Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture: China's Uighurs
SIMS: Well, good afternoon, everyone. I’m Calvin Sims. I am the president of International House and a CFR member. Thank you very much for joining us. We hope to have a very enlightening and insightful discussion this afternoon.
I wanted to first note that this is the Arthur Helton Memorial Lecture. It is on China’s Uighurs. And we really do want to acknowledge Arthur Helton, that this is the 16th annual lecture series that we’ve had here. And for those of you who don’t know, Arthur Helton was the director of peace and conflict studies, and a senior fellow for refugee studies and preventative action here at the Council. This lecture is dedicated to Arthur’s lifetime mission of serving the world’s humanitarian and refugee crisis. And I would like to—at this time, to welcome Jackie Gilbert, who is his wife, and ask you to stand and be acknowledged, and all of Arthur’s friends who are here today. Please stand. (Applause.) Thank you.
So you know the speakers. I believe their bios are actually in your book, so I won’t need to read them. But this panel was assembled to address an issue that not very many people know about and not very many entities have responded to. This is the breathtaking scale and ferocity of what has swept up hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims for weeks and months in what critics are describing as brainwashing, usually without criminal charges. This is China revisiting, in many people’s perspective, the Mao era. And China has sought for decades to restrict the practice of Islam and to maintain an iron grip in this region and its Muslim ethnic minority groups.
So most of you are familiar with this topic and what has been happening. And so our panel is actually going to give us some insights. And so I would like to begin with Jim Millward, who is the professor of inter-societal history at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. And start by, if you would, frame this issue in terms of what is happening and why haven’t we heard much about this, and why isn’t, you know, a lot being done about it, if you would, please?
MILLWARD: So I’m a historian, so I could talk about this for a very long time, but I won’t, I promise. But I think it’s important to remember you know, that this whole issue of the Uighurs and how the Uighurs fit into the People’s Republic of China, and so on. And it goes back to the eighteenth century when this territory known as Xinjiang or the Uighur Autonomous Region was under control of Beijing. And it’s an imperial situation that throughout the twentieth century, be it the Republic of China or the People’s Republic of China, was always kind of papered over, right? They never really deal with the sort of difference—the ethnic differences and so on
But more proximate reason, I think there’s a few of them. One of them is that since the fall of the Soviet Union, really, the People’s Republic of China, the policymakers, have been nervous about their own system of dealing with ethnic diversity, which is superficially modeled on that of the Soviets. It’s called ethnic regional autonomy system, or sometimes called the minzu system, after their word for ethnicity. And it’s a top-down way of categorizing and saying, OK, we’ve got exactly fifty-six ethnic groups in China, and we’re going to deal with them officially this way. And that was very similar to what the Soviets had. And the Soviet Union fell apart. So policymakers and ideologues in China were worried. Hmm, maybe that could happen to us. So that’s sort of the background.
And particularly after 2008 and 2009, when there were very serious riots in Tibet and in Ürümqi in the Uighur region, there was great concern that maybe this system was actually reinforcing ethnic differences rather than paving the way towards a stable future for China. And so there’s been a lot of thinking about this. More recently, with Xi Jinping coming to power, as many of you know, he’s trying to sort of institute a new kind of—I think you could almost call it a state cult, certainly sort of centered on him as well, but playing up on communist values, playing up on a kind of new Confucianistic sort of values, neo-traditionalism. A lot of this centered on this notion of a uniform Chinese ethnicity.
And this is a different word from the word han. They called it zhonghua. And it’s meant to be kind of a pan-Chinese identity that includes all of the other groups. But it actually has all the characteristics, and holidays, and festivals, and so on of the Han nationality or the Han ethnicity. And so there’s this kind of assimilationist thrust. One more reason, I think, is the sort of invention, and improvement, and coming online of techniques and technologies of state control at a new level. The current first party secretary of Xinjiang, a man named Chen Quanguo, came from Tibet where he was, from the point of view of Beijing, very successful in dampening down ethnic tensions. And he did this through grid policing, through hiring a lot of very low-level police, through a small-scale use of reeducation programs.
And then when—in 2011, he was—or, excuse me—2016, he was transferred to Xinjiang, he implemented these same kind of policies, scaled them up, and then added in—which I’m sure many of you have read about—this new kind of high-tech program of surveillance and control based on cellphones, facial recognition software, all sorts of biodata, putting it all into a huge database which is then driven by big artificial intelligence platforms. And all this stuff has become practical now. It’s very, very expensive. So that’s I think the third piece.
And then finally, I guess, would be a broader international environment which is in many ways I think, unfortunately, permissive of what is going on. And that includes many elements that you’re familiar with, but sort of the nativism sweeping the world, broad trends of Islamophobia in all sorts of places. The, I think, abdication of responsibility on the part of the Trump administration for the U.S. role in Asia, and certainly sort of chaos of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the withdrawal from TPP, has really taken the U.S. out of the situation there. And most importantly, this has not given any other countries in the Muslim world or even, you know, some of our allies in Europe and so on, the kind of support necessary to sort of stand up and speak out publicly to China.
SIMS: So why specifically this group? Is it because the growing trend of countering Islam, or they were the easy target? Why have they chosen to go after this particular group?
MILLWARD: Well, there have been incidents. There’s been a continuous level of relatively low-level of unrest. There’s been dissent. There have been some violent incidents. And there have been incidents that we would call terrorist, particularly between 2013 and 2015 there were a handful of relatively small—I think most outside observers would say they were lone wolf kind of incidents—but nonetheless horrific and certainly sort of raising an alarm.
But I think more than those in particular, it’s sort of the fact that dissent hasn’t gone away, right? That the Uighurs remain obstinately Uighurs and this is still seen as a source of potential instability. And as I said before, Xi Jinping is really trying to kind of unify Chinese identity and the cultural difference becomes a serious problem in the minds of Beijing ideologues.
SIMS: So, Gay, could you talk a little bit about the international response to this, primarily at the United Nations and then with other countries as they see this? I was in China just last week, in Shanghai, for a meeting of alumni from International House. And I was struck by the large number of young people who agreed with this crackdown, and sort of said: This is in response to radical Islam. They’ve done a great job of propagandizing this especially among the younger population. Tell us what the international bodies are doing or not doing about this.
MCDOUGALL: Well, I mean, first of all, let me just say that I’m sure that your encounters were setups. (Laughs.) But nevertheless, they’re very, you know, clever about doing that. But I think that for whatever reasons, there was not a lot of attention to this issue until the committee that I sit on, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial discrimination, we had what was a regular, periodic review of China and its policies, laws on racial discrimination, and of course on ethnic discrimination. And I was one of the—one of the rapporteurs. And I focused on this issue. And I think—in fact, as they started there was this murmur of shock going through the audience. China sent a very large delegation, perhaps the largest that we have seen so far.
And so I just thought I’d just, you know, mention—just read my opening paragraph, which was: That we are deeply concerned that we’ve received numerous and credible reports that the name of—that in the name of combatting religious extremism and maintaining social stability, the state Party, China, has turned the Uighur Autonomous Region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a, quote, “no rights zone.” And members of the Uighur minority, along with others who have been identified as Muslims, are being treated as enemies of the state based on nothing more than their ethnoreligious identity.
And then I started talking about the detention camps that were clearly being used as, you know, they say reeducation camps, but they were clearly, you know, political indoctrination camps. That Uighurs, depending on how pliant they had proven themselves to be with the government program. If not, they would be required to be in these camps months. But there’s other—there’s another camp—you know, we talk about the reeducation camps, but there’s also a larger camp that has people who have just disappeared into it, with no idea that they are going to be released at all. So these are the most serious. Then you’ve got the reeducation camps. There might have been upwards of two million that have been run through there.
And then you have the surveillance that you were talking about, the constant surveillance on the street—the police threats, the cyber, you know, information taken. And you know, depending on some basis of determination as to how difficult the person or people—you know, somebody comes from Beijing and lives in their house. So, you know, look, you know, so for whatever reason, you know, I broke this story. And I would say that I’ve always felt that the greatest power held by U.N. human rights mechanisms really comes from our bully pulpit. And I think it’s especially so for those of us who are a part of the independent expert committee. We have no boss. We have no country, you know, instructions.
So we just hope that our voices are heard. And I think this case, it was, because very quickly the number of media hits was astounding. And the number of interviews I was called on to do was unbelievable. And so beyond China’s response to me in those days and the committee, which we can talk about if you wish—(laughs)—but, you know, it started a rolling process. There was the universal periodic review, which is really a state-run process. So they don’t speak as loudly in truths there. And that was in, what was it, October or so. And, you know, what you have there—while the world was going crazy over this, the governments were speaking very timidly.
And the most—without, you know, very much variation, the states that were willing to criticize the most were Western governments. And that’s important and good. But I think the Chinese easily, you know, brush that off. And they were willing to talk about the detentions—and arbitrary detentions, torture, et cetera. Then you had a number of governments, again mainly Western governments, that were willing to go the next step, which was to demand access—unfettered, unrestricted access to the country to do an independent evaluation. There was another collection of states in the UPR that were willing to talk about freedom of religion. These were primarily Muslim states. But still, it was a positive beginning.
But, you know, after that, we got—we could hear responses from outside of the U.N. as EU Parliament passed a resolution with very strong language in it and, you know, demanded access to the country. Academic experts wrote a phenomenal letter—a joint letter. I think it was over a hundred from around the world signed onto it. A group of embassies in Beijing coordinated a protest. That’s very unusual. And most importantly, there were Islamic countries that stepped up, including the Organization of Islamic Countries, that started by making a very good statement. Pakistan started out by making a statement.
But we could soon see that there had been some intimidation, as the Muslim states took it back. (Laughs.) Pakistan, certainly. And the Council of Ministers of the Organization of Islamic States basically stepped back from what they had said earlier. It’s unclear what the Council on Human Rights is going to do. But, you know, I think that it’s not going to go further. It’s not going to go to the Security Council, although I got a very interesting study that was released yesterday that was from the group that focuses on the responsibility to protect. And they put out a really strong report, which looks at the potential for crimes against humanity in China.
So, you know, there’s a rolling effect here. There are people on the streets in Islamic countries, like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, demanding that their governments, you know, do something that is effective and strong. So we don’t know where this is going to eventually stop. But I think it is—I think there’s a strong response that came out of the U.N.’s review.
SIMS: Well, thanks to you for raising it.
I want to bring Nury in, and have you talk a little bit about—you know, you are a Uighur. And you’re the chair of the Human Rights Project, and also a lawyer. What’s your sense of this, that there are a million Muslims, or a million of anyone, who’s being rounded up in the way that they have, you would normally see the U.N. Security Council act on this. Why not?
TURKEL: First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to speak at the Council. This is the second event the Council has organized on the issue. And also very pleased to be on the panel with experts that I’ve followed and learned from over the years.
There’s several reasons kind of lukewarm, moderate response from the international community. One is that Uighur peoples’ cause, despite the fact that it’s been going on for so long, as long as my lifetime, have not been really—attracted necessary attention. So people still not really aware of who the Uighurs are, what their struggles have been over the years, and why the Chinese government have been using different tactics and methods, now reaching to this point. That is one possible aspect.
And then the other one is China’s influence campaign that have been described as corrosive, corrupt, and corrosive. So over the years, especially in developing countries—that some of them are Muslim countries that Gay was mentioning earlier, have been bought into—their silence has been bought by Chinese money over the years. And also in the Western capitals, there’s some bureaucrats, some government officials still have some goodwill, a mild approach, or understanding that China’s also fighting similar type of war against extremism and others. And also the business community had to be brought up. U.S. businesses have been pressuring the United States Congress and administration to take action on this and other issues related to human rights issues.
So there are a variety of reasons but, as Gay pointed out, the pressure’s mounting, particularly in Washington. There are two pending legislation—bipartisan legislation being introduced earlier this year in the 116th Congress. The first one is called Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The other one is Uyghur Act. These two bills will not be only historic, but also have a very important impact in the attempt to address the humanitarian crisis in the Uighurs’ homeland. The Rubio-Menendez bill in the Senate, Smith-Suozzi bill in the House has already attracted so many sponsors. And the Senate bill already have about two dozen supporters. On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signed on.
So in Washington, as recently pointed out by Washington Post, people in the foreign policy circles and the legislative affairs agree on very little. But on the Uighur issue, apparently there’s a consensus and sense of urgency to address. Just last week, there was a bipartisan letter sent to the treasury secretary and the secretary of state by senators and Congressmen asking—urging, actually, the administration to take bold action. And one line caught my attention, is that the words are very nice. The concerns have been expressed all the way from vice president to secretary of state and others, but we need to see an action. That has been the sense of U.S. Congress.
So as a Uighur American, I’m very pleased that my government is taking the leadership in this fight. The Europeans should follow. Where is the Europeans is one of the questions that my Uighur friends always ask? They always say, we tell never again, but it is happening. What is the support that we are reasonably expect from the community, where a government—Chinese government openly liken our ethnonational aspiration to cancer cells, likening our religion to mental illness, and with the purpose of stepping our cultural ethnical identity. We’re told never again, but it’s happening.
So that kind of crippling anxiety, and inability to maintain contact with family members because of this fear of being connected to individuals and abroad, including my own parents deleted me from their phones. So I have personally can testify that I have not been in touch with my family members a long time. So ironically, and sadly, that people learning about their family members through news reporting. One of the Uighur activists found out about his mother’s death in Radio Free Asia reporting in the camp. And also, we’ve recently been hearing disturbing stories that five Australian Uighur children caught up in this crisis.
Apparently there’s several U.S. permanent residents have been locked up. And Secretary Pompeo met with one of those individuals’ family members recently. And also, the Chinese are reaching out to various Uighur communities, including my own, pressuring them not to speak out or trying to recruit them as informants. So our sovereignty is under attack.
SIMS: For all of you, are these tactics by China likely to be successful? After these folks go in these what I’ll call concentration camps, do they come out changed? Do they become muted? Are they converted in any way?
MILLWARD: Well, let me say one thing. Sort of an informational piece that I should have mentioned earlier, in 2016 there were twenty-seven thousand legal arrests in the Chinese system in Xinjiang. In 2017 there were two hundred twenty-seven thousand. So it went up by two hundred thousand in that year. We don’t have the 2018. And this is official data, you know, which has been culled from records. That’s the legal system. These are regular arrests. So this is all in addition to what we’re talking about as the extralegal. And then you’re talking about various types of facilities. I think that there’s, you know, between one and two million people in these—some may be more like—they’re called vocational schools. I think perhaps reform school is a better word. Some may be like that. But there’s a range of levels, going right up to prison camp kind of conditions. And we know that. So, anyway, so we’re talking about easily two million people.
And as Nury was just saying, the idea behind this is actually in plain sight. We can read it in publicly—in state media, and in public statements about the purpose of it. And it is to change people. It is to reform people. The idea is that whatever is seen as wrong about their thinking will be taken out of them through this process. And so you’re asking sort of what can happen, what is the goal. I mean, I think we sort of have to see that that is what the Chinese are trying to do. And that fits with the history of, you know, reform through labor, of thought reform, going back to the Cultural Revolution and before. I don’t see how that can succeed, however. And so that leaves us with a big conundrum.
TURKEL: This is not the first time that the Uighur people suffering were going through this kind of purposeful, deliberate, systematic repression. But this one is very different, because it has a very strong racist character.
MCDOUGALL: Mmm hmm, right.
TURKEL: In the past—you know, for example, during the Cultural Revolution the Uighur intellectuals sent to raise pigs, like the way that they do a similar way, and turning mosques to something else, locking up—locking up large number of intellectuals. But this time, they’re attacking the very existence, national ethnic identity of the people. Today when you look at—this is one of the things that we should also mention, that Chinese always claim that they’re doing this for the security purposes. But if you look at the people that they’ve locked up, you’ll be amazed. We have world-known scholars, stage performers, athletes, poets, social, business elites—
MILLWARD: University presidents.
TURKEL: University presidents. The most—mostly referenced individual—(inaudible)—was a—was a model citizen in the past. There’s another medical doctor who was also a model citizen, promoted by the Chinese government. Now they are also gone. And one of them actually imposed death penalty, with two years reprieve. So do you really achieve social stability or national security by locking up world-known scholar that you promoted once upon a time? So those are the questions that people should ask when they look at, or listen to, or read China’s propaganda, that they’re doing this for security purposes.
SIMS: Gay, what is the likelihood of some policies, since we’re at a policy sort of institute here, what’s the likelihood of some sort of action by a government or an international entity to intervene in all of this?
MCDOUGALL: Well, depends on what you—how you define intervene. But there have been reactions. You know, the Uighur students in a number of countries that were facing possible deportation. And a number of those government have said, no, we’re not going to do that. And that’s good. I think that there will be other statements coming out from various governments. And that’s had an effect already. I mean, you know, frankly, you know, I’ve spent my life watching, if not being a part of, social movements for change. And believe me, the things that have happened between August and now, you know, really nothing moves that fast. And so I think there—you know, I think that there is a possibility that we’re going to get.
China, meanwhile, is fast-changing their tune, at least publicly. I mean, when I make my full statement at the U.N., their response was that I was totally wrong, there are no such camps. And so by the next week they were saying, well, there are camps, but they are actually vocational training. These people need time to be educated and to be prepared to go into the workforce. And here they have free housing and food. As it went on, there was a point where they were saying that these were educational facilities—boarding schools. So they—you know, they’re feeling some pressure and they’re backing up.
They have responded to the charge the people are being taken outside the processes of the law. And so they changed the law. (Laughs.) Of course, people are still being taken under it, but now they’re going to say that this is, you know, under the law. But I think that if there is a stronger response from Muslim countries, and that all sorts of international bodies also make a strong response, that—and people in the streets. So I think that, you know, some governments are going to be put on the spot. You know, who—which government do you know that really wants to say that it’s OK for China to have upwards of one, two, three million people in detention? Or who have disappeared. Detention is, you know, a little soft for what has happened to maybe a million people.
What happens next? What can happen in addition to strong statements? And I say it’s hard to say, certainly at this stage. But I’d be interested in what my fellow panelists think is really potential reactions from governments that is public. You know, I think we can see that there’s some consultations going on behind closed doors. Some which are probably intimidation. Some which are discussing, well, what’s the—you know, the least I can do to get away with this. But, you know, I think that there’s a possibility that that will move some things.
SIMS: Right. Jim and Nury, do you want to respond to that? It’s—I mean, it is sort of shocking that predominantly Muslim countries have backed away and haven’t been that strong voice. I’m trying to remember other conflicts, if I can come up with, in which that happened. It seems unprecedented that in something that is so clear-cut they’ve shied away from it. Is that only because of China’s economic clout? What’s really getting there?
TURKEL: Under the normal circumstance, if this was someone else, if China is another country, you would have seen global outcry. The Security Council emergency meetings, and maybe then ambassadors being called off. And there would be a worldwide reaction. And also, there’s a Uighur’s—some Uighurs believe that I may be because they happen to be wrong type of Muslim and China happened to be wrong type of adversary to take on. I mean, it makes no sense, the Chinese calling their religion as a mental illness. The Saudi prince was in China. His name is Mohammad. That name is banned. Just imagine that your daughter or son named Christian or Christiana as being banned by the United States government. And these guys show up with a beard and with the name Mohammad, does not even bother to raise the issue in his meeting with Xi Jinping.
But you know, it’s going to change. I’m an optimistic. This is changing, as Gay pointed out. I never thought in my lifetime that I will see this level of media interest in the Uighur issues, this level of governmental—the statements coming out of the United States government. Just last week, earlier this week, the United States Congress called this a crime against humanity. So, you know, there’s something that’s happening. It’s going to—we’re going to see something dramatically change.
But one thing that has not been really discussed is the cost for the Chinese government. Unless they feel that—the cost incurs, they’re not going to change the course. They made a calculus when they were flirting with this idea how the world is going to respond and how much influence that they can insert to buy silence in developing countries, in Muslim countries, under this ongoing project, BRI, Belt and Road Initiative. So I think the United States—the businesses in the United States, as challenged by the Congress in the joint letter, need to come up with something. They need to use the same pressure in Xi Jinping’s China as the way that they have been in certain—in the U.S. Capitol.
MCDOUGALL: You know, I mean, look, China is really very powerful. It is building roads, and building infrastructure in, you know, many, many countries, from Rwanda to wherever. It is trying to do military equipment deals with Pakistan. All these are countries that have their own needs. I—you know, it regularly—China regularly supports Myanmar and blocks Security Council actions against what they’re doing to the Rohingya. So, you know, there are a lot of things at play here. Meanwhile, the U.S. is confused, at best. (Laughs.) So we can’t really—
MILLWARD: If I could—
MILLWARD: Yeah. So, I mean, the Belt and Road has come up here, this idea. And there’s a lot of different views on it. And I’m sure you’ve discussed it in this group before too. And, you know, some see it as, you know, a plot for world domination. Some see it as a way to—you know, a new approach to development that is going to save the world. You know, the truth is probably somewhere in between, obviously, like everything else.
MCDOUGALL: People-centered development.
MILLWARD: Yeah, people said win-win cooperation, and so on. But what it is, more than anything else—I mean, and it’s all the different programs and plans, which obviously have benefits in some places. In other places it looks like debt colonialism, and so on. But what it is, you know, more than the lines on the map that you can see, which are all kind of a construction or, you know, a figment of the imagination—you know, it’s a rubric. It’s framework for Chinese foreign policy, right, more than it is a new silk road or—right?
And it has a logic to it. One can poke holes in that logic, or snicker at it, or whatever. But it has a logic and is very coherent. And is modeled on this kind of golden notion of a—you know, a past—a silk road past that looked like kind of neoliberal utopia of trade going on and everybody getting happy because of that, right? So—and it’s one thing to oppose it, and to oppose the strategic sides of it, but the U.S. doesn’t have a message to answer the message of the Belt and Road. And I think that’s a big part of the problem in, you know, trying to respond to these things.
MCDOUGALL: I also think—
Q: (Off mic)—the Q&A?
SIMS: Yeah, we will.
SIMS: OK. Sorry. (Laughs.) So we will. Thank you, sir. (Laughter.) So what we ask in this—
Q: (Off mic.) (Laughter.)
SIMS: OK. We are going to open it now, thank you.
So if you have a question, you can raise your hand. The microphone’s going to go around. And please identify yourself.
Q: Yes. I’m Kate Hunt. I’m former the U.N. Representative for CARE International.
Thank you very much. What to say about the industrial scale of this whole atrocity? I wanted to ask, perhaps Nury, about what sort of action you might be involved in vis-à-vis Washington. We’re not in a great moment for asylum seekers and people who are stranded in the United States. But we’re aware of students and others who have no money to pay for their tuition, their families are cut off from them, they’re afraid of being deported. Is there a network at all working in the United States at least on that level for kids and others that are stranded here, who could use the kind of assistance that resettled refugees get?
TURKEL: There are three things that have been happening under the leadership there as Uighur organization. One is to—reaching out to the members to sign onto this pending legislation so that something can be done in the next couple months. And then, two, the Uighur groups have been organizing public events similar to this to raise the awareness. And then, three, reaching out directly to the administration and Congress on the process—we’re requesting to speed up the process to impose Global Magnitsky sanction against Chinese officials and the entities assisting the Chinese state security. And then finally, the most important—the most important thing is that the Uighur groups have been reaching out and recommending the United States Congress and administration to consider special immigration bill or the executive order to grand asylum to Uighur students and Uighur asylum seekers. Some of those asylum seekers have been waiting for their interview since 2014.
Sweden recently made an announcement that they will grant blanket immigration status to Uighurs. So the United States should at least do that while still testing the waters on the actual sanction. Congress could do that. And there’s a precedent for the United States Congress doing something similar. After the Tiananmen Square massacre the United States Congress, the Bush administration, granted immigration status to Chinese scholars who arrived her prior to a certain time. So, yeah, that’s very important, as you pointed out, that Uighur students have been going through the most difficult time. And those are the ones who stayed out of politics.
And there’s a young student in Virginia who’s been carrying his parent’s picture. And he’s one of the individuals met with Secretary Pompeo. And he never involved in any political activities, and he said his parents had been model citizens, professionals. So—and he has, people like him, no money to pay for the school, and also they’ve fallen out of their status. Inability to pay tuition and inability to renew their passports. So those are the—some of the most vulnerable individuals, at least in our country today.
SIMS: Let’s take the gentleman in the back.
Q: Can I ask the panel, when the secretary of state gets to his office in the morning, where does this issue rank on the secretary’s list of things to do today?
TURKEL: Secretary of state?
MILLWARD: Where does it rank in his list of—how important is it to him?
TURKEL: The U.N. secretary?
MILLWARD: You mean, Secretary of State Pompeo, you mean?
MCDOUGALL: Yes. Yes.
TURKEL: Pompeo or Guterres?
MCDOUGALL: Pompeo. The secretary of state, yeah.
TURKEL: You know, I can’t say one way or the other, but I can tell that Secretary Pompeo is very concerned about the ongoing crisis. He just recently said that China has its own league for human rights violations. He’s been tweeting and speaking out, along with Michael Kozak, Ambassador Michael Kozak, recently said the world has not seen anything like it since 1930s. And also, the other officials in the White House—Mike Pence recently also spoke out about the Uighurs. But, again we welcome that kind of public statements. Without a concrete, bold governmental action, I don’t think we will see anything—any improvement in China for the Uighur people.
Q: What is the extent of this—
SIMS: Could you please identify yourself? Thanks.
Q: Sure. I’m sorry.
SIMS: Could you please identify yourself?
Q: Sure, sure. Sinam Songmin (ph), (Baruch ?) College.
What is the extent of the support from the Chinese people on the racist attacks against the Uighurs? And since China is on the Security Council, what is the odds of a legislation passing through the U.N. to ban these internment camps?
MILLWARD: Let me take the first one. You can take the second.
So this is a big question. Obviously there’s an information bubble over all of this. You know, this information is difficult to obtain in China, unless you have a very robust VPN and perhaps can read English. I asked two Chinese professors just a couple weeks ago, who were both visiting from China at a conference. I said, well, what do you know? Do you really know what’s going on? And one from Shanghai said: We all know. We have VPNs. We know. We can’t talk about it, but we all know. Another from an inland province said, what? Pretty much. I mean, she knew vaguely something was up. And maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about it, I don’t know. But we were alone. So my general impression is that there’s a sense that the state—the party is doing something about terrorism, and a general approval of that. And I think a general sense, well, if the government’s doing it, well, there must be a reason for it, unfortunately, right?
MCDOUGALL: I don’t think there’s any possibility that there’s going to be a Security Council resolution on this issue. You know, there is—you know, China has a veto. They’ll shut it down, as they have shut down resolutions on what’s happening to Muslims in Myanmar, which is as outrageous—I mean, they chased nearly a million, you know, Muslims out of the country. And China cast the veto to stop any effective Security Council resolution and action.
SIMS: Over here, in the back.
Q: Caitlin Hu, CNN.
Is there any model for how this should be treated by the international community? Is there any, like, historical precedent of a successful intervention in this kind of situation in another country, in a closed country?
MCDOUGALL: Mr. Historian. (Laughter.) You know, let’s think about it. You know, the concentration camps in World War II. Well, they weren’t discovered until, you know, it was over—the war was over. Rwanda. That’s not a model. Name another one. I just said Myanmar. I’m not sure that I can think of another that fits this—
MILLWARD: Apartheid in South Africa.
MCDOUGALL: Apartheid in South Africa, which is kind of different. (Laughs.)
MILLWARD: Very much, but—
MCDOUGALL: Yeah. Well, this is one where the international community—because I was involved all through that one—did do something that was eventually effective twenty-five-thirty years later.
Q: Steve Orlins, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
My experience, Calvin, is similar to yours, that there’s enormous support among the Chinese people for this policy—shockingly so. I just was back from China this weekend and had heated arguments, people denying the facts, saying how do you know, how do you know? I talked about the U.N. reports and various other things. So it’s quite shocking. And part of it—it’s the fifth anniversary of the slaughter—you know, a little past—of the slaughter in the Kunming train station, where, you know, thirty-something Han Chinese were slaughtered by swords and knives. And that was kind of—obviously much smaller scale but was the 9/11 for China. It was then, I think, that the anti-Uighur policies really started to take hold. And they began to develop this idea of reeducation.
So my question is, what do you tell the Chinese that they should do? When I question this policy, the response now from both the average person and the senior leadership is: We’ve now gone seventeen months with no terrorist attacks. So don’t tell me about—don’t you, foreigner, tell me about this policy. It’s working. So what are you talking about? We need to reeducate it. And you talk to the Israelis, you talk to others, and they don’t really—the reason you’re not getting huge pushback is they don’t disagree. So what do you suggest to the Chinese that their policy should be to take care of terrorism, and not to have these extraordinary internment camps?
SIMS: Good question.
MILLWARD: Yeah. So I think you have to—you have to look at the somewhat longer timeline of incidents and Chinese reaction. And if you go back really to, you know, 1990, you can see this pattern of something happens, there’s a crackdown, and particularly focused on cultural aspects, on Islam. Things build up. Something else happens, right? And, you know, the actual numbers of people who were hurt in the riots in 2008 in Ürümqi, I mean, that was a—you know, that was two hundred Han people. And then we saw them, you know, slaughtered, as you say. There were a lot of Uighurs who were killed in that as well, and they didn’t report those numbers.
So there’s an argument I think that could be made which I think reasonable Chinese could be convinced of that we’re in a negative feedback loop here, and that the crackdowns have been actually producing the kinds of disaffection, and violence, and terrorism that we’re seeing, you know, over the longer period of time. And that would be how—that is how I try to explain it when I’m in those situations as well.
SIMS: Because it’s also—yeah, go ahead.
TURKEL: During a period that there is no violence in China, for example in the ’80s. Uighur culture revived and people were able to speak their language, practice their religion. This thing of terrorism is a rather new phenomenon in Uighur lives. So the Chinese can say that they’re doing this for counterterrorism purposes, but the reality is that there has not been anything actually since 2015. And even though that the events that you cited happed, horrific, there is no access to that actual information. So we cannot take everything that the Chinese say at face value as something that actual occurred. One example: They always said 197 people died in the July 5 unrest. To this day, we still don’t know a Western journalist or independent observer went to actually investigate that number. There are a lot of misinformation being floated around.
And also, let’s don’t forget the Chinese government has been very effective doing three things: One, creating anxiety among the Chinese people. That anxiety actually compelling them to look the other way. Even some of the fair-minded, reasonable Chinese people don’t even willing to listen to the Uighur grievances. And then, two, the public opinion. They control the media. Whatever they say in the media, it’s almost taken at face value by the ordinary Chinese people as the true fact. And then three, globally they’ve been very effective, as I pointed out earlier. So we’re in very bad shape. So—and also, finally, Chinese people have to ask themselves: Is this OK for my government or the government that I support to lock up a big chunk of the citizens of this country? What kind of history do we want for our children? What kind of history that you will tell us, that we know about this, we saw this and took the Chinese government side instead?
MILLWARD: Can I just say one more thing? So even similar answer than I just gave, you know, if China were securitizing knives in response to the Kunming event, which in fact they’ve been doing with QR codes and changing them to the wall in restaurants and so on, I don’t think anyone would complain, right? Or, even, you know, illegalizing personal possession of knives, something like that. But what they’re illegalizing is wearing a headscarf, growing a beard, fasting at Ramadan. It’s broad-brush attack on the entire, really, Uighur culture, but also on Islam itself. And not only that, if China were—had, you know, robust programs of deradicalization aimed at at-risk youth, again, we probably wouldn’t complain so much. Some—you know, some of us would be concerned about that. But it’s not at-risk youth. It’s one to two million people, you know, across the board. It’s—they’ve taken out the elites of society, who are not even particularly religious. So it’s excessive and it’s indiscriminate, and it’s going to be counterproductive.
MCDOUGALL: And, you know, in the end, the rest of the population in China really has no—they don’t have the facts. There’s no independent media. They can’t get information from outside sources. So of course they trust their government and what the government tells them.
SIMS: Right here.
Q: Just quickly. I’m Tom Walsh, Universal Peace—oh, sorry. Tom Walsh, Universal Peace Federation.
Just picking up on the issue of the relationship of the Chinese government to religion in general, and if there’s any comparisons with treatments of Tibetan Buddhists. There’s significant populations of Catholics, and Protestants and, some say, a growing movement in Christianity in China. Has there anything similar been allied toward not just ethnicities, but there’s this close link between ethnicity and religion, but how the government has dealt with religion in general—Falun Gong and et cetera.
SIMS: Thank you. I think also part of this is the folks I spoke to, they believe that the biggest threat is internal. And this is that constant paranoia that they’ve had historically, these internal collapses. And that’s what they’re trying to ward off. But, answer—
MILLWARD: So Falun Gong is a direct precedent—the sort of reeducation system and incarceration and attempts to, you know, change people’s thinking has been a response to Falun Gong, and may in fact be a source for the sort of ideas being applied to Islam more broadly. And then in general, there is a campaign now for the Sinotization of religion. And of course, religious institutions have always really had to be controlled within the Chinese government and the party. And in fact, the state Islamic association, yes, which had been within—or all of the sort of state religious associations, which had been within the government, have now been moved over into the party. And that’s a significant shift, having to do with sort of Xi Jinping’s centralization.
And then there have been kind of cosmetic aspects of this. Great concern about religious architecture, crosses on the top of buildings, domes, an idea that the buildings themselves should look more Chinese. And then insertion of sort of party creed and flag-raising ceremonies within other religious ceremonies. So there’s a—you know, they haven’t risen to the level of the sort of things going on in Xinjiang, but it’s part of this broader effort to—assimilate may be slightly too strong—but to Sinosize aspects that—to turn a, you know, mosaic into a solid color.
SIMS: Nury, you get the last word, because we’re just at the end. But, please, go ahead.
TURKEL: Uighurs and Tibetans are two canaries in the coal mine. They have been going through very similar social, political oppression. Even the Chinese leadership has been recycled, as Jim pointed out earlier. Chen Quanguo tried out the same policies, similar policies, in Tibet, and appeared to be successful. And I think he actually got promoted to be the head of the Communist Party in Xinjiang. So we have to—we have to—we have to show some specific support. You know, thinking about what the Chinese reaction will be in the diplomatic arena, keeping this at a private conversation inside the closed doors has not really yielded any result.
So the international community must come together, speak in one voice, like it has in the history. And this is in order to maximize the pressure on the Chinese. And the—avoid retaliation against a specific country, this has to be a collaborated, global effort. Uighur peoples are suffering, crying out. The magnitude and seriousness of this issue is crying out for help. The silence I the tacit approval of a crime. So please, call your congressmen at least to endorse them—ask them to endorse the pending legislation. That is a good start. And organize event like this to raise awareness. And write in the local newspapers, editorials. Draw historic references. People need to know that we’re talking about a group of ethnic people being criminalized because of who they are and what kind of religion that they practice.
SIMS: Gay, Jim, Nury, thank you very much. Thank you all for coming. Thank you. (Applause.)