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People power can stop the Uyghur genocide

People demonstrate against China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims on July 01, 2021 [Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency]
People demonstrate against China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims on July 01, 2021 [Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency]

Boycotts are a powerful weapon in the quest for justice. This is why the Israeli leadership is making so much effort to have the peaceful resistance of the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement outlawed around the world. Israel is scared of what BDS can do without a single bullet or missile to its name.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa showed us all how influential targeted consumer boycotts could be during the violent years of internal resistance to the white minority government in Pretoria. As solidarity with the movement increased, trade boycotts spread around the world into sports, academia, culture and the arts.

South African apartheid is no more, and while there is still no end in sight for apartheid in Israel, justice for Palestinians is getting closer as the grip of unconditional support for Zionism is being weakened daily by BDS, despite the best efforts of the powerful pro-Israel lobby. The lobby's latest move to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is failing, with its propaganda and lies being exposed.

Thanks to the use of smart technology, camera phones, videos, the internet and social media, daily abuse of Palestinians by the Israeli military and illegal settlers is also being revealed to a watching world. However, it is not that easy to expose tyranny and oppression in secretive super states like China, where rumours about the abuse of ethnic Uyghurs on an industrial scale began to surface two decades ago.

READ: Israel refuses to condemn China's abuse of Uyghur Muslims

Despite harrowing testimony from Uyghurs who have been able to escape from China, the rest of the world is finding it difficult to stand up to the superpower. Normally outspoken leaders like Pakistan's Imran Khan, for example, are unusually mute because of financial interests linking Islamabad with Beijing, forcing the popular prime minister to adopt a more pragmatic approach. So, as with Apartheid South Africa and the future of occupied Palestine, it is down to ordinary people to come together and apply BDS-style tactics against China to bring the persecution of Uyghurs to an end.

Top secret documents have surfaced this week showing the full extent of Beijing's crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang Province. The information centres on a series of speeches delivered by the Chinese leadership in 2014.

The previously unseen Xinjiang Papers — including three speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2014 — cover security, population control and the need to punish the Uyghur people. They are now in the hands of the Uyghur Tribunal, an independent people's tribunal based in Britain.

In the documents, the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership push for Uyghur "re-education" and relocation to rectify an imbalance between the majority Uyghurs and the smaller Han population in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province. The original papers were authenticated after a request by German academic Dr Adrian Zenz. He says that the confidential documents are significant because they show multiple links between the demands of the Chinese leadership of 2014 and what happened subsequently in Xinjiang, including mass internment in re-education camps, coercive labour transfers and the forced reduction of the Uyghur population.

Describing this cultural genocide, Zenz says that the documents show the leadership's determination to protect the rule of the CCP. Although the files were given in digital form to the tribunal in September, officials have waited until now in order to protect the source of the leak.

The unredacted, original papers were peer-reviewed by Dr James Millward, Professor of inter-societal history at America's Georgetown University Washington, and Dr David Tobin, lecturer in East Asian studies at the University of Sheffield. They studied sections dated between 2014 and 2018 which have since been redacted to protect the identity of the whistle-blower. While some files were published by the New York Times in 2019, this new leak contains previously unpublished material.

It is no secret that President Xi Jinping, who is also General Secretary of the CCP, believes that his Belt and Road Initiative is the jewel in his foreign policy crown. However, one of his speeches exposes his fears that his special project could be undermined by the influence and growth of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Demonising the Uyghurs by describing them as a "terrorist threat", in one of his speeches he said that everything must be done to "prevent Xinjiang's violent terrorist activities from spreading to the rest of China," and argued that "stability across Xinjiang and even across the whole country depends on southern Xinjiang." The Chinese leader ended with a call for "a crushing blow to buy us time."

The content of another speech reveals that Xinjiang's party secretary, Chen Quanguo, ordered the rounding up of Uyghurs for "re-education purposes". China has denied persistent rumours about this for many years, but it will be hard for the leadership to maintain its position in the face of the latest revelations supported by the documents.

Beijing organised the transfer of 300,000 Han from eastern China into southern Xinjiang administered by the Bingtuan, which is better known as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organisation in the south-west of Xinjiang that answers directly to Beijing. Its goals are described in a human rights report as primarily colonial: develop the land in East Turkestan, secure the border and maintain stability.

Just as Tel Aviv likes to hide behind "national security" as an excuse for its brutal military occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, China uses the same euphemism to justify the cultural genocide of the Uyghur population to achieve President Xi's long-term political goals.

READ: China envoy banned from UK Parliament over Uyghur abuses

Meanwhile, the world's politicians, business tycoons and even British royalty seem prepared to turn a blind eye to the Uyghur genocide as they roll out the red carpet for the Chinese leader who has become as powerful and ruthless as Chairman Mao Zedong. Few nations will stand up to him because of their own self-interests, especially when it comes to trade deals.

However, there is one particular sphere that he can't influence: the will of ordinary people. People power can stop the genocide of the Uyghurs. If people all over the world start to impose their own boycott of China, no matter how relatively small, the Chinese juggernaut could come to a shuddering halt. It was the combined efforts of concerned individuals as well as institutions which contributed to the downfall of Apartheid South Africa, and is now doing the same with apartheid Israel, so why not the oppressors in China?

Resistance may be futile in China itself, such is Beijing's brutality, but people in the rest of the world can show that they're more powerful than any politician, even President Xi. The world is interconnected today even more than it was when Martin Luther King said in 1963, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." What is happening to the Uyghurs today could be happening to someone else tomorrow, which is why we need to act now. Boycotting Israel? Boycott China too.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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