Saturday, December 4

The Guardian’s View on China’s Treatment of Uyghurs: From Unthinkable to Irrefutable | Uyghurs


What once seemed unthinkable has become, in just a few years, irrefutable. The evidence accumulated by academics, journalists and activists of grotesque human rights abuses in Xinjiang has begun to reach the general public. On Thursday, France and Barcelona striker Antoine Griezmann cut his business ties with Chinese tech giant Huawei, saying there were “strong suspicions” that he has contributed to the crackdown on Uighurs. His statement continued a report that Huawei tested a facial recognition system developed by the artificial intelligence firm Megvii that could be used to identify Uighurs and trigger an alert of their presence. (Huawei has said that its technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups.)

In parallel, a rare leak from a list of prisoners in a camp has shown how a government data program has targeted Uyghurs to detain them simply for being young, using a VPN or talking to relatives abroad. These stories offer a truly chilling glimpse of a high-tech surveillance society and disprove China’s claims that its actions in Xinjiang focus on attacking terrorism and separatism, and do not treat a population as inherently suspicious.

The government initially denied the existence of mass detention camps – in which around a million people are believed to have been detained without charge or trial – before saying they were educational centers to alleviate poverty and prevent extremism. More recently, he said that people had been released. But the analysis suggests an increasing use of incarceration, not only with individuals but also families sentenced to long sentences and forced labor. Other Uighurs live under the surveillance of officials sent to stay at homeas well as ubiquitous security cameras.

Now the outsiders are paying attention. A year ago, Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, He suggested that companies were beginning to wonder how appropriate their investment was in the region, because “no company can ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands of Uighurs are detained in camps.” The National Basketball Association severed links with a training center in Xinjiang this summer. The region’s cotton exports, believed to account for about a fifth of the world’s supply, are also in the spotlight given growing concerns about forced labor. H&M no longer sources products of the region. The Trump administration has cotton exports prohibited of the XPCC, part of the Chinese state and one of the largest producers in the country.

However, when Mesut Özil spoke about the treatment of Uighurs last year, Arsenal distanced the club from his comments. Last month, Volkswagen defended its Xinjiang plant, saying there is no forced labor there. And the New York Times has reported that companies like Nike and Coca-Cola have lobbied the US Congress to water down the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Lobbyists say that while they oppose human rights abuses, they fear that the strict legislation could cause unforeseen problems, in part due to the opacity of Chinese supply chains.

Beijing believes that what is happening in Xinjiang has nothing to do with foreigners. But China’s economic might has made its business everyone’s business. Although officials are showing signs of unease at Western pressure, the economic media has its limits: China has many export markets and the leadership views its political authority as far more critical than any sales book. Whether or not the West can curb these horrors, it must not capitalize on them or encourage those who do. Companies should, like Mr. Griezmann, look to their conscience.


www.theguardian.com

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