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US Warns China’s Detention of Uighurs to Counter Terrorism Will Backfire

A person wearing a white mask with tears of blood takes part in a protest march of ethnic Uighurs during a demonstration around the EU institutions in Brussels.

A senior U.S. official has rejected China’s claim that the mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region is part of a counter-terrorism program and says it will backfire. The United States co-hosted an event on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council to put the spotlight on the dire situation of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.

The United Nations says China is arbitrarily detaining more than one million Uighurs and other ethnic Muslims in so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang Province. Human Rights activists say they are subjected to torture and brainwashing.

Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher who focuses on China’s ethnic policy, says China is interning ethnic minorities, separating families and sending children to state-run orphanages to maintain ideological control over them.

“All-in-all the Chinese State’s present attempt to eradicate independent and free expressions of distinct ethnic and religious identities in Xinjiang is nothing less than a systematic campaign of cultural genocide and should be treated as such,” said Zenz.

China denies these charges. It says the de-radicalization of Uighurs in the camps is intended to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism from gaining hold.

U.S. Ambassador Kelley Currie says the conflation of ethnic and religious identity with terrorism and efforts to erase the identity of the Muslim groups is unjustifiable and outside any legal norms. She says it also is deeply counter-productive to China’s stated goal of preventing extremism.

“By engaging in the wholesale repression of an ethnic and religious minority in this way, they are inviting further alienation, further isolation, further resentment among this community in a way that is not likely to lead to peaceful co-existence and the long-term stability of the region,” said Currie.

Currie says the United States has been actively trying to engage Muslim majority countries to pressure China to change its repressive policies toward the Uighurs. She says Washington is disappointed by the lack of response from members of the OIC or Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

She says the U.S. applauds Turkey’s recent statement publicly calling on China to close the re-education camps. Unfortunately, she says this comment was swiftly followed by retribution from China.

China has demanded Turkey withdraw what it calls false accusations. Relations between the two countries remain tense and observers fear this ongoing spat could negatively impact their political and economic alliance.