In the Xinjiang internment camps in China, ethnic Uyghurs are “re-educated” to integrate as Chinese citizens. The eyes of the nations of the world are focused on how these imprisoned workers are treated by the Chinese Communist Party.
Wikipedia estimates that there are over 1.5 million souls there, locked away for slave labor. Uyghurs are generally of the Muslim faith, but Communist labor camps also include foreign nationals and some of the 55 other officially recognized ethnic minorities in China.
Think of the Uyghurs as indigenous peoples of Turkish culture in East Turkestan. East Turkestan comprises about a sixth of China and is the scene of a series of struggles for independence and autonomy opposed by the Chinese government.
Over the past hundred years, China has reduced the region’s self-determination and autonomy, exporting “surplus labor” all over China for factory work, manufacturing many brands of quality products. every day in American households. Among them are Samsung, Apple, Nike, BMW, Gap and Sony.
Human rights observers report that workers are forced to work long hours isolated from their communities, under surveillance and in detention. Workers do not choose where they live and who they associate with. Their families back home are being watched by the government. If they are caught with a Muslim Quran, they face years of additional forced labor.
China claims that “re-educating” members of ethnic minorities makes them better citizens in the Chinese communist system. Workers find themselves in these camps following extrajudicial duress. And when the justice system is involved, it lacks everything that resembles due process as understood in the legal systems of America and most of the developed world.
In our country, people have the freedom to choose their jobs and their religion. Workers can usually take time off work to observe their personal religious practices. No one tells us that we should be Han, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, or without religious faith. We can keep our minority ethnic culture, if we have one.
Last week, President Biden signed the Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor. Under the new law, products from the Xinjiang province where many Uyghurs live can only be imported into the United States if they are not produced under expensive working conditions. While there is nothing a US president can do to prevent China from enslaving its ethnic minority citizens, the new law will ban imports made as part of forced labor. China’s Foreign Ministry has warned that the Congress ban will make it harder for workers in re-education camps. But swift action has been taken to ensure that US dollars continue to flow. China replaced the party leader from Xinjiang with a more moderate leader from Guangdong.
Critics say the United States cannot be expected to dictate the domestic policy of a foreign sovereign, and perhaps the United States should not attempt to do so. (It could be pointed out that similar arguments were made during the apartheid era in South Africa.) But the Office of the United States Trade Representative emphasizes that American workers have everything to gain from a level playing field. . Global companies don’t want to lose American consumers as part of their market share. China does not want companies to consider moving elsewhere for the production of their products. China will likely try to minimize the impact of the US ban by moving some factory workers in Xinjiang further east, in hopes of integrating them further into traditional Han Chinese culture.
William Pesek in Forbes Magazine notes that US energy policy designed not to upend coal baron Joe Manchin’s charcoal cart from hampering meaningful climate change policy, will cede the new electric vehicle sector to China, giving to its auto industry an advantage over American auto manufacturers. The Uyghur bill could help Manchin buy time to reconsider his myopia. Either way, America is not ignoring massive human rights violations for economic or other reasons. Uyghurs, like everyone on the planet, have basic human rights that we should not reward the Chinese government for trampling on.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, lawyer and artist living at Tenkiller Lake.