• Reading Level 5
History | Citizenship | RE | Relationships and health

‘China locked us up like animals…’

Is China guilty of genocide? Despite growing calls for it to be held accountable for seeking to eradicate Uighur Muslims, some countries are unwilling to accuse the nation outright. Today, British MPs will vote on one of the most important motions of modern times. An amendment to the Trade Bill would give the High Court the right to rule on whether or not a trading partner is committing genocide. While the amendment will apply to all the countries that the UK trades with, it is clearly aimed at China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. If it passes, the UK will join a number of Western states taking a tougher line against China. Canadian legislators have called for China to be stripped of the 2022 Winter Olympics. And last month, the USA formally declared that the Chinese state is carrying out a genocide, putting pressure on other countries to do the same. The bar for proving genocide is high. It has to be shown that the culprit intends to wipe out – either wholly or partially – a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. But the evidence is piling up. In her recent book, Survivor of the Chinese Gulag, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uighur woman living in France, tells how she was lured back to China, arrested and imprisoned in a “re-education camp” for three years. Haitiwaji claims that the Chinese state is trying to eliminate the Uighur cultural identity. She writes that in the camps, inmates are prevented from speaking their native language and subjected to constant propaganda glorifying the Chinese state and President Xi Jinping. They are banned from praying – a strict requirement in Islam– and they can be brutally punished just for whispering or closing their eyes. She also witnessed inmates being forcibly sterilised. Other accounts have told how Uighurs are forced to adopt names from the Han ethnic majority, erasing their Turkic identity. Although China is not systematically killing Uighurs, according to Haitiwaji the strategy is more subtle: “not to kill us in cold blood, but to make us slowly disappear. So slowly that no one would notice.” Nonetheless, many countries in Europe and the rest of the world have been reluctant to declare that China is guilty of genocide. The UK government is lobbying against the “genocide amendment”, and might stop it from passing. This is largely for reasons of realpolitik. It is hard to maintain normal diplomatic relations – or negotiate trade deals – with a country that you have accused of the worst crime imaginable. China is the greatest manufacturing power the world has ever seen. It produces more than half of all phones and 45% of all computers and tablets. Most countries are reliant on its exports. Accusing China of genocide could threaten trade links. Even the Islamic world, despite sharing a religion with the Uighurs, has been unwilling to condemn the Chinese state. Is China guilty of genocide? Guilty as charged? Yes, say some. We have more than enough evidence that China is systematically eradicating an entire ethnic identity. What we are witnessing is the elimination of an ancient way of life. We have a moral responsibility to describe the terrible savagery of the Uighurs’ treatment with the most serious accusation that can be levelled against a state: genocide. Not at all, say others. The term “genocide” is so serious that it should be reserved for very specific cases, in which an ethnic group is systematically killed simply for belonging to that group: like Jewish people in the Holocaust, or the Tutsis in Rwanda. It is better to negotiate with China for an end to the Uighurs’ suffering than to cut off diplomatic ties altogether. KeywordsRealpolitik - A German term that means literally "realistic" or "actual" politics. This is a system of politics based on what is practical and possible, rather than what is ethical or morally right.

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