Can China use the Beijing Olympics to ‘wash away’ its abuses against the Uyghurs? Only if the world remains silent

Many issues have cast a shadow over the Beijing Winter Olympics in recent weeks, from China’s controversial “zero-COVID” approach to the looming possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

One issue should get more attention: what I and other scholars call “the Xinjiang emergency” – the mass detention of between one million and two million Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslim minorities in the region. western Xinjiang in China.

For many observers, China tried to wash away its human rights violations in Xinjiang by selecting a cross-country skier of Uyghur origin to participate in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremonies of the games.

Although the move drew criticism from human rights activists, there has been virtual silence from governments and corporate sponsors on the Uyghur issue since the start of the Olympics. Without any real action to put pressure on Beijing, China’s propaganda machine will continue to deflect blame, instead touting the false narrative that Uyghurs enjoy a “peaceful, harmonious and happy life”.

How China Persecutes Uyghurs

In a recently published book that I edited, The Xinjiang Emergency, some of the world’s leading scholars on Uyghur history, culture, politics and identity provide a detailed examination of the causes and long-term consequences of the crackdown. Chinese in Xinjiang.


Manchester University Press

Since the mass detention of Uyghurs began in 2016, it has become clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has embarked on a systematic and coordinated effort to erase Uyghur culture and remake Uyghurs into flexible and “productive” citizens. through “re-education”.

As part of this process, children have been separated from their parents for state protection, Uyghur women subjected to invasive birth control and sexual abuse, and “graduated” detainees in a forced labor system.



Read more: How an independent tribunal came to find China guilty of genocide against the Uyghurs


The state has also banned the use of Uyghur language, script and signage, imposed new legal restrictions on religious practice, razed mosques and other religious sites, used financial incentives to encourage intermarriage with the dominant Han ethnic group and persecuted Uyghur intelligentsia.

A high-tech monitoring device has also been erected across Xinjiang to monitor daily life.

A genocide is underway

Our group of scholars has concluded that the actions of the Chinese state are consistent with the attempted cultural genocide of the Uyghurs.

Only a few governments in the world have gone so far as to call it “genocide”. The French parliament was the last to do so on the eve of the Olympics, following in the footsteps of the US government and the parliaments of Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But what has the international community done about it? So far, he has been long on rhetorical and rhetorical “concern” for Uyghurs, but on practical measures beyond sanctions imposed on Chinese individuals and entities responsible for the crackdown.

A small group of countries also participated in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, but it was widely seen as a symbolic gesture. These countries still sent teams to participate in an event that Chinese President Xi Jinping said he

help portray China as a positive, prosperous and open nation committed to building a community with a shared future for humanity.

Not since the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany had the games been held in such a wanton violation of fundamental human rights. And the CCP’s actions against Uyghurs have been well documented for nearly five years.



Read more: Despite China’s denials, its treatment of Uyghurs should be called what it is: cultural genocide


Although there is evidence that some Uyghurs have been killed in custody, genocides are not defined solely by massacres. The CCP’s actions in Xinjiang meet the criteria for genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

This document considers a series of acts to constitute “genocide” if the intent is to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including:

  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to party members

  • deliberately inflicting “conditions of life” intended to bring about the physical destruction of a group (such as deprivation of food, medical care, shelter, or clothing)

  • impose measures intended to prevent births

  • forcibly transferring children to another group.

Protesters outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.
Protesters gather against the Beijing Olympics outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea this week.
Ahn Young-joon/AP

Moral platitudes or real action?

The failure of the international community to respond to the plight of the Uyghurs testifies to the self-interest of governments, multinationals and organizations like the International Olympic Committee to maintain fruitful relations with Beijing. It also shows the meaninglessness of many governments’ commitments to the vaunted “rules-based order”.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, for example, made it a priority when she said in June 2020 that Australia was committed to “the standards that underpin universal human rights, gender equality and Right wing state “.



Read more: Why the Winter Olympics are so vital to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party


It’s a sentiment shared by many states that have condemned China’s actions in Xinjiang. Yet this has not translated into concrete actions that could increase pressure on Beijing.

Is this clarion call of a commitment to “universal human rights” nothing more than a moral platitude? If not, then the international community must ask itself why there has not been stronger action against the largest and most systematic repression of an ethnic or religious minority in the world today. today.

About Larry Noble

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