial attorney, is now serving as a mediator in Seattle, Washington. The setting for his novel “Three Gorges Dam” is Western China and the world’s largest hydroelectric facility. To learn more, visit thomasvharris.com.