The Strategic Significance of China’s Uyghur Genocide in the 21st Century Order
(Nury Turkel, May 25, 2021)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Nury Turkel is the first U.S.-educated Uyghur-American lawyer, foreign policy expert, and human rights advocate. He was born in a re-education camp at the height of China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution and spent the first several months of his life in detention with his mother. He came to the United States in 1995 as a student and was later granted asylum by the U.S. government.
In May 2020, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appointed Turkel as a Commissioner to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In September 2020, Turkel was named one of the TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World; and in May 2021, he was named on Fortune’s List of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.
Turkel is a respected opinion leader and a foreign policy expert primarily focusing on diplomatic, economic, and national security issues involving China, Central Asia, and Turkey. He is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Turkel received an M.A. in International Relations and a J.D. from the American University in Washington, DC. As an attorney, he specializes in regulatory compliance, federal investigation and enforcement, anti-bribery, legislative advocacy, and immigration. In addition to his professional career, Turkel has devoted his time and energy to promoting Uyghur human rights and supporting American and universal democratic norms.
In addition to his law practice and foreign policy work, Turkel has worked on human rights advocacy for more than two decades. He serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), which he co-founded in 2003. Previously, he served as the president of the Uyghur American Association, where he led efforts to raise the profile of the Uyghur people in the United States, including organizing and leading the campaign that achieved the March 2005 release of a renowned Uyghur prisoner of conscience, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer. Since 2011, he has successfully represented a substantial number of Uyghur political refugees with their asylum applications in the United States.
In addition to his advocacy work in the United States, Turkel has engaged in policy and legislative advocacy in the European Union and the Australian Parliament. He serves as a legal and policy adviser to the past and present presidents of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), an organization that serves as an umbrella organization for the Uyghur community and advocacy groups promoting universal human rights. Turkel successfully represented Dolkun Isa, WUC’s current president, to restore his travel privileges to the United States. He has also assisted Uyghur refugees in the United States, Europe, and Turkey.
Turkel has published policy-oriented commentaries and op-eds in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, The Independent, The Hill, and The Diplomat. Turkel has spoken at numerous policy forums, academic institutes, and human rights conferences, regarding the mass internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China. He has appeared on major media outlets, including CNN, BBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera, Australian ABC, Sky News, France 24, and TRT World.
He has testified before Congress, including most recently before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in October 2019, speaking about Uyghur internment camps, and advocating a legislative response to China’s atrocities. Many of his recommendations have been incorporated into U.S. laws and pending bills relating to Uyghurs and China in Congress, including the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-145).
Robert R. Reilly:
Hello, I am Bob Reilly, the director of the Westminster Institute, and welcome to our ongoing series of lectures and discussions. Today, we are talking with Nury Turkel, who is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and who serves as a Commissioner to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Mr. Turkel was born in a re-education camp at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution and spent the several first several months of his life in detention with his mother. He came to the United States in 1995 as a student and was later granted asylum by the U.S. government. Mr. Turkel received an M.A. in International Relations and a J.D. from the American University here in Washington, D.C. In addition to his professional career, he has promoted Uyghur human rights and universal democratic norms. He is the Chairman of the Board for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which he co-founded in 2003.
Previously he served as the President of the Uyghur American Association. Since 2011 Mr. Turkel has successfully represented a substantial number of political refugees with their asylum applications in the United States. He has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Foreign Policy and other prestigious venues. Nury has testified for Congress, including most recently in May on the atrocities against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Many of his recommendations have been incorporated into U.S. laws and pending bills relating to Uyghurs in China, including the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020. In May, Fortune magazine named him one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Today, we are going to discuss, “The Strategic Significance of China’s Uyghur Genocide in the 21st Century Order.” Welcome to the program, Nury Turkel.
Thank you very much, Bob. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you on these important issues.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, perhaps you could begin by putting this issue in context with also some history of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and their relationship to China. I know back in 1949 there was a brief period of independence. Then what happened?
The international community just find out about the brutal nature of the CCP’s decades old repression of the Uyghurs along with the other non-Han Chinese minority populations in China. It took a genocide in the Uyghur homeland, East Turkistan, upending of the rule of law, democratic freedom in Hong Kong for the international community to find out what this regime in Beijing really is about.
Uyghur people have been subject to various forms of political repression since Mao’s occupation of the Uyghur’s homeland in 1949 with the help of Stalin. Early on they used some of the common forms of repression, but starting in the early ‘90s, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an emergency of the independent nations in the Uyghur’s backyard on the other side of the border, the Chinese authorities felt that Uyghurs might demand a similar type of freedom, sovereignty from the PRC, so they used their influence in the region, rallied support on a much smaller scale in comparison to what we are seeing today. With the help of Russia they established this thing called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO is the acronym, where the SCO helps the Chinese intensify the pressure, not only on the Uyghurs living within the Chinese boundaries but also pressuring the neighboring countries not to support [the Uyghurs].
So this was in 1995 towards the end of the 90s and then 9/11 gave them another opportunity to use the U.S.-led War on Terrorism as an excuse, which they still do to this day, to tell the world that Uyghurs are the Muslim terrorists that pose a similar type of threat as the other Muslim groups do in the West, basically the United States, which has been rebuked by both previous Secretary of State and the current Secretary of State.
As you may recall Secretary Pompeo revoked this decision made by the Bush administration, designating an obscure organization as a terrorist organization, which Secretary Pompeo revoked and also recently Secretary Blinken also said in his one of his interviews that the way that China sees this security threat is not the same way that we see it. So that is so much so for China’s security claim, and it has been very effective in their diplomatic efforts to buy out silence, pressure, harass weaker countries to get on their side.
And then fast forward, starting [in] 2009 after the the ethnic clash in the regional capital Urumchi, the Chinese gave up something that they were previously using, a carrot and stick policy, to switch to a stick-only approach. A recently published New Yorker piece, a long piece, a feature story profiling a former camp detainee survivor, gives a good overview of the transition from carrot and stick to the stick-only policy that been implemented. And this takes us to the Xi Jinping era.
Xi Jinping Era
After Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, a leaked document [was] publicly circulated, the number nine document. In 2013, Xi Jinping and his supporters within the Communist Party decided to to do a couple of things; one, take out anything that is making noise, will potentially pose a threat to the state, to the party, to Xi Jinping’s authority. And then globally they are using their technological advantages, economic influence to buy out, silence [critics] as well as expanding their way of governance, authoritarian governance, which was widely discussed in the previous administration. As you may recall Secretary Pompeo made a number of speeches on this initiative and the implementation of Xi Jinping’s worldview. So in 2015, Xi Jinping was advised by his advisors that there has got to be a final solution to the Xinjiang problem.
Robert R. Reilly:
That is an eerie phrase to use, the ‘final solution.’
Yeah, they call it the ‘Xinjiang final solution’ to the ‘Xinjiang problem.’ They did not specifically mention the name of the ethnic group, but the geographic reference is bone chilling, so with that Xi Jinping authority and himself, someone who is so fixated, so focused on the stability concern, thought that was a good idea. And then in August 2016, Xi Jinping put in power someone by the name of Chen Quanguo, who was a Party Secretary in Tibet, and he essentially got promoted from being a Party Secretary in Tibet to Party Secretary in Xinjiang.
He was given all the necessary tools, and this New Yorker piece even reports that he built a fortress-like compound that is his command center, controlling the information, surveillance apparatus, policymaking. He worked and lived in that compound. So this man was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Last year the Trump administration sanctioned him and it was the first time that the United States government used the legal tools, this effect of legal tools, to sanction somebody who is in actually a significant political position within the Chinese system.
So this has been an ongoing process and has now become a very personal matter for Xi Jinping and his supporters. This has become a global issue. The reason being that if you look at the way that the Uyghur genocide has been designed, enforced, and implemented, it is now quite shamelessly justified through China’s official mouthpiece media outlets and also their diplomats, using our social media to engage in genocide denial. Recently one of the most senior Chinese diplomats, Cui Tiankui, showed up on CNN [and] quite comfortably said that this is where we are, Americans need to get used to it. And then he also said that there is no such a thing called genocide because the Uyghur people are happy, their homeland is beautiful. And so so the point is that they are using this issue actually to rally support in addition to justifying it.
Another interesting aspect is technology. An Australian think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, profiled technology firms from the apparel industry using forced labor for so long. Over 80 global brands were implicated in this report. The United States Congress is actively legislating a bill, a legislative mandate, to address this modern day slavery. And there is another aspect, which is the expansion of authoritarianism. The Chinese use the Uyghur’s homeland and their lives to test this surveillance, the most intrusive form of surveillance techniques, now actively expanding it.
Last year the commission that I am serving held a hearing. One of our witnesses, a China scholar who monitors and researches these issues, told us that over 80 countries already have adopted Chinese surveillance techniques. Why this is so concerning is because it is a threat to religious freedom because these techniques, surveillance techniques, become very attractive tools for authoritarian dictatorships around the world that have no regard to democratic principles, freedom, human rights. This is also a threat to democratic norms because the governments will be using these techniques to surveil their political opponents, political activists, and punish them if necessary.
This is also a national security threat because sometimes when people talk about these big giants, tech giants that have that have been added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List, as if this is the United States cooking up something, being fearful of China taking over the world and becoming the next super power. This is a real threat. The tech authoritarianism that China has developed and is expanding is a huge threat.
And then also this Uyghur genocide has another interesting aspect, which is China’s use of international institutions such as the UN [and the] Organization of Islamic Conference to go against American interests, against the interests of the liberal democracies, and this is also a historically very significant thing that the world needs to wake up [to], that we educate. We told and also educated the younger generation that no one would be punished because of their race, ethnicity, or religious practices, and this is happening.
That ‘never again,’ the promise we have been told, ‘never again’ is happening in real time as we speak in Communist China. So this is no longer just a typical human rights concern relating to one oppressed ethnic minority in Communist China. This is about who we are as a civilization. This is who we are as a nation, a defender of democratic freedom, to take a position, and this is something that is non-controversial, but some people are still trying to figure out if they should take a position.
Robert R. Reilly:
Nury, let me ask you about the sources of information that the Uyghurs in Xinjiang have. Has the Communist Party so succeeded in monopolizing information, which is their specialty, that the people in Xinjiang do not have outside sources? I mean can they listen to Radio Free Asia or do they have any means, can they circumvent the firewall on the internet, etc.?
That is a great question and it is happening in two ways; one, as you are aware, the Chinese kicked out Western reporters, American reporters, out of China. For the first time in the last twenty years, we do not have any reporters on the ground from Washington Post and most of those journalists, starting from Melissa Chen in the post-July 5 Uyghur unrest everyone [expelled from China] happened to be American. Every time when somebody reports something significant Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Chen and others, the Chinese find that to be problematic.
This is also something that bothers me so much, that the the Western democracies, governments, including our own government, [are] not providing the necessary support to our journalists who are supposed to be doing their job, telling the stories, reporting from China, and the same rule does not apply [to] the Chinese reporters [who] are free to come to our country, report, and even advance Chinese disinformation campaigns, which is totally unfair.
And when it comes to the the information from the United States [government] to China, broadcasting to the Uyghur population, the Chinese have been using jamming techniques to jam Voice of America and Radio Free Asia for many years. Radio Free Asia is the only and the first free press, free media outlet for the Uyghur people around the world for the first time and it still is the only one. And the Uyghur people took the risk to listen to the broadcast early on. It is hard to know what is the situation now. It appears that the Chinese cyber police or the people who monitor the information, watches the news.
It is disheartening that the Chinese government, knowing the role of Radio Free Asia in exposing the atrocities, particularly in the last three or four years, rounded up the reporters’ family members. More than half of the Radio Free Asia Uyghur service reporters have family members in the concentration camps. The deputy director of the Uyghur service, Mamatjan Juma, has been looking for his two missing brothers. The crime was one of them happened to be a Uyghur teacher, the other one is just [an] artist. So that is the reality and I am somewhat dumbfounded, perplexed that our government is not doing enough to protect the Radio Free Asia reporters who are risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones in China, doing what a responsible reporter does. They have punished them for fulfilling their professional obligation, being U.S. government contractors.
Robert R. Reilly:
That leads to the question have you ever been threatened or do you have family members remaining in Xinjiang who are punished because of what you have been doing?
The Chinese do not engage in physical threats on our soil. I think they know the ramifications, the consequences, of such illegal activities, but what they do is to take either your family as a hostage or threaten [you] with [the] potential imprisonment of your family to silence you, but to our benefit the Uyghurs in America are going about with their activism and public advocacy for the Uyghur people, who have been mistreated by the Communist government.
I have not seen my mother since my law school graduation in 2004. I have not been able to bring them out of the country. The Chinese are retaliating against my advocacy work over the years. My situation is actually less dramatic than compared to others. There are Uyghur families, Uyghur individuals [who have] been directly threatened and their family members [have] been taken to the concentration camps. We know Uyghur babies have not been touched by their parents, touched by their grandparents. We know that the Uyghur Americans are being regularly harassed and pressured by the Chinese either to stay quiet or not to speak out. If they do, there will be more family members being detained.
The United States government has a law under the mandate of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, that President Trump signed into law last June, which specifically directs our FBI, our law enforcement, to provide protection to Uyghur American families. The harassment, intimidation – direct [and] indirect – has been one of the most effective methods that the Chinese [have] used to silence those who are free to speak.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, before the profile of what was happening in Xinjiang was raised so successfully by you and others, the most attention was received and has been received for many decades by Tibet. And as you just mentioned, the Secretary of the Tibetan Party, Chinese Secretary of the Tibetan [Communist] Party, was moved over to Xinjiang. How like the Chinese policy toward Tibet is their treatment of the Uyghurs and how unlike is it?
It is very similar in the way that they formulate, implement policies in one region. If it is successful, they move it to the another region. A case in point is this bilingual education. Initially they tested that in the Uyghur homeland. It worked and they are implementing in Tibet. They built a railroad to Urumchi and the major cities. It helped not only the Chinese to get access to regional natural resources, including the ones in the Uyghur homeland, but also helped to expedite the mass migration. And now that Tibet has a railroad connecting inland China to lhasa, they are also targeting religious elites, religious teachers, social elites, scholars in the Uyghur homeland.
They are doing the same thing in Tibet vice versa. They started the enslavement of the Uyghurs to provide goods to the global supply chain. That was effective and no one seemed to really care because we are interrupting the corporate interest. The almighty dollar is very important to many people who are engaging with China in business spheres, and now that we are seeing a similar trend line in Tibet. The re-education camp; initially the Uyghur religious teachers, leaders [were] taken into this government-run, daily re-education centers. This was before the concentration camps were built. No one raised a finger and they doing this to monasteries in Tibet.
They are putting pro-Chinese Uyghur Communists in top, powerful positions and it was very effective. They do it in Tibet vice versa. They also recycle leadership as [seen in] the case that I was mentioning. So the only difference is that when it comes to Tibet, the Chinese have been somewhat careful because of the grassroots movement that his holiness the Dalai Lama and his supporters were able to build over the years.
Whereas the Uyghur case is not a grassroots movement, it is a top-down movement, but not by design, by nature. Only [the] informed population knows about the Uyghurs, not the general public that much, so there is a global sympathy for the Tibetans. I am speaking in general terms because the China that we all know before the concentration camps were built because China started this genocidal campaign is a fundamentally different country. So I am mostly speaking in the past tense. So the Tibetans now are kind of forgotten because much of the focus was given to the Uyghur people and Hong Kongers. As a Commissioner at the International Religious Freedom Commission one of my responsibilities is to monitor and cover Tibetan religious freedom. I do raise [the issue] but they have not been getting enough attention, especially in the last couple of years.
So in one other aspect that is also worth noting [is] that Uyghur Islam and Christianity in China are perceived as Western religions. They are perceiving these religions as a threat to communist ideology. Now there is a new term called ‘Xi Jinping Thoughts,’ therefore they are targeting Christians and Muslims in particular, specifically when you look at the reports, disturbing reports that the government [is] bulldozing churches and mosques where the Muslims and Christians go to worship and [are] removing crosses from the top of buildings, removing crescent stars from the top of mosques is something that is becoming quite normal. And also the Tibetans do not have this kind of concern, but in the place of worship for the Christians and Uyghur Muslims, displaying Xi Jinping’s picture in the front wall and forcing people to worship him is not a religion.
So because of [the] Chinese government’s Communist Party’s sense of insecurity, they are using that insecurity as an excuse to repress the others. In the case of the Christians and Muslims in China, I know one of the things that the Chinese Communist Party has done is send a large number of Han people into Tibet, and that has been underway for some time. In Xinjiang also, the Uyghurs are not a majority in their own capital. The capital city, Urumchi; more than 80 percent of the Urimchi population is believed to be Han Chinese.
Back in 1949 the Chinese population was around four to five percent, but now based on the official statistics, 48 percent. I doubt that there is an actual number could be higher than that. Most of the economic opportunities, government-sponsored projects, are given to the Han Chinese migrants since the genocidal campaign started three four years ago. China is also using birth control to prevent Uyghur population growth to dramatically reduce the Uyghur population. Based on the recent report, the Uyghur population growth was zero last year. A year before last year it was a decline by 25 [percent[, and then [during the] previous five years the Uyghur population declined by 84 percent. This was based on the Chinese government’s own official statistics.
So on top of this birth control they are also trying to use Uyghur women to solve their population problem, this proportion of male and female ratio problem. It looks innocuous, you know, we live in a free world, a free country that you can marry whomever you love or I wanted to build a family with, but in China the forced marriage, in addition to forced sterilization, forced labor are some of the most effective methods for the Communist Chinese government to advance its genocidal policies.
I saw a rather startling statement by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that said, “This decline in birth rate is more than double the rate of decline in Cambodia at the height of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” so this is being carried out within the context of basically eliminating Uyghur culture absolutely. I would say this is particularly important aspect of China’s genocidal campaign and this is one of the reasons that former Secretary Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo, felt compelled that the crime, the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur people, deserves a proper name, proper determination, proper labeling if you will, you know, under the genocide convention the purposeful and deliberate prevention of population growth and the forcefully removal of Uyghur children from their family members are some of the most important requirements to establish the case for genocide. So the information that we have had is overwhelming and this is not something that you know you can ignore. This was something that the Chinese government [was] publishing on open source venues, bragging about the effectiveness of their population control.
This is also based on the Chinese government’s own admission, bragging about the effectiveness of the state-run orphanages. Based on various reports, anywhere between five hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand Uyghur children have been separated from their family members and sent to the state-run orphanages. I gave a talk at the UCLA Law School in November 2019. A young Uyghur student came to me and asked if I could help to save his sister, and I asked what happened to his sister. He said she is at the care of his ailing grandmother and if something happens to grandmother, his sister will be taken to the orphanage. And I asked what happened to parents, and he said that his parents had been in the concentration camp and his mom was recently moved to the forced labor camp. And at the forced labor camp, even though it is not based on what he described as a prison, she is not allowed to go home to be with eight-year-old little girl. So this is one of the many cases of the Uyghur families being shattered.
There is a slogan by the Chinese government specifically used to justify their policy, which is, ‘Break the lineage, break the roots, and break the connection.’ This was a key phrase that was used by Human Rights Watch on the cover of the recent report on the atrocities committed against Uyghur people. The genocide is an intentional crime. You know historically allowed to see when the actual crime is committed just like the way that we found out about the Auschwitz and redaca killing of the Jews after the crimes were committed. We will not be able to know what CCP is actually doing on the ground, but based on the facts that we have based on the survivors testimonies, one of the camp survivors testified with me at the U.S. congress for three hours recently at all the horrifying accounts experiences that she had gone through.
And also we have open source information, so the sheer fact of the amount of information that we have, open source information that was published in the Chinese official sites, the satellite imageries, the personal accounts of witness testimonies, the publicly available information from the Chinese official websites, sources, satellite images, and also investigative reporting done by Western journalists and academic papers written by scholars and most importantly the testimonies provided by the camp survivors, as well as the witnesses have given us enough reason to believe that the Chinese government Communist Party is engaging in a modern day genocidal campaign against the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims.
Robert R. Reilly:
I know several years ago, Nury, at a Westminster meeting a Chinese friend of mine stood up in the audience. He had recently gone back to China and traveled over to Xinjiang province. And as he related what he saw there, he began weeping. It was very powerful. He had not been in the camp, but whatever he saw was so profoundly disturbing that was his reaction. Can you take us through the delineation of the various kinds of camps? You mentioned at first there was re-education before the camps were opened, then there were re-education camps, now there are forced labor camps. Who is sent to to which, how are they put there, and who is able to get out?
Let me untangle that question with some of the background information. Human Rights Watch reverse engineered a platform known as [the] integrated joint operating platform. The Chinese name for that platform is iti hashitong. The Chinese authorities built and used [this] against the Uyghurs early on when they were rounding up individuals who should be rounded up, there is a slogan that was reported as part of this leaked documents. So based on the Human Rights Watch report on this platform, IJOP and all that is substantiated by China cables leaked to the media a year and so ago, shows the arbitrary nature of the roundup.
Xi Jinping told his henchman absolutely no mercy, and also this guy Chen Quanguo, who got sanctioned, who is running this operation. Some people dubbed him as a modern day Adolf Eichmann. [He] basically said that anyone, everyone should be rounded up if they need to be rounded up, so that vagueness, that broad order even puzzled the police officers early on. So [the] China cable was something that was very helpful for the international community, policymakers to know actually what is happening.
Some information that is rather chilling is that in summer 2017 the IJOP generated a list of individuals who should be arrested and the number was around 20,000. The police cannot come up with that 20,000 people. They were able to identify them in the system, but the actual presence of those people are not there. They were able to locate 16,000 and then they they got pressured by their superiors, [so] they added another thousand. So in that ten days alone the Chinese police rounded up 17,000 Uyghurs just in 10 days, just one incident. That is 17,000 people’s lives shattered.
So what kind of people [were] caught up in this? People, individuals who are influential, and this also reminds us the way that Hitler rounded up Jews, like the Uyghur philanthropist, business leaders, community leaders, religious leaders, professors, scholars, stage actors, athletes, shop owners. You name it. Anyone who is perceived as somebody who is influential with the travel, history, publication, speaking history, social engagement, philanthropic, big bank accounts, a large biblical bibliography for publishing, speaking, and schooling. So they rounded up anyone who ‘should be rounded up’ in 2017.
So and then at the same time in 2018 as you referred earlier, BBC reported this massive camp expansion, a Chinese student in in Vancouver by the name of Sean Zhang used his technical skills to identify camps through satellite imagery. So based on the various reports reported in 2019, the number of camps [that] were built around the time was around 1300. This is just the some people you name it internment camp, re-education camp, concentration camp, but these are very similar type of camps that we have learned from the history books. They are extrajudicial, arbitrary, and there are based on the individuals locked up, based on their ethnicity and religious background, and also they will never be allowed to leave. If they [are] allowed to leave there, no explanations [are] provided or no apologies [are] provided, so this is very similar to the camps that we have seen in history. So it is a concentration camp regardless [of] that number in and of itself.
The size of those camps. One of these reports that I was referring to compared the expansion of these camps to multiple sides of soccer fields in a quite staggering comparison, and that is one type. So what other type of camps do they have? Early on they had daily re-education camps. If you are perceived as someone who is less dangerous or have a lesser problem, you go to your work unit, university, hospital. You attend daily re-education for a fixed period of time. You go home at night, three months, six months, nine months. That is the most favored actually. That is kind of a lifesaver re-education situation.
The second time is internment camp or concentration camp. You just disappear. I recently interviewed a camp teacher who is based in The Netherlands about her experience. It is quite horrifying. It is a poorly conditioned places. There is rampant sexual violence, poor hygiene, poor nutrition. In one instance I was told by one of the survivors that they have to sleep sideways to save space or provide more space. This is overcrowded. Just imagine that the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, has 750,000 people living there as residents, so even if you just use one million figures, big as it is, more people than the people in the District of Columbia. So that gives you an idea of how massive this internment situation was.
And then the third type is the actual prison camps. You know [Uyghurs are] arbitrarily sentenced to anywhere from 15 to 20 years [in prison camps]. Our fellow American citizens here in our in our country been looking for their missing family members. American children have not been able to touch their grandparents because they are in a concentration camps. And if just google ‘Uyghur Americans, the concentration camps, you will find heartbreaking stories about our fellow citizens.
And then the other type is the forced labor camp that is feeding the global supply chain, which is to me the most horrifying thing that the citizens of the world feel so much related to. And then finally the orphanage, the state-run orphanages. I came to know a gentleman in Turkey who recognizes missing child in a state-run orphanage propaganda video, so daily re-education, the mass internment camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, freezing camps and the orphanages. There are five types of camps being built. And also we cannot ignore the ones who are not in those camps, the people who are at home in the society.
In Summer 2019 New York Times published a thought-provoking piece about the digital surveillance. In in it this reporter said that he was standing on a street corner [and] he counted 20 surveillance cameras pointing at him in one location. The Uyghur families have a QR code. Every aspect of Uyghur families, Uyghur individuals, are surveilled and monitored, who is in, out, everything is monitored. One of my friends managed to take a detour from his business trip to China. [He] wanted to pay a visit to his family.
He was not allowed to see his sister because his iris samples are not profiled. He was not allowed to go into the compound to visit his sister and his sister could not come out to say hello to him because he is an American citizen. She is a Chinese citizen, peddling around with Americans. America is one of the 26 countries that the Chinese punish you if you have a travel history and if you are under the Uyghur skin. So the American citizen – this is a successful businessman who was in China for business – could not even give a hug to his sister because of that situation outside of the camp.
The State Department recently published, released, [its] annual religious freedom report. At the press conference the top official in the USCIRF office, [the] International Religious Freedom office, said that the Chinese government created an open prison-like environment for the Uyghurs in China and also their homes. Darren Byler, the American scholar, wrote for Foreign Policy magazine a couple of years ago after his visit. In it he describes one million men, men and women from the Chinese Communist Party, moved in to live with Uyghur families who have no male household [member]. For the most part [they] were taken into the camps so those uninvited Chinese cadres sleep and eat with the Uyghur families, and in some instances as reported in this piece, the Uyghur children [were] asked to spy on their parents. Did they read Qur’an? Do they pray that they punish the kid if they are not speaking Uyghur? Do they criticize the government, express grievances? So this is horrible I mean in any aspect.
I generally do not have a problem explaining something, but the scale and scope of the problem that that the Chinese are putting the Uyghurs through, the Communist Party officials, [is] beyond words. I just cannot come up with a proper word to describe the awful nature of the atrocities. Recently a very successful businessman asked me to brief him here in our country. He asked me a very simple question after describing this horrifying story, horrifying experiences. He said why do they hate you that much? I could not come up with a plausible answer. I do know the answer but it was not the right occasion to give him that answer.
What is the answer? Hatred. Racism. [The] Communist Party is the most racist political entity around the world. To the Communist Party if you just happen to be other, if you are not singing the same song, phrasing the same leaders, supreme leader, aligning your ideology with that sick ideology, communist ideology, then you are a problem for them. No country on the face of the universe treats the Muslims the way that the Communist Party treats [Muslims]. No country and no political entity around the world [is] as racist as the CCP. This is all about racism.
When you have mentioned re-education- Have you ever seen the curriculum that the Communist Party uses in these re-education camps? You mentioned they are using the thought of Xi Jinping. To what extent is that just standard Marxist-Leninism and to what extent is it something else?
Yeah, I have seen I have seen the China cable. Initially they showed to me. The BBC Panorama was working on a documentary, and that China cable, that one particular document. My immediate reaction was [this is] a Nazi playbook. It basically provides scripts, you know, what to say, what not to say if somebody asked about their missing family members, and it has very specific guidelines, instructions as to how to conduct business in those camps, teach like a school guard, like a prison manager, like manage like a prison and guard like a military. That is the slogan that they use about these camps.
So based on my interactions and conversations, multiple conversations with the camp survivors, the daily routine starts with a flag raising ceremony in the early morning hours, pledging allegiance to the Communist Party, chanting pro-CCP, pro-motherland China slogans in the morning, early morning hours. And then you go back into the camp and then you spend the whole morning studying Xi Jinping thoughts.
To the Chinese government, Uyghur Islam, Uyghur’s way of life is a thought virus, so in some of these leaked documents the Chinese officials said that you cannot clear out the weeds one by one, you have to spray chemicals. So you know the diversity that we appreciate in liberal societies like ours is perceived as a thought virus, so the curriculum specifically targeted, ‘where is your god,’ ‘why your god is not here,’ ‘Xi Jinping is the god.’ Mikhail Thorson, one of the camp survivors by the name who was in the news told senators in the CECC hearing that she was told to recite that Xi Jinping is her god, Islam is the enemy to the CCP.
In the Chinese constitution and China’s autonomous law, the autonomy law, religious freedom is something that is not only allowed, it is something that is protected, but the Chinese government has a tradition, habit, and practice of breaking their own domestic laws, let alone international agreements or treaty obligations. They violate everything that they sign on under the international law. They violate anything, everything that they signed on on regional security issues, regional autonomy. Look at what happened to Hong Kong.
So similarly, that the Chinese have a pledge through the autonomy law that Uyghurs are not only allowed to practice but the state protects that religious identity, and yet because of this perceived threat, this preemptive policing, this enemy that the Chinese created in Islam, and also some responsibility that Western democracies should bear [for] allowing Chinese to misuse the U.S.-led War on Terrorism in and after 9/11 as an excuse to crush the Uyghur’s aspiration for social, political freedom. So when you look at the actual policies that kept the Chinese energized and to the extent miscalculated the outcome is all about their targeted, destructive attempts on Uyghur Islam.
Washington Post columnist Fred Hiatt wrote in a column a year or so ago. The title of that column is Every Day is Kristallnacht for the Uyghur People, so that is the case. Why China is so Islamophobic [is] that only Islamophobia allows them to achieve their domestic agenda, secure their leadership, a position on the home front.
But conversely, that Islamophobia has not been appreciated by the Muslim countries, the countries like Saudi Arabia, countries like Iran, countries like Pakistan, even Palestine supports the Chinese way of treating its Muslim population. It is very confusing and I do not understand someone like MBS, who has claimed to be groomed to be the custodian of the two holiest mosques for the Muslim people, goes to Beijing, does not even bother to challenge his host, Xi Jinping. General Secretary, do you have any problem with my name because the name Muhammad is banned? And he should have asked Mr. General Secretary, if he wants to call him president, Soviet, any problem [with] me saying assalamu alaikum? What is wrong with it? Do you have any problem with my religion? What can I do to help?
Instead of saying or asking one simple question, what is wrong with my name, he leaves Beijing full of praise in the background of the concentration camps and the genocidal campaign. So Islamophobia has not only not been recognized publicly, but also become kind of useful techniques for the Chinese state to rally support. Secretary Pompeo has this memorable line in one of his press conferences that China has its own leak when it comes to human rights violations. And ironically, despite [the] CCP’s Islamophobic and racist nature, the countries that are lending support, standing behind [the] CCP for the most part are Muslim majority countries. That is the irony of the world that we live in.
Robert R. Reilly:
Can you be more specific about what’s been done inside Xinjiang? I mean do we know how many mosques have been destroyed? Do they allow imams to openly operate? You mentioned getting children to report on their parents. Are they reading the Qur’an? So they try to confiscate Qur’ans, interfere with prayer, with other observances like Ramadan? Are Muslims allowed to freely observe that? Can you describe more fully the level of interference?
The Sinicization of religion in China has been ongoing so they wanted to align or they wanted to allow handpicked religious practitioners to practice [a] sanctioned form of religion, whether it be Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism or Islam. The wholesale attack on Uyghur Islam started actually soon after 9/11. Early on they put restrictions on individuals [in terms of] who can go to Mecca for an annual pilgrimage, who wrote. And then the government restricted students, woman or anyone who was under 18, to enter the place of worship to practice their religion. And particularly in the Islamic places, they put signs at the entrance to the mosque.
American scholar Drew Gladney wrote about this, using those images or the post hanging on the entrance to the mosque specifically said, “No Muslim woman, no Muslim children, no one, no state employer allowed to practice.” This in itself was a very intrusive way of interfering [with] somebody’s relationship with almighty god. That itself was [a] wrong enough practice against China’s own domestic laws, regulations, if you will, or even propaganda documents but after Xi Jinping came to power, after this Chinese Adolf Eichmann [was] put into power, they became so naked, so abrasive, so aggressive. I talked to one of the camp survivors and she told me even her brother’s [remains] at [the] cemetery were forced to be relocated. She basically went to the cemetery where her brother was buried and put the bones in the bag and took it to a different location so they are destroying [it].
Why, why, why, why would they do something like that? Because the Uyghurs go to the cemeteries to pray, they are turning them into kind of a guarded [places]. Iris scan machines are installed. Cameras monitor places so that they can monitor who is religious, who is not, so that is what what was happening publicly.
In private, religious freedom has always been an issue for the Uyghurs, but the Uyghurs were allowed to, you know, keep the lights on, put black curtain on their kitchen windows during the month of Ramadan. I have seen it. I grew up in such an environment and keeping Qur’an not in display somewhere within the books or keeping the prayer mat somewhere under the blanket, it was allowed as long as you do not show it outside, as long as you do not flash it in the face of the Chinese police. You were okay with it and now under the current circumstance one of the most disturbing aspects of this roundup was targeting the religious, pious Uyghur population.
So if you kept the prayer mat, if you privately teach your children religious values, if you kept the copy of a Qur’an, then you are in trouble. So the seat season sees a search surgeon seizure early on was one of the methods. This was before the IJOP was utilized. So what are they doing? They are collecting, confiscating Qur’an prayer mats and burning them. There are images we have seen [of people] burning [Qur’ans] in the United States. I remember an incident when somebody was messing around with a holy book of Qur’an. There was an outbreak, which in China people criminalize keeping the Qur’an, and no one seemed to care except for a few countries.
They are also destroying the mosques. There are images available online. The Uyghur Human Rights Project that I co-founded 17 years ago profiled before after images using technology to issue this report. If you go to uhrp.org, [in] the report section you will find this disturbing report and also one other thing that they are also doing during the month of Ramadan is forcing pious Uyghurs to drink and – I apologize for those who like bacon in their breakfast, but we agree Muslim people do not eat pork. Forcing individuals to eat pork, drinking during the month, just completed month of Ramadan. And this Ramadan was particularly difficult [as] the government sent Chinese individuals to Uyghur homes to make a Chinese dumpling with pork, and if you refuse to eat, if you refuse to drink, that is a sign of ‘extremism.’
On April 1, 2017 the Chinese local government in Xinjiang published or legislated something called ‘de-extremification’ measures. In it there listed 50 behaviors that could land you into the concentration camp because those are the signs of extremism. That includes refusing to smoke, refusing to drink, refusing to allow your children to marry someone who is not Uyghur, who is not Muslim, wearing a headscarf, growing [a] beard even if it is for [a] stylistic reason. So those are the things Uyghurs traditionally have, a mustache that is a sign of manhood. Uyghurs also [are] very stylistic people. They like to dress up and men particularly have really nice, groomed, facial hair. That has also been used as an excuse to either enter the re-education camps or be re-educated if [they are] treated [for] the lesser criminal behaviors, if you will. So it is becoming mandatory to violate the tenants of your faith.
Absolutely, the Albanian scholar who was a part of the Potemkin village visit sponsored by the Chinese government was very skillful. He interviewed the camp detainees, asking do you think that you are Muslim? And the detainee cannot say she is a Muslim, and in some interviews those detainees said no, they are not Muslims. For the Uyghur people I think this is very important. Anyone who is a devout, religious practitioner could appreciate if somebody forced you to denounce your god, renounce your religion, how psychologically damaging that could be [for] anyone. I mean this is not that difficult to appreciate. So that is the routine both inside the camp and then outside the camp that the communist leadership thought that the adherence to these values (do not cheat, do not steal, do not lie, loving, caring, forgiving) shared by Abrahamic religious practitioners seem to be [a] problematic proposition to the communist leadership.
And they are just targeting things as simple as you are not drinking. That should be [a] personal choice. Conceiving, not conceiving should be personal choice. The government should have no business how many children that you should have. The government should not force you to put IUI if knowing that you are over 50 [and] have no interest in conceiving another child. This camp survivor, camp teacher that I interviewed and been reported news recently, told the reporters and including myself that while she was over 50, the government forced her to insert the IUI. So that is the nature of [it].
Again, this brings us back to the question: why do they hate you so much? Are they employing forced abortions against Uyghurs? Not only forced abortion, forced sterilization to both male and female individuals, the gang rape in the concentration camps also recently reported by BBC and CNN. There is a camp survivor here in [the] Washington, DC area who was subject to that kind of brutal treatment. Forced abortion was something [that] was already in practice. This is why during the period of 2014 and 2019 the Uyghur population growth would drop by 84 [percent], so this was already in practice before the genocidal campaign really technically started in late 2016.
Back in 20 like in the 90s and 80s, the Chinese because of the family planning, because of this preferential treatment that they always like to brag about, the Uyghur women are allowed to have two kids if there was a waiting period between the first three years, if they fulfill the waiting period between the first and the second one.
In the rural areas if you had two girls and the third one was also allowed, but the Uyghurs are very, very religious people. They live their life by, you know, worshiping god, so if you can see once you conceive individuals, do not think that is the choice for him or any government to abort that child. It is god’s child. That is how Uyghur women strictly believe, particularly in rural areas. but the government does not have that kind of sensibility, ahead of decency, thought that this is something that they have no tolerance and they had family planning commissions in their neighborhoods.
I dealt with asylum applicants several years ago who were in their late 30s and early 40s. [They] went through that kind of brutal process. Not only they were forced to abort the child, god’s child, but they are also not given proper health support, resulting in various illnesses like bleeding, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and various STDs afterwards because of the unclean environment they went through, a substandard environment that went through these kind of procedures.
Robert R. Reilly:
Nury, I would like to just touch a little bit more on the social surveillance. As is widely known, China is instituting a social credit system throughout the entire country. Those surveillance cameras which you mentioned are only present- is this in a more severe form in Xinjiang? How does the social credit system work?
There this is again this social credit system sounds inaccurate. Some China apologists always said oh, we have a social credit scoring system in the United States. [It is] different. That credit scoring system is for commercial purposes for the most part in the United States. In China, [the] social credit system is for control, monitoring, surveilling the population. Most Chinese people fall into that trap and some China apologists oftentimes try to use what we have in the West as an excuse. It is not.
This is about surveillance of their population. Everything that you do, money transaction, booking of flight, tickets, train tickets, movements around; it is all controlled by the Chinese government. This government needs people, needs to know something about China. This is extremely important that because of the persuasiveness and and surveillance apparatus, the type of money that they invested in these methods for social control of people, controlling the population. China spends more money on domestic security than national defense.
That is telling. That shows how insecure, how brutal, how intrusive this government is. Some people think that, oh, the surveillance techniques were developed, tested, implemented, now exported to other parts of China. Actually, it is the reverse. The technology firms, the big ones that we read in the news (ZTE, the Hikvision, Tencent that runs the popular platform WeChat), initially started in inland China and then they expanded to other parts.
But what is different is that in inland China the social credit system was used to control the general public, whereas in the Uyghur homeland the technology coupled with this, something already established, used for genocide. It is a tech genocide. It is modern day genocide aided, supported, facilitated by technology. So it is different and now why I think this is so particularly important to average Americans, average Europeans, average Australians, Canadians to know [is] that this very technology that has been used against the Uyghur people in the ongoing genocide if not stopped will give the world and give us civilizations [a] much, much bigger problem.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, in our closing minutes, Nury, could you talk about the international reaction to this? Which countries have denounced it? I noticed recently the Lithuanian Parliament issued a denunciation of China’s behavior in Xinjiang. Who is serious about it? I mean you mentioned Secretary Pompeo, the U.S. has applied sanctions, the new administration under President Biden seems to be adhering to this policy and profiling the Uyghur atrocities in a very major and serious way. Who else? What about the European Union, Germany? You already mentioned the abysmal reaction in Muslim-majority countries, that they are they are taking a pass or they have been bought off. What about the democracies of the world?
You can imagine the type of reaction from the international community if any country other than China locks up that many of its Muslim citizens, right? It is just unthinkable that we are talking about year four of the ongoing genocide and yet people [are] still trying to see this as another problem that they have no relevance to generally. But governmentally I think the problem that China has been able to create in the last 10, 20 years that the previous administration rightfully exposed and the current administration is continuing [to expose] is something that people need to know, that this problem was created with the help of the business community, some thought leaders, some academics, some lobbyists to normalize this regime as something that we can do business with.
And then the Chinese use that very advantage that the United States helped them to obtain a secure technology education, that the very influence that the United States helped them to build in a technological, economic, diplomatic areas have been used against the U.S. effort to get the countries to realize that this is a serious problem, and they should be on the U.S. side, on the right right side of the history.
Secretary Pompeo organized a number of trips starting late 2019, including the one to Central Asia, including the meetings that he had with European leaders. He even took the case to the Vatican. That groundwork was already laid before the Biden Administration came to office. After the Biden Administration came to office, I think Secretary Blinken deserves credit for being able to rally support from our traditional allies and partners. I think the second most vocal country as we speak other than the United States [is] perhaps [the] UK, the United Kingdom, particularly the Parliament has been quite vocal. They have officially recognized the atrocities as genocide. Canada did the same thing. So did The Netherlands. The New Zealand parliament kind of recognized it, not explicitly [in their] language, but they acknowledge that there is a severe human rights problem, so that is a good public statement, public response, but they have not done the things that the United States government has done so far except for the coordinated sanctions announced in March.[Aside from the] UK and the European Union and, Canada most of the much of the world is still sleeping at switch. We have not heard from the German Chancellor. We have not heard from the French president. We have not heard from the UN Secretary General; nothing, zero. The United States, the previous and current administration, altogether announced 74 punitive sanctions against the Chinese government, officials and entities, including the entity-less designation, the visa ban, the Global Magnitsky sanctions, and the United States Congress enacted the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act last June. There are there are several bills currently being considered, including one [that] would address the modern day slavery, [the] Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. And then there is another one, [the] Uyghur Protection Act, that addresses the refugee issues.
So the United States government has done its [part]. What is lacking right now is the global effort, not in a tepid fashion, but in a bold kind of a Churchillian response. You know this is not about China anymore, this is on us. No one can say he or she did not know and everyone knows if you flip through the paper every day, you will be hard-pressed not to see anything related to Uyghurs being reported every day. Almost every day I hardly can keep up with it myself. And also this has been in the highest level of the U.S. government being discussed. The international community should stop tiptoeing. Iran, if they really care about human rights, if they really care about the values that we cherish in the liberal democracies, they need to step up to the plate. If they really think it is not okay to use consumer products made by enslaved Uyghurs, they need to step up.
If it is not okay for their athletes to compete in the upcoming winter Olympics in Beijing, the history does not repeat itself. We allow history to repeat. In 1936 in the face of calling for a boycott, 49 countries attended the Nazi Olympics. Guess what happened three years after that Olympic [games]? Hitler invaded Europe. Should we be concerned about Beijing doing something, taking similar action after next year’s summer, winter Olympics? I do not understand why people think it is okay to go to attend Olympics or compete in a game that promotes friendship and spirit in the background of the concentration camps and in the background of the ongoing genocidal campaign against fellow human beings.
Robert R. Reilly:
Nury Turkel, thank you very much for the very powerful and moving testimony you have given. I am afraid we are out of time today. I would like to thank everyone for joining us. We invite you to go to the Westminster Institute webpage to see the other talks that have been given certainly a number of them on China, Russia, and other foreign policy issues. I am Bob Reilly and I hope to see you soon again. Thank you.