Apologist for China, Me?
In response to numerous posts I had written on Canada's arrest and detention of the Huawei CFO, Meng Wangzou, I was given friendly advice from a couple of sources that, in light of allegations of an Uyghur genocide, I should not appear to be an apologist for China. My immediate defense, even if unnecessary and unspoken, was that I had little or nothing to say about China. My concern was Canada, what was in the best interest of Canada and Canadians. As I've already said too many times on this blog, Canada's holding Meng for trial isn't moral or legal. It isn't even strategic or advantageous from any Machiavellic realpolitik perspective. It's just plain dumb. The only rationale which justifies her continued detention is the underlying, irrational fear that if we release her, the next day American tanks would come rolling across the border and Justin Trudeau would find himself sharing a cell with Manuel Noreiga. Even in the Age of Trumpery, I had more respect for our southern neighbours than this.
Canada Declares a Genocide in China?
Despite my reluctance to comment, all the less so, to be an apologist for China; somehow China keeps becoming a Canadian story. In January, the Canadian parliament passed a "non-binding" Conservative Party resolution declaring China's treatment of the Uyghurs a genocide. Here is the resolution in full:
|January 25, 2021 — — That,
in the opinion of the House, the People's Republic of China has engaged
in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly
Resolution 260, commonly known as the "Genocide Convention", including
detention camps and measures intended to prevent births as it pertains
to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims; and
given that (i) where possible, it has been the policy of the Government
of Canada to act in concert with its allies when it comes to the
recognition of a genocide, (ii) there is a bipartisan consensus in the
United States where it has been the position of two consecutive
administrations that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected
to a genocide by the Government of the People's Republic of China, the
House, therefore, recognize that a genocide is currently being carried
out by the People's Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic
Muslims, and call on the government to officially adopt this position.
Because Mike Pompeo Said So . . .
I found the justification that 'this is what they are doing in the United States' less than satisfying. All the more so because the original American genocide declaration was more officious than official--with Mike Pompeo making the declaration 24 hours before the end of the Trump presidency and his tenure as Secretary of State. However, as various media have reported, the incoming Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, has expressed his agreement with Pompeo's declaration.
An "Independent " Report
In recent days there has been an avalanche of media headlines reiterating that the "First Independent Report Claims ‘Clear And Convincing’ Evidence Of Chinese Genocide Against Uighurs." The report being so widely quoted is entitled The Uyghur Genocide.
The Uyghur Genocide and Reclaiming Power and Place
I approached The Uyghur Genocide much as I approached Reclaiming Power and Place, the report which concluded that Canada had perpetrated a genocide on indigenous women and girls. As I commented in my earlier post, the part of Reclaiming Power and Place which I considered key was the "Forensic Document Review Project." Similarly, I think a key to understanding what has been happening in China is The Xinjiang Victims Database which provides access to missing-person reports and witness statements.
Who wrote The Uyghur Genocide?
As I approached The Uyghur Genocide, the first question I asked was "Who wrote this report?" The foreword is signed by Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, Director, Special Initiatives, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, who is a professor of Strategic Studies at the US Army War College, the author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide, and an advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Following the "Executive Summary," the report provides a list of "numerous independent experts" who served as contributors. In the list, I could immediately identify four distinguished Canadians: Loyd Axworthy, Irwin Cotler, Yves Fortier and Allan Rock. These names are prominently displayed at the beginning and the end of the report, but nowhere in the report are they quoted or cited. From the text, it is not possible to know how they contributed or what their thoughts might be about the final report.
Newlines Institue, Fairfax University and Fethullah Gulen
The report was prepared by Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a think tank at the Fairfax University of America. Ahmed Alwani is Newlines Institute's president and founder. He is also the president of Fairfax University of America. Fairfax University (formerly the Virginia International University) has a total of eight full-time instructors and 153 students. The internet is littered with stories of how the state of Virginia moved to close Fairfax/Virginia International's distance learning program. According to David North, "the university relates to the movement of Fethullah Gulen." The Gülenist Movement has been variously described as a cult, a terrorist organization, and a wealthy Muslim philanthropic organization operating largely in the USA with a goal of world peace and spiritual education and the liberation of the people of Turkey from the dictatorship of President Tayyip Erdoğan. In TheGrayzone.com, Agit Signe describes Fairfax/Virginia University as
[ . . . ] a "visa mill" rather than a legitimate educational institution. [ . . .] a sham operation where an institution "offers little by way of educational value," but instead lures international students through its ability to offer access to student and work visas, while exploiting them by charging exorbitant tuition costs.
Signe describes The Uyghur Genocide, saying:
The report attempts to construct an appearance of broad expert consensus supporting its conclusions, including a list of 33 “independent expert” signatories. Unsurprisingly, this list consists of individuals pushing for a New Cold War and confrontation with China, and who support separatist efforts to transform the mineral-rich, geopolitically important region of Xinjiang into a NATO-oriented ethno-state [. . .]
Where is the United Nations?
Logically, we would expect that an "independent" report on genocide in China would be produced by the UN, more specifically, by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, rather than Newlines Institute of Fairfax University. The USA resigned from the UN's Human Rights Council in 2018. The current High Commissioner is Michelle Bachelet Jeria, a Chilean. From 2004 to 2008, the High Commissioner was Louise Arbour, a Canadian, who has spoken out against Canada's ignoring its own laws in detaining Meng Wanzhou. At the UN, 39 countries presented a resolution condemning China for human rights abuses. However, more than 50 countries indicated support for China and 45 countries signed on to a statement "supporting Beijing's assertion that its measures in Xinjiang are part of counter-terrorism and deradicalization efforts." Both Iran and Saudi Arabia, enemies to each other but pillars of Islam, have strengthened their partnerships with China in recent years and expressed support for Beijing's operations in Xinjiang.
The Uyghur Genocide is a legal brief
The Uyghur Genocide clearly states that
Under Article II, there are three constituent elements [of genocide] : (1) the commission of a genocidal act or acts committed against (2) the protected group and (3) with the intent to destroy the group in whole or in part. This report is structured around these three elements and the conditions that facilitate genocide.
The report, by its own declarations, is not the independent, objective outcome of an inquiry but the equivalent of a legal brief designed to present one side of a legal argument, in this case, that China's treatment of the Uyghur is genocide according to the "Genocide Convention."
The Burden of Proof
The report promises to apply "a clear and convincing standard of proof." To understand this promise, it is necessary to consult the accompanying footnote, which links to a website entitled Standards of Proof in International Humanitarian and Human Rights Fact-Finding and Inquiry Missions which outlines four levels of "standard of proof." Level three is:
Clear and convincing evidence. Very solid support for the finding; significantly more evidence supports the finding and limited information suggests the contrary. (60%.) Classic expression is it is clear that.
The Uyghur Genocide claims that:
The repeated explicit Government orders (described below) to “eradicate tumors,” “wipe them out completely … destroy them root and branch,” “round up everyone,” “show absolutely no mercy,” “break their roots,” and eliminate “risks within risks, hidden dangers in hidden dangers,” combined with corresponding State practice, belie the purported security goals by targeting any and all members of the Uyghur population.
I attempted to trace the source of these quotations and confirm that they were, in fact, "repeated explicit Government orders." It has taken me longer to read the 50-page Uyghur report, with its 317 footnotes/hyperlinks than it took me to read the 1550-page Canadian report on Indigenous women. Almost invariably, the sources of these quotations (above) were newspaper articles or someone else's report. This approach contradicts the rules of evidence but what struck me more was that it has created a feedback loop. The report was using the media as its source; then the media was using the report as a source. The effect of the loop, this circulation within a closed circle, is repetition--rather than investigation--of information and escalation of the rhetoric even without new evidence or sources.
Are the sources biased?
No-one should criticize a journalist for writing passionately about human-rights abuses. However, quoting a journalist who has written a string of such articles as legal evidence is problematic. If you do an advanced google search of "eradicate tumours" (to include China and eliminate cancer), you get 215 hits. But what does "eradicate tumours" mean? How should we interpret this expression out of any context? It sounds like the government has given "repeated, explicit orders" to eradicate Uyghurs, doesn't it? The phrase "eradicate tumours" is used seven times in the report: once in the table of contents, once as a heading, twice in a footnote and three times in the text, but never in a complete sentence to give it context.
In order to understand where "eradicate tumours" comes from it is necessary to click on a link in the footnote which leads to an AFP [Agence France-Presse] article by Ben Dooley in which he reports:
Teams like the one sent to Akeqie Kanle from the Bingtuan Broadcast Television University (BBTU)
[ . . . .]
"The work team is resolute," BBTU's publicity department boasted on social media in an unusual public accounting of the dark side of a work team's operations. "We can completely take the lid off Akeqie Kanle, look behind the curtain, and eradicate its tumours."
Akeqie Kanle is, according to Dooley, a village of 500, and over 100 of its residents have been removed to detention or re-education camps. In the above cluster of mixed metaphors, it is still difficult to interpret an exact meaning for "eradicate its tumours." The metaphor is in keeping with a theme in Chinese government discourse describing religious extremism as a disease. The phrase used by "BBTU's publicity department [. . .] on social media" does not appear to rise to the level of "repeated explicit Government orders." It certainly does not mean "eradicate all Uyghurs," as the phrase "eradicate tumours" seems to suggest when used out of context.
Newlines Institute's report argues that
China’s attempts to justify its policies in XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] as a war against extremism, terrorism, or separatism do not absolve the State of responsibility for genocide. These policies primarily target Southern XUAR, where Uyghurs constitute approximately 90 percent of the population [. . . .]
Xinjiang is bordered by eight countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. In my sporadic review of The Xinjiang Victims Database, it appears that various ethnicities are being targeted, especially Kazakhs, and anyone who frequently crosses the border.
Although Newlines' report dismisses the Chinese justification of "a war against extremism, terrorism, or separatism," many of the report's uncontextualized quotations come from a New York Times article in which Chinese officials are being quoted at the height of terrorist attacks in 2014. "‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims" is the most comprehensive and balanced account I have encountered since beginning to research this subject.
From the New York Times
According to the NYT article, "The current crackdown began after a surge of anti-government and anti-Chinese violence, including ethnic riots in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital." In April 2014, "Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31." The same year, "two Uighur militants staged a suicide bombing outside a train station in Urumqi that injured nearly 80 people, one fatally," and "assailants tossed explosives into a vegetable market in Urumqi, wounding 94 people and killing at least 39."
Based on leaked documents, published alongside the article, the NYT claimed:
Against this backdrop of bloodshed, Mr. Xi delivered a series of secret speeches setting the hard-line course that culminated in the security offensive now underway in Xinjiang. While state media have alluded to these speeches, none were made public.
Terrorist attacks abroad and the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan heightened the leadership’s fears and helped shape the crackdown. Officials argued that attacks in Britain resulted from policies that put “human rights above security,” and Mr. Xi urged the party to emulate aspects of America’s “war on terror” after the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to the NYT article, President Xi
traced the origins of Islamic extremism in Xinjiang to the Middle East, and warned that turmoil in Syria and Afghanistan would magnify the risks for China. Uighurs had traveled to both countries, he said, and could return to China as seasoned fighters seeking an independent homeland, which they called East Turkestan. [ . . .] and urged officials to study how Americans responded to the Sept. 11 attacks.
"After the United States pulls troops out of Afghanistan, terrorist organizations positioned on the frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan may quickly infiltrate into Central Asia,” Mr. Xi said. “East Turkestan’s terrorists who have received real-war training in Syria and Afghanistan could at any time launch terrorist attacks in Xinjiang."
The NYT article goes on to point out,
In several surprising passages, given the crackdown that followed, Mr. Xi also told officials to not discriminate against Uighurs and to respect their right to worship. He warned against overreacting to natural friction between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group, and rejected proposals to try to eliminate Islam entirely in China.
Many witness statements in The Xinjiang Victims Database describe Muslims being punished for religious practice. According to the Wikipedia entry on Freedom of Religion in China,
Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, yet with a caveat: the government controls what it calls "normal
religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place
within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered
places of worship.
According to the Wikipedia article on Religion in China:
The government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing official recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion as part of China's cultural inheritance.
According to The Uyghur Genocide, the destruction of mosques is significant, physical evidence of the suppression of Islam.
It is estimated that approximately 16,000 mosques in XUAR, or 65 percent of the total, have been destroyed or damaged due to government policies, largely since 2017, with 8,500 mosques completely demolished.
The source of this information, based on satellite imaging, is Radio Free Asia, "a United-States government-funded, nonprofit international broadcasting corporation." The numbers seem daunting, but I have tried to grasp exactly what they might mean by putting them in some kind of context. If 8,500 were demolished, the conclusion is that there are16,500 mosques still standing in XUAR with an estimated Muslim population of 12 million.
(By comparison, last count, there are 2,106 mosques in the USA for a Muslim population of 3.4 million, which all together suggests that Muslims in XUOR remain better served than those in the USA--that is, 722 Muslims per mosque in XUOR versus 1590 per mosque in the USA. For further comparison, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where I once lived, is famous for its Catholic churches but, according to an archdiocese report, 30 of 54 nearby churches (approximately 60%) are slated for closure.)
One section of The Uyghur Genocide elaborates on "Government eugenic programs implementing the mass prevention of Uyghur births." Much of this section refers to reports by Adrian Zenz, a German anthropologist, working for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Zenz's research is actively rebutted by Global Times, which is routinely described in Western media as a propaganda instrument of the Chinese Communist Party: GT investigation busts West's birth control lies in Xinjiang. In The Grayzone, Agit Singh stridently declares that
The report [The Uyghur Genocide] relies most substantially on the “expertise” of Adrian Zenz, the far-right evangelical ideologue, whose “scholarship” on China has been demonstrated to be deeply flawed, riddled with falsehoods and dishonest statistical manipulation.
"Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang 'reeducation' camp"
Among the many newspaper articles referenced in The Uyghur Genocide is one published by Haaretz (a newspaper promising all the news on Israel and Jews around the world) with the lengthy title: "A Million People Are Jailed at China's Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here's What Really Goes on Inside." The article is based on a series of interviews with Sayragul Sauytbay, a Kazakh, and "a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden." By her account, Sauytbay was forced to teach Mandarin in one of the camps where she encountered evidence of "rape, torture and human experiments." She was able to cross the border from China into Kazakhstan illegally. In Kazakhstan, she requested asylum, but her request was refused by the Kazakh court. She then escaped to Sweden.
In 2020, she was presented with the U.S. Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award by Mike Pompeo and Melania Trump.
In response to Sayragul's receiving the award, the Global Times claimed that
According to information from the Xinjiang regional government, Sayragul applied for a 10-year-term repayment loan of 200,000 yuan using forged guarantee materials and guarantor's signature from a rural credit cooperative at Chahanwusu town in June 2015, and currently still owes 149,000 yuan from the loan.
In December 2016, she applied for another 10-year loan of 270,000 yuan using a fabricated purchase contract, of which she still owes 249,000 yuan. She is facing charges of loan fraud, according to China's Criminal Law.
Sayragul illegally crossed the border and went to Kazakhstan from the China-Kazakhstan Horgas International Border Cooperation Center on April 5, 2018.
"Sayragul claimed that she graduated from medical university and used to be a doctor. But the truth is, she had studied in the nursery class of Xinjiang Ili Health School, and has no working experience as a doctor. She never worked in any vocational education and training center at all," said the spokesperson.
The Chief Witness
Recently, Sayragul published a book entitled The Chief Witness, which is summarized as follows:
Born in China’s north-western province, Sayragul Sauytbay trained as a doctor before being appointed a senior civil servant. But her life was upended when the Chinese authorities incarcerated her. Her crime: being Kazakh, one of China’s ethnic minorities.
The north-western province borders the largest number of foreign nations and is the point in China that is the closest to Europe. In recent years it has become home to over 1,200 penal camps — modern-day gulags that are estimated to house three million members of the Kazakh and Uyghur minorities. Imprisoned solely due to their ethnicity, inmates are subjected to relentless punishment and torture, including being beaten, raped, and used as subjects for medical experiments. The camps represent the greatest systematic incarceration of an entire people since the Third Reich.
In prison, Sauytbay was put to work teaching Chinese language, culture, and politics, in the course of which she gained access to secret information that revealed Beijing’s long-term plans to undermine not only its minorities, but democracies around the world. Upon her escape to Europe she was reunited with her family, but still lives under the constant threat of reprisal. This rare testimony from the biggest surveillance state in the world reveals not only the full, frightening scope of China’s tyrannical ambitions, but also the resilience and courage of its author.
In the Haaretz article published in October 2019, it is reported that "Sauytbay completed medical studies and worked in a hospital. Subsequently, she turned to education and was employed in the service of the state, in charge of five preschools."
By her account in Haaretz, she was a language teacher in the camp. She offers no explanation of how she came to witness medical experiments. In the article, her knowledge of medicine seems very limited and she offers no examples of having used her medical knowledge while in the camp. There is no evidence to support the hyperbole that "being Kazakh" would be considered a crime in China. The estimates of "1,200 penal camps" and "three million" detainees are the highest numbers I have heard so far. Of course, we must wonder how Sauytay, a closely guarded prisoner according to her description, would manage to gain "access to secret information that revealed Beijing's long-term plans to undermine not only its minorities but democracies around the world." References to "gulags," "concentration camps," "penal camps," and the "Third Reich" are, I suppose, an expected result of the "feedback loop." Sayragul Sauytbay's being "the chief witness" is belied by multiple witness statements on The Xinjiang Victims Database.
Reading The Uyghur Genocide, I asked the same question I asked in my reading of Reclaiming Power and Place. Who benefits? I doubted that the Canadian report and the claim that murdered Indigenous women and girls were victims of acts of genocide were helpful to current and future generations of young Indigenous women. Will Western proclamations of genocide benefit the Uyghur in China?
Will declarations of genocide further the goal of an independent Turkic-Muslim state and an eventual civil war which, according to Chinese sources, the current policies are designed to prevent? Will Western genocide proclamations cause China to change its human-rights policies? Can Western democracies successfully threaten China into changing politically?
Chaos under Heaven and "the Thucydides Trap"
In Chaos under Heaven, Josh Rogin describes the Trump "China team" as divided into at least three factions: the super-hawks who viewed China as an enemy and were determined to destroy the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the hawks who view China as a competitor, and the "Wall-Street clique," Trump's billionaire buddies who saw China as an opportunity. Claims of genocide seem to align with the ambitions of the super-hawks and the goal of a new Cold War. I fail to see another Cold War as a desirable objective. In some quarters, ideology makes a Cold War inevitable, but the same ideology rarely considers the historical evidence (the Thucydides Trap) that cold wars usually lead to hot wars.
The trickle-down effect
What was the intention of the O'Toole genocide resolution? To win points with the Canadian electorate? To align with American super-hawks? Excuse my cynicism, but I find it hard to imagine that the Canadian Conservative Party is driven by compassion for the world's Muslims.
Who benefits from the Conservative proclamation? Certainly not Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, who are currently on trial in China. What about the 300,000 other Canadians now living in China? In August 2019, the Ottawa Citizen reported Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada says that “Canada has not considered any special program for Uyghurs.” Have the Conservatives lobbied for some change here?
These days there are regular reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, but I have yet to read any recognition that these attacks are the trickle-down effect of China-bashing by Western politicians and journalists.
The Conservative Party, in particular, seems to have trouble deciding where it stands on China and the Chinese. "On 22 June 2006, newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons" for Canada's historical mistreatment of the Chinese. In 2014,
Harper met with both President Hu and Premier Wen, and signed a number of economic agreements that had been prepared by Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird including a uranium export treaty, and the Canada-China Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments Agreement (CCPRPIA), which was linked by the media to (further) potential Chinese investment in the Athabasca oil sands, and had been negotiated for eighteen years. The negotiations and the text itself were kept secret until November 2016. Chinese officials suggested that the next logical step would be a free trade agreement, which Canadian officials promised to study.
In his blog, August 6, 2005, Andrew Scheer, who would be Harper's successor as leader of the Conservatives, mocked the choice of Adrienne Clarkson, a Chinese-Canadian, as Canada's Governor-General. And this year, Erin O'Toole accuses China of genocide while it remains Canada's second-largest trading partner.
As Western media dismiss the Chinese press as propaganda and lies, and China says the same about much of Western media, attempting to estimate the truth somewhere in the middle is a challenge. My broad surmise from what I have read is that we are witnessing Draconian social engineering in a country with a long history of Draconian social engineering. Eastern/Western cultural difference does not excuse discrimination and brutality, but we must recognize the endless, universal confrontation of collective rights versus individual rights, the rights of the majority versus the rights of the minority, and hope that reason, moderation and justice will be allowed to prevail.
Grandstanding, politically-motivated declarations of genocide are unhelpful, perhaps even counterproductive. Assimilation has become a dirty word. I realize from the Canadian report on the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women that for some people "assimilation" is "genocide." A Brookings Institute report, referenced in The Uyghur Genocide, contends that the . . .
"Forced assimilation" may be the best description for what has been happening in Xianjing, but every nation in the world is "guilty" to some degree of assimilation. The question is always one of degree and, to use an expression made famous in Quebec, "reasonable accommodation," but let's also consider "reverse assimilation" and recognize that, to some degree, the whole is changed by the assimilation of a new part.
My conclusion is that, in this situation, China has become a victim of its own efficiency. Family planning, infrastructure modernization and construction, labour mobility, and the changing of hearts and minds--China has learned to excel at them all. The problem is one of degree when fear of terrorism--both real and imagined--causes all of these abilities to be focussed on the ethnic minorities of Xianjing.
Reading the New York Times article, I was struck by the example of "an official named Wang Yongzhi." According to the NYT, "When the mass detentions began, Mr. Wang did as he was told at first and appeared to embrace the task with zeal." However, Wang was later removed from office and was required to sign an "11-page confession" which demonstrated that he eventually came to disapprove of the internment plans and challenged his superiors claiming that their "orders left no room for moderation and would poison ethnic relations in the county."
Wang Yongzhi may not be a benchmark for Western notions of human rights. In China, he was denigrated and has disappeared. But his example shows that "moderation" exists, at least as a fleeting possibility in China.
Twenty-four hours after I published the remark (above) that I had yet to read of any recognition between China-bashing and anti-Asian hate crimes, The Globe and Mail published Doug Saunder's opinion piece, "Confronting China requires us to be precise," which discusses this connection.