Hidden Crisis in China: Why Are the Uyghurs Drawing Xi Jinping's Attention?

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to Xinjiang, where he urged officials in the region to conserve the “hard-won social stability” that it is enjoying and deepen efforts to control “illegal religious activities” in Xinjiang.

According to reports by the Chinese state media, Xi arrived at the region’s capital city, Urumqi, last August 26th, where he listened to a government report and spoke to Communist Party and government officials. It was his second visit to Xinjiang since he launched a massive crackdown against the region’s predominantly Muslim Uyghur and Turkic populations almost a decade ago.

During his visit, Xi urged local officials to “more deeply promote the Sinicisation of Islam and effectively control illegal religious activities.” Chinese authorities have also insisted that all is well in Xinjiang and that it has successfully quelled internal unrest and is now focused more on economic development.

However, the “beautiful Xinjiang” Xi and other Chinese officials talked about was in sharp contrast with the report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the human rights situation of Uyghurs in the autonomous region, along with other longstanding accusations of human rights violations by the Chinese government.

The OHCHR released a report last year, concluding that the Chinese government has been committing grave human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other Turkic people in Xinjiang since 2017. These abuses are so widespread and systematic that they “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.

Aside from the OHCHR, other governments, legal bodies, and human rights organizations described the crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang as an attempted genocide.

Human Rights Watch reported that the Chinese government, at the height of its supposedly anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang, called “Strike Hard Campaign against Terrorism and Extremism,” arbitrarily detained and imprisoned an estimated one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples in “political reeducation camps” as well as formal detention centers and prisons.

The Chinese government also enacted mass surveillance and systematically suppressed religious and cultural expression in Xinjiang. Research groups have found that religious and cultural sites in the region have been destroyed or largely closed off to religious observers.

Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials rejected the accusations against them regarding their crackdown in Xinjiang and argued that they were part of a Western plot to smear Beijing. They also said that the crackdown was a poverty alleviation and anti-extremism program.

However, the United Nations and other human rights groups found credible evidence of torture, imprisonment, and other human rights abuses against the Uyghur population. Human Rights Watch also discovered that Chinese authorities would turn up with lists of names and seize Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples off the streets or from their homes, forcibly disappearing them.

Kenneth Roth, former Human Rights Watch executive director, said Xi’s visit to Xinjiang was a “doubling down on his crimes against humanity.

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