A Coke and a genocide
We have learned to think of genocide as industrial-scale slaughter: gas chambers, killing fields, mass graves. A report published last week by the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, “To Make Us Slowly Disappear,” suggests that China may have found a different way, more insidious if no less monstrous.
The campaign against the Uyghur population of western China, a Muslim minority of about 12 million people inside a nation of more than 1 billion, began with conventional discrimination, escalated to intense surveillance and mass detentions, and now includes forcible sterilization and insertion of IUDs; separation of men and women through incarceration, forced migration and coerced marriages of Uyghur women to men from the ethnic Han majority; and mass kidnapping of Uyghur children, taken from their parents and placed in state “boarding schools.”
The campaign is not without terrible violence, torture and killing, as survivor accounts make clear. But, the report says, it hinges on something else: “coercive interventions of the Chinese government to prevent sizable numbers of Uyghurs from coming into being.”
This suggests that the deliberate goal is “to biologically destroy the group, in whole or in substantial part.”
One of the missions of the Holocaust Museum is “to do for victims of genocide today what was not done for the Jews of Europe.” The seriousness with which it accepts this responsibility is reflected in the meticulous caution of the well-documented report: Although both the Trump and Biden administrations have declared that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, the museum says it is “gravely concerned that the Chinese government may be committing genocide.”
Uncertainty is what China wants; it has constructed a formidable information blockade. Uyghur scholars were among the first targets of the mass detention campaign. Foreign scholars, correspondents and think-tank experts are kept out of the Xinjiang region where the crimes are being committed — and increasingly out of China altogether. And China attempts to silence even Uyghurs living abroad by locking up and abusing the relatives back home of anyone who dares speak out.
No one has been more victimized by this barbarity than the reporters of Radio Free Asia, who have done more than anyone in the past five years to reveal the truth.
“The Chinese government are very professional on how to hide their crimes,” one of those reporters, Gulchehra Hoja, said at a forum organized by the museum last week. Hoja, about whom I’ve written before, knows this all too well: Trying to silence her, the Chinese government locked up, as usual without charge or trial, her brother, her mother, her cousins, their spouses — nearly two dozen relatives in all.
As a result, we have indications, alarming snippets, satellite evidence — but far from the whole story.
The report says between 1 million and 3 million people are detained; Hoja says she believes the higher number, but it can’t be proven.
The report refers to more than 880,000 Uyghur children being put in boarding facilities — often after their parents are illegally detained — but that was only through 2019.
Researchers uncover dramatic drops in Uyghur birth rates — in 2019, “at least 186,400 fewer children were born in Xinjiang compared to what would have been expected if birth rates had remained static at the pre-2017 baseline,” the report says — but then China hides more data, so reports are dated, fragmentary and, almost certainly, far less terrible than the truth.
What is to be done? The report calls on China, which proclaims its innocence, to allow a U.N.-authorized commission access to Xinjiang to investigate. Certainly it should be at the top of President Biden’s agenda when he holds a tele-summit with President Xi Jinping on Monday.
Hoja puts it more simply: “Please, I ask international community, break silence,” she said. “This is not a Uyghur tragedy. This is a human tragedy.”
Will Coca-Cola and other Olympic sponsors really just pretend none of it is happening? “We stand with those seeking justice and equality,” chairman and CEO James Quincey declared last year.
On its website, the company boasts of being the longest continuous sponsor of the International Olympic Committee because they share the “same core values of friendship, respect, inclusion, integrity and excellence.”
At a congressional hearing in July, Coca-Cola executive Paul Lalli said the sponsors have no say in where the Games take place. “We support and follow the athletes wherever they compete,” Lalli said.
That may be true. Also true: There will be no “justice and equality” for the Uyghur women being kicked, raped and sterilized as the ice-dancing competition unfolds; no “respect and inclusion” for Uyghur infants being seized from their parents as skiers race down the slalom course.
“The future of a people may depend on swift, coordinated action by global actors,” the report says.
Or we all can pretend it’s not happening, grab a Coke and enjoy the Games.
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