At a recent UN General Assembly meeting, member states were split on how China was treating its Uyghur minority population in the Xinjiang region. Many political experts believe that the stark difference in opinion among nations is an indication of how the world is getting increasingly polarized into pro-Western and pro-China countries.
At the meeting, 23 countries spoke against China’s treatment of Uyghurs, which included the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Canada. They asked that China uphold its commitments to human rights and open up the region for independent monitors.
“[There are] credible reports of mass detention, efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the region,” Karen Pierce, a representative for the UK, said in a statement issued on behalf of the 23 countries (CNN).
In response, 54 nations came out in support of China, including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, Bolivia, etc., who were very vocal in their approval of China’s “counter-terrorism” program in Xinjiang. Belarus made a statement on behalf of the 54 nations, arguing that China’s measures in the region have protected the human rights of all communities. Given that only 37 countries supported Beijing in July, the fact that China has been able to raise that number to 54 in a few short months shows the increasing Chinese influence in the world.
Beijing criticized the nations that supported the Uyghur population, accusing them of using human rights as an excuse to meddle in other nations’ internal affairs. The “anti-China performance by a small number of Western countries ended in humiliating failure… China’s actions in Xinjiang have effectively safeguarded the basic human rights of all ethnic groups and protected the security and stability of the region,” Geng Shuang, foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement (Hong Kong Free Press).
In a recent conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the Chinese defense minister justified his country’s policy on Xinjiang. Though no official word about the details of the conversation is known, media reports suggest that the Chinese minister issued harsh statements on the topic, signaling China’s attempt to maintain its territorial claims, by force if necessary.
China is also trying to silence any criticism by Uyghurs who have settled abroad. To do so, Chinese officials are threatening that their families back home will face grave consequences if they utter any negative words about the status of Uyghurs in China. A 54-year-old Uyghur man named Abdujelil Emet, who testified in the German parliament on a hearing on human rights, had a surprise waiting for him. His sister, who lives in the mainland, asked him to stop his activism.
An official who was by her side warned Emet that he had to think about the safety of his family when speaking against China overseas. “I will not keep my silence and the Chinese government should not use my family to threaten me… I was clear with them on the phone: If they harm my family, I will speak out louder and become a bigger problem for the government,” Emet said to The Guardian.
Margarete Bause, a member of the German parliament, criticized the Chinese government for issuing threats and warned that such actions should not be normalized by her country. A native of Aksu in Xinjiang, Emet has been living in Germany as a naturalized citizen for about two decades.