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Up to 4.5 million lives could be lost under China’s Uyghur crackdown: study

Quantifying the potential number of lives that could be lost due to population control policies, a new study suggests China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims meets U.N. criteria for genocide.

(CN) — By 2040, up to 4.5 million lives could be lost as a result of China's brutal crackdown on ethnic minorities, a new study has found, providing what researchers say is more pointed evidence that the country is intentionally violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Earlier this year, on his last day in office, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese government of committing genocide, saying that the Uyghurs — a Muslim minority ethnic group who are indigenous to the country’s Xinjiang region, or what they call East Turkistan — have been subjected to crimes against humanity that have escalated since at least 2017.

Some of the measures China has allegedly taken include placing millions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities under mass surveillance or in concentration camps, subjecting them to forced sterilization, unwanted abortions, political reeducation and other human rights abuses — with the justification that doing so prevents terrorism and religious extremism. Other allegations include rape and torture of Uyghur detainees.

China has repeatedly denied the accusations, calling them absurd lies.

Now, through the examination of China’s own government and academic reports, a new study published Tuesday in the journal Central Asian Survey has quantified the potential amount of lives that could be lost as a result of the population control policies and analyzed the country’s intent behind those policies.

According to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, also known simply as the Genocide Convention, the act of imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group constitutes an act of genocide if it is “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Tuesday's research paper concludes that it "has established the existence of an intent to reduce ethnic minority population growth in order to increase the proportionate Han population in southern Xinjiang," suggesting Beijing's policies on Uyghurs meet the U.N. criteria for genocide.

“The main thing I would like people to know is that this is not a conventional genocide but a slow one, a gradual suppression of life over years, which however also adds up to being a genocide,” the study’s author, human rights researcher Adrian Zenz, said in an email. “As technology becomes more sophisticated and society more complex, it is important to realize that a genocide does not have to consist of mass murder only.”

To determine how many lives may be lost to state-imposed birth prevention measures, Zenz compared projected Uyghur population growth rates. The difference between rates with and without birth prevention measures is estimated to range between 2.6 and 4.5 million lives by 2040.

Zenz, a leading expert on China’s human rights abuses, was recently sued by companies in the Xinjiang region, the Washington Post reported in March. At the time, Zenz said he believed the lawsuit was a sign that U.S. sanctions were having a significant effect, and that Beijing was likely trying to create a chilling effect on other researchers doing similar work.

Zenz's latest study “reveals the presence of a long-term strategy by Beijing to solve the Xinjiang ‘problem’ through ‘optimization’ of the ethnic population structure," he said in a statement.

The research finds that Xinjiang-based academics and government officials believe that the region’s ethnic population are seen as a “breeding ground for religious extremism.”

Multiple incidents of high-profile violent clashes between Uyghur separatists and the nation’s Han ethnic majority precipitated the government’s crackdown and resulted in officials classifying the attacks as terrorism, “a rendering that disregards complex interethnic relation issues, including long-standing sentiments of discrimination,” Zenz noted.

In several documents, Zenz found that Chinese officials repeatedly argued that, to counter the terror threat, the state must “optimize” Xinjiang’s population structure. Such expressions are frequently linked to birth control measures for the Uyghurs while encouraging the majority Han population to move into the area in order to mitigate the purported Uyghur threat with what officials called the Han’s “positive culture.”

In other words, Zenz noted, Han populations are seen by China as an asset to national security, while the ethnic minority population is seen as a national security threat that must be diluted in order to achieve long-term peace and stability in Xinjiang.

“The most realistic method to achieve this involves a drastic suppression of ethnic minority birth rates for the coming decades, resulting in a potential loss of several million lives,” Zenz said in a statement. “A smaller ethnic minority population will also be easier to police, control and assimilate.”

The most alarming aspect of such a strategy, he added, is how ethnic minorities are framed as a “problem.”

“This language is akin to purported statements by Xinjiang officials that problem populations are like ‘weeds hidden among the crops’ where the state will ‘need to spray chemicals to kill them all.’” Zenz said. “Such a framing of an entire ethnic group is highly concerning.”

The findings, he said, challenge the international community to take a serious look at the risk of genocide in the region and to start to take concrete measures to stop it, such as sanctions.

“All nations that signed the genocide convention have a treaty obligation to walk towards the prevention of genocide,” Zenz said.

Follow Rosana Hughes on Twitter

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