Thank you so much.
I'll start by thanking the committee for holding this series of hearings on these important issues.
In my 10 minutes, I'll give you an overview of what's happening to the Uighurs, based on my research. I'll talk a bit about why it's happening, and I'll also give you some policy suggestions.
Based on the mounting evidence, it's clear that the Chinese state is engaging in the mass detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities. This process resonates with the most horrific moments in modern history. In the past, such processes have resulted in generational trauma and social elimination. They have shattered families, destroyed native forms of knowledge, and at times resulted in mass death.
Since 2017, hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and Kazakhs have been “disappeared” into a widespread system of “education transformation centres” in northwest China, or what's otherwise known as Xinjiang. Nearly all Uighurs and Kazakhs in China have a family member who is interned in this re-education camp system. This human engineering project affects every aspect of their lives.
As the scholar Gene Bunin has noted recently, Uighurs now refer to themselves as a “people destroyed”. As I observed during a visit to the region in April of this year, the phrase “everyone is gone” or “disappeared” is something that Uighurs repeat on a regular basis. Many Uighur-owned businesses have closed across the country. Whole streets have been abandoned in Uighur towns and villages in their homeland.
The mass detention of Muslims was accelerated in 2017 when the party secretary of the region, Chen Quanguo, with the encouragement of the Xi Jinping administration, instituted a mass evaluation of Uighur and Kazakh societies. Chen asked security personnel to determine which Muslims were of military age, underemployed, had studied or taught unauthorized forms of Islam, travelled internationally, had passports or had international contacts. Those to whom several or more of these categories could be applied were determined, without due process, to be unsafe. State authorities determined that their world view needed to be “eradicated” from society.
As a result of this categorization, the police sent hundreds of thousands of these men and women into re-education camps and a larger system. Hundreds of thousands more were formally arrested and sentenced, using China's broadly defined anti-terrorism laws. In 2017, 21% of all who were arrested in the country as a whole came from the Uighur and Kazakh homelands in China.
Tens of thousands of children of those detained have been removed from their families and forced to become wards of the state. They are now being raised in state-run facilities that centre around Chinese language education and Han cultural values and practices. Reports indicate that the Uighur language is forbidden in these schools.
This process has also explicitly targeted Uighurs in positions of social and cultural influence. The Xi and Chen administration has arrested or disappeared hundreds of prominent Uighur public intellectuals. Several of these figures, even those who were previously regarded as loyal Communist Party members, have been sentenced to death for alleged extremist tendencies.
Conditions in the detention centres are often quite poor. Many reports have noted malnourishment and severe psychological distress among the detainees. In some cases, shoelaces and belts are confiscated due to the prevalence of self-harm and suicide. Those who do not participate in political re-education are subjected to beatings, isolation, and forms of religious and psychological violation. There have been numerous reports of deaths in the centres, particularly among the elderly and infirm, but also of younger people who were in good health prior to being taken.
All Muslims in the region now face the threat of being sent to re-education camps. It appears that in many cases, local officials have been given a mandate to detain a certain percentage of the population in their jurisdiction. All Muslims in the Uighur and Kazakh homelands in China are now, in effect, prohibited from carrying out Islamic practices in public or in private. They are also, in most cases, prohibited from travelling beyond the limits of their home county without permission.
Although the large “Friday” mosques remain open, the majority of mosques in the region have been destroyed. At checkpoints, Uighurs are forced to scan their IDs, and in some cases, their faces, in order to simply walk through neighbourhoods and enter the mosques that remain open. As a result, Uighurs and Kazakhs as a whole have largely stopped practising their faith.
Why is this happening now?
Since 2014, the Chinese state has engaged in what it describes as a people's war on terror. In the government's discourse, only people who look different from the Chinese majority, the Han population, and practise forms of Islam, can be described as terrorists. This means the state is, in fact, engaged in a war on public expressions of Islam among Turkic Muslims, and on Turkic Muslim culture.
There are two major reasons for this. First, since the 2000s, the state has accelerated Han settler migration to the Uighur and Kazakh homelands in China. The state did this in order to develop natural resource extraction, consolidate control over the border regions, and develop new markets. This led to violence and competition for jobs in the region, in turn prompting widespread protests. The resulting atmosphere of oppression, dispossession and injustice has produced a cascading spiral of conflict between Uighur civilians, the police, and Han civilians, both in the province and outside in other parts of the country.
These incidents, which were universally blamed on Uighurs in state discourse, were generally spontaneous, small in scale, and defensive responses to police brutality and state violence. They didn't resemble anything like an organized insurgency, although this is how the state portrayed them.
Second, in 2010, as part of a larger development initiative, the state sponsored the rollout of 3G networks across the region. This new Internet access in 2012, along with the social media app called WeChat, dramatically changed the way Uighurs understood their space and role in the world. Almost immediately, Uighurs purchased cheap smart phones and began to use the app as a way of connecting with each other and with Uighurs in the diaspora.
Since for several years the state had no way of controlling or regulating Uighur speech on the app—it didn't have the technology to censor it—much of the discussion online centred around religious practice. As a result, between 2012 and 2014, there was a widespread turn toward mainstream forms of Sunni Islam among Uighurs.
At the same time, Uighur political protests and some larger violent incidents directed toward Han civilians in Kunming, Beijing, and Urumqi, began to exhibit signs of religiously motivated violence.
Rather than assessing the small numbers of people who engaged in violence as quite different from simply practising forms of Islamic piety, the state authorities conflated these incidents and new expressions of Islamic faith as a sign of a rising “extremism” across the population as a whole.
They also began to use technological surveillance to detect past Uighur religious activity online. Through this process, what counted as extremism and terrorism began to encompass hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the Uighur population.
These two factors taken together led the authorities to determine in 2017 that security was not enough to produce so-called lasting stability. Instead, large segments of the minority population needed to be re-educated and transformed.
To be clear, there has never been an existential threat to the nation from pious Muslims in China. According to the Chinese constitution, religious practice is a protected right. As with most colonial regimes, the Chinese authorities are primarily interested in the land and resources of those they are colonizing. Removing these Muslim populations from their homelands and placing them in the system is part of this process.
I'll move on to a few policy suggestions. There is now significant discussion among U.S. and European leaders regarding economic sanctions directed at key Chinese leaders and security companies that are involved in this process. There is also a discussion of new forms of assistance for Uighur and Kazakh asylum seekers.
I'd like to recommend that the subcommittee issue a formal statement demanding that Xi Jinping and Chen Quanguo immediately abolish the transformation through education detention system and release all Uighur and Kazakh detainees.
I also call on this subcommittee to introduce legislation that places economic sanctions on Chinese authorities and technology companies that benefit from this process.
Finally, it would be a really great idea if this subcommittee would introduce legislation joining Germany and Sweden in granting expedited asylum to Uighurs and Kazakhs from China and a blanket refusal to deport Uighurs and Kazakhs back to China.
I'll leave it at that, and I'm happy to take any questions you have.