Why the US is increasing pressure on China over the treatment of Tibetans and Uyghurs


Human rights activists welcome what they see as increased US attention to Chinese behavior in its volatile regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, suggesting that lobbying by rights groups may have helped mounting pressure on Beijing.

A law, a boycott and the appointment of a government official were added at the end of 2021 to increase the resolve of the United States towards the troubled regions of China, these advocates say.

The Muslim Uyghur population of northwest China’s Xinjiang region and ethnic Tibetans from one region of the Chinese Himalayas have argued over the past half-century with the Communist government over freedom of worship and demonstration of their native culture.

FILE - Protester holds sign as activists protest outside the Colosseum, calling on G-20 leaders to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over China's treatment of <a class=Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong, in Rome, Italy, October 29, 2021.” src=”https://gdb.voanews.com/92797151-023F-4107-B089-4CD70574E32A_w250_r0_s.jpg”/>

FILE – Protester holds sign as activists protest outside the Colosseum, calling on G-20 leaders to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over China’s treatment of Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong, in Rome, Italy, October 29, 2021.

“Pay special attention to the humanitarian crisis in East Turkestan [Xinjiang] is in the national interest of the United States and in accordance with American values ​​and tradition to call for action whenever genocide and crimes against humanity occur, as in the case of the Uyghurs “, said Dilxat Raxit, spokesperson for the organization of the World Uyghur Congress of Uyghur Groups in Exile.

“Just like other countries in liberal democracies, Americans have taken a vow of ‘never again’ to allow vulnerable religious and ethnic groups to suffer atrocious crimes like the Holocaust, and now the Uyghurs,” he said. he declares.

U.S. officials are also embroiled in a nearly 4-year trade dispute with China as well as disagreements over Chinese territorial expansion in seas around Asia and restrictions on sharing advanced technology.

Many foreign governments, as well as human rights activists, claim that China has sent more than a million Uyghurs to detention camps. Beijing calls the complexes “vocational education centers” designed to stop the spread of religious extremism and terrorist attacks.

In Tibet, a religiously and ethnically non-Chinese region that China acquired in 1951, Beijing is increasing its control over Buddhist monasteries and adding education in Chinese, not Tibetan. Critics of these policies are regularly detained and can be sentenced to long prison terms.

For the past five years, Washington has denounced China for its restrictions on anti-Beijing activism in Hong Kong and People’s Liberation Army overflights in Taiwanese airspace.

Mounting pressure

US President Joe Biden cited China’s treatment of Uyghurs when he announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics this month.

On December 23, Biden enacted the bipartisan Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor. The bill aims to “ensure that products made with forced labor” in Xinjiang do not enter the US market.

Targeting Tibet, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on December 20 appointed Indian US Under Secretary for Human Rights Uzra Zeya to simultaneously serve as US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

Emphasizing the element of human rights, the US special coordinator will lead efforts to “advance the human rights of Tibetans” and “help preserve their distinct religious, linguistic and cultural identity,” the website says. of the State Department.

Lawmakers had urged Biden in early December to meet with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to ensure a place on his agenda for Tibetan rights.

Pressure on Biden?

Huang Kwei-bo, associate professor of diplomacy at Taipei National Chengchi University, said in an interview that Biden’s focus on Tibet and Xinjiang is in line with mainstream American policy, but may also have been motivated through the “internal lobbying” of American human rights groups. .

The Labor Centers are a “relatively new creation” established under Chen Quanguo, who took over in 2016 as secretary of the Xinjiang Communist Party, said Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center. in Washington. Chen also announced policies to limit Uyghur religious freedom.

China replaced Chen this week in what Sun sees as a sign it wants to move beyond the labor camp policy it has created in Xinjiang because the costs to Beijing’s international reputation are outweighing it. on the benefits.

FILE – Protesters supporting Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kong people take part in a protest against the Chinese Communist Party as they march along Regent Street People’s Republic of China, as they march along Regent Street towards Chinese Embassy, ​​London, October 1, 2021.

Pema Doma, campaign manager at Students for a Free Tibet, credits communications from advocacy groups that warily watch China the Biden government’s increased attention to Tibet and Xinjiang.

“It really is the bravery of human rights defenders, the ones who have survived so much and who still come out on the other side brave enough to continue to speak out against the Chinese government,” Doma told VOA.

Students for a Free Tibet want Biden to oppose the forced assimilation of Tibetans and Uighurs into Chinese culture, Doma said. Western nations can learn from their own stories of racial issues to prevent China from “brainwashing” Tibetans and Uyghurs.

“The Biden administration really has a responsibility to act differently from previous administrations,” she said. “We have to break the mold, because China is not sitting still.”

China’s reaction

Chinese authorities now, as before, reject US actions towards its western regions as interference. “I think China’s most recent tone is rather assertive, to say ‘don’t interfere in our internal affairs’,” Huang said.

The official Xinhua News Service criticized the US Xinjiang Sanctions Bill as “full of vicious lies” and “nothing but another desperate attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the nation. China through a “long-arm jurisdiction”.