How Capitalism Further Enforces the Slavery and Oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang
As Uyghurs in China face persecution and those who were able to flee and speak up about their experience receive indirect threats from the Chinese government’s mouthpieces, the questions remain the same. How did we get here? Why is nobody doing anything to stop it?
Image: YUNG TAO CHANG/Shutterstock
Xinjiang, or as Turkic nations call it, East Turkistan, has a long history of different dynasties ruling its territory. The Muslim nations that were living there were able to govern themselves only for a short period in history. The first attempt to establish the East Turkistan Republic was in 1933, when, for a year, Turkic people in the region were able to have their independence. Although the second attempt lasted longer—from 1944 to 1949—eventually faced the same fate as the first. Since then, the Chinese Communist regime has been ruling the region, making the indigenous nations living in Xinjiang a target of genocidal policies aimed at stripping Turkic nations of their identities, beliefs, and traditions.
When interviewing Rushan Abbas, a founder of the Campaign for Uyghurs and Uyghur-American activist, on her activism, she defined East Turkistan’s geopolitical importance to China, calling it “the gateway to Central Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Africa.” Abbas—who spent the past five years demanding information on her sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, who was abducted by the Chinese government for “taking part in organized terrorism, aiding terrorist activities, and seriously disrupting social order,” as reported by Amnesty International—is well aware of the Chinese crimes against humanity. She summarized the chronology of the re-education camps turning into what they are regarded today by the Human Rights Watch, “detention centres and prisons.”
“This genocide started when Xi Jinping became president,” Abbas explains. A year after that, in 2014, the Chinese authorities started detaining people “little by little” and “testing the water.” It was then, she believes, “when nobody realized what China was doing, and there was no attention from the international community” that the Chinese Communist regime thought it could get away with anything. “In 2017, they started to massively detain millions of people”.
It is not only the lack of awareness of the treatment of Muslims in China that we can blame, but also the “favours” that the West was giving to China, the activist says. “We kept giving China what they wanted. We gave them ‘the most favourite nation’ status; we brought them to the World Trade Organization, the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They thought that now they could do anything and get away with it because they were not only not being held accountable for the crimes against Uyghurs, but they were rewarded,” Abbas points out. “That’s when they became aggressive towards the people.”
“The Uyghur women are facing the most brutal oppression,” she signifies that as much as the oppression of Uyghurs is a human rights violation, it disproportionately affects the women, making them suffer in horrific ways. “The Uyghur women are facing forced sterilization, forced abortions, and forced marriage to Han-Chinese men.” All of these actions are aimed at forcefully making Uyghur women lose their identity. If a woman refuses the forced marriage, she and her family will be thrown into concentration camps for being deemed “radical Muslims.”
“Most Uyghur men are sent to concentration camps,” the activist further says, while Uyghur women are exposed to sexual abuse. “Their children are taken away from them and sent to orphanages,” Abbas says, which is proven to be true. “Where are all the voices that are so vocal against any kind of social injustice against women? All these feminists who are supposed to represent women’s rights? Where are all the people who are supposed to protect children?” These cries for help from the Uyghur community are yet to be answered. “When the perpetrator of the genocide is the Chinese government that has the money and the power, all these strong voices decide to stay silent.” She adds that the biggest hypocrisy is the status of Xi Jingping’s wife, Liuyan Peng, as “UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls’ and Women’s Education.”
Even those Muslim families who are spared being separated and imprisoned can’t be safe in their own homes without being supervised. It was reported that “More than a million local government workers have been deployed to ethnic minorities’ homes to monitor their behaviour.” Another dystopian fact in the daily lives of Uyghurs is as a surveillance state, the Chinese government—which continues to ban Muslims from fasting during their Holy Month of Ramadan—can find out through their monitoring cameras if someone is fasting or not.
Yet, with all these accounts of human rights violations, the lack of actions towards the end of these policies can be explained by the use of the forced labour of Uyghurs. From IT technology and the solar industry to beauty products, textiles, and cotton garments—the list of global industries benefitting from Uyghur slavery is endless.
Abbas refers to the report by Laura T Murphy that exposed the links of the automobile supply chain to forced labour in Xinjiang. “What parts of your car were made by Uyghur forced labourers?” the report asks the reader, further stating that after a six-month investigation, they found that every major car brand is linked to benefitting from the Uyghur’s being forced to work at the Chinese factories, in Xinjiang and even other parts of China.
Another instance of Uyghur slavery used for capitalistic gains was the CNN report in 2020, which revealed that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Port of New York/Newark seized a 13-ton shipment with weaves of human hair that originated in Xinjiang. It made authorities suspect that the weaves were made from enslaved Uyghurs’ hair, as it wasn’t the first such instance.
Oppression of Uyghurs and Turkic minorities in China’s Xinjiang is one of many ongoing instances of human rights violations in the world, as stated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. Although human rights organizations continue raising awareness and providing proof of the unlawful imprisonments, the situation hasn’t changed much. Human Rights Watch reports that Turkic Muslims remain imprisoned, those outside of prisons are forcibly assimilated, while “Uyghurs abroad continue to have little to no contact with their family members.” Yet no actions are being taken, reminding us that when the world has to choose between capitalistic gains and justice for human beings, the choice is to continue operating clandestinely at the cost of human lives.