By Turdi Hoja, Chairman of the Advisory Board, Campaign for Uyghurs
For decades, the Chinese government has been openly labeling the Uyghur and Tibetan cultures as backward and needing to be eradicated, and three years ago, the CCP labeled Islam, the religion most Uyghurs confess to, as a mental disease. They locked up 3 Million Uyghurs and other Turkic speaking Muslims in modern-day concentration camps, allegedly to “cure” them, though many of the known victims are secular intellectuals, artists and professionals. As the world has kept largely silent, this human rights tragedy has gradually deteriorated into a full-blown genocide today. The Chinese state has taken away the children of the locked-up Uyghurs from their relatives to raise them in state orphanages, alienating them from their culture and heritage. They have sent more than one million Chinese men to Uyghur homes where the men of the house have been locked up in concentration camps. There they can live and humiliate and terrorize the women and children 24/7. According to multiple reports, Uyghur women have been forced to share a bed with the uninvited Chinese “guests”. Newest reports indicate the government is forcefully sterilizing young Uyghur women to prevent the growth of the Uyghur population.
The government threatens Uyghur women with the jail to force them to marry Chinese men, has ordered Uyghurs to remove Uyghur-style decorations from their homes and replace them with traditional Chinese-style decorations that even the Chinese do not use today, and even force Uyghur children to dress up in ancient Chinese costumes that the Chinese children themselves no longer use. They forbid them to speak their mother tongue, the Uyghur language, at schools and force them to sing archaic Chinese traditional songs that no Chinese person sings anymore either. The children memorize ancient Chinese poems that no one cares for. It is cultural and physical genocide by any standard. It is not just Uyghurs and Tibetans who are suffering from China’s aggressive behavior, now Hong Kong is added to the list. China has been aggressively bullying for the past couple of years many of its neighbors, from Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nepal to India. These aggressive behaviors by China are fed by the silence of the world. China is a tyrannical dictatorship that is able to marshal everything at its disposal—cheap labor, vast markets, a growing army of Chinese tourists or its voice at the UN Security Council to exert muscle towards its critics. For the sake of the free world, it is time for the international community to stop allowing itself to be taken hostage by a belligerent China.
Now, as billions of people are confined to their homes by a pandemic that originated in China, people finally might have the time to slow down, open their eyes and take a good look at China, as well as at themselves, and recognize that their blindness to China is partially responsible for this pandemic and China’s aggressive behavior towards minorities like Uyghurs and its neighbors. The victim list will only keep growing as China grows stronger. It seems China will be an important subject of the upcoming presidential election but it is hard to tell if America and the international community are finally waking up to the reality of the Chinese threat to the world or if it is just about getting the vote of people who are pissed at China because of the pandemic.
As doctors and nurses who were fighting at the frontlines to save lives complained on TV about PPE shortages at the early stages of this pandemic, people on the media instinctively pointed their fingers at Trump. Was it really different four years ago before Trump became president? No. The shortage was caused by the fact that the manufacturing of those essentials during a pandemic or potential biological war with an adversary like China was moved to China long before Trump came into the office. This pandemic has exposed a monumental vulnerability of this country. The US has been a largely unchallenged superpower since World War 2, which led people in this country to take things for granted and treat the country as an unsinkable ship. As someone who knows China better than anyone else because I grew up in China as a member of a minority group, I can attest that this doesn’t matter in their eyes that they do not care if they are naked in front of us while they hide themselves with layers of makeup and disguises in front of other I see the US as a Titanic where the people on the upper decks are having lavish parties accompanied by an orchestra while the people in the bottom deck engine rooms are toiling to plug the little holes in the aging ship and everyone is oblivious of a gigantic iceberg fast approaching. That iceberg is China!
Even in this time of national emergency, people still behave as if nothing happened and play party politics rather than do something to stop the polarization of the nation. It is easy to blame everything on President Trump; after all he makes plenty of blunders to justify criticism. But, if you point a finger at him when it is not justified, it serves nothing but to deepen the suspicions of people in the far right. As a member of an Asian minority with a Muslim background, I do not think President Trump was promoting racism against Asians by calling the pandemic the Chinese virus. He was probably just trying to energize his voter base by pushing back at China. He is not responsible for the rising racism against Asians around the world. The Chinese Government is. President Trump was clearly incensed by the recent Chinese campaign to portray the pandemic as a plague unleashed by the Americans on the world. He started to call it the Chinese virus and sent out twitter messages emphasizing that point several times after a Chinese minister brazenly claimed publicly that the virus was created by the American army and brought to Wuhan last fall to unleash it, which amounts to an accusation that the US started a biological war. China dared to be that brazen because it got used to being treated with a blind eye by the international community. At the peak of the pandemic in China, the Chinese Government placed checkpoints not only between cities and villages to restrict movement, but also between neighborhoods, within cities, and hotels and restaurants openly refused to serve people from outside of their local communities, particularly people from Wuhan and Hubei Province. Yet, they screamed racism when other countries tried to close their borders to China and Chinese tourists. But the moment China managed to have less infections than Europe and the USA, China closed its borders and issued a decree for hotels to refuse service to Europeans and Americans. Not only that, they started a propaganda campaign to portray the virus as originating in the West. Imagine if Europe or United States had done what China did– refused service to Chinese when the infection was raging in China, the Chinese Government and Chinese people would have screamed racism, but on the other hand, we would not be having this pandemic in Europe and North America, destroying economies and half a million of lives. People in high places including the government and media may choose to ignore it, but for average people on the street, China is a superpower that can’t simply be brushed aside. If people in power, including the President, mainstream media, and others, fail to address the perceived injustice, the common people on the street may feel they need to take the matters into their own hands and start to lash out at the next Asian they see on the street.
I am glad the world is tackling racism more aggressively since the tragic death of George Floyd. But, when it comes to China, the world still is mostly silent. China is practicing the worst form of racism in recent memory and committing genocide against Uyghurs. As a member of the Uyghur community (google Uyghur or Uighur, please!), I feel it is a little hard to understand why people spend more time talking about Trump being racist for calling the virus by the previous conventions in which pandemics were called by the names of places where they first originated, rather than address the root cause of the rising racism. I would like to see Americans with power and influence take a hard look at themselves to see how much their repeated failures to hold China accountable for its actions are contributing to the rising racism against Asians. One of the most popular chants during Uyghur and Tibetan protests against China goes like this: “China lies, people die”. But, we are typically ignored by everyone. People usually just walk by without taking a second look. Is it not now time for everyone including the Chinese to join our chanting? China’s lies caused the virus to spread in Wuhan and beyond. China’s failure to close its national borders to the escaping 5 million Wuhan residents is directly responsible for the spread of this infection worldwide. China has the ability to shut down the internet and phone communication of 15 million Uyghurs with the outside world and has essentially locked down the whole province where Uyghurs live since March 2017, forbidding international travel for them. China could have easily implemented the same travel ban measures for people from Wuhan as soon as the outbreak started. But, it didn’t. As the world is busy dealing with the pandemic and criticizing their governments’ response, China has done the China thing again- shirking its responsibilities and fabricating lies to frame others. President Trump was clearly irked by China’s attitude and trying to push back in China’s own language. The man understands China more than he is given credit for. Any person with a rational mind would be offended by China’s accusation. If the media dedicates half of the time they use to criticize President Trump to criticize China, it could help reduce racism. China is openly discriminating against people from the infected countries including the US because it is counting on the western media to look the other way again. The media can ignore it all if it wants, but this is the social media age, and people will eventually learn the truth one way or another. When people fail to take responsibility, innocent people pay the price. China lies, people die!
This outbreak is not the first one that originated in China. If we manage to put this behind us, it won’t be the last one if the world community fails to hold China responsible. Being nice and polite and holding onto one’s values is an honorable thing, but failing to speak the truth with any excuse can be deadly. Chinese people have always had adventurous eating habits throughout history, but it had not caused pandemics until the early 2000s. Why does no one ever ask why it does now? What can we do to stop it? After China’s recent prosperity, a very small number of Chinese have been spending their newfound fortunes to buy rare and exotic animals to eat for bragging rights. One would expect some national soul searching and public backlash against the practice in China after the SARS outbreak, but it hasn’t happened. The media in China is controlled by the government. Therefore, again it was the government’s fault. But, in the age of social media, the general public is fully capable of generating public opinion and social change, even in a dictatorship like China. But, they needed a spark, a little public opinion pressure from the outside. However, too terrified to offend China, the world community, especially the mainstream media completely avoided talking about it. Eating endangered exotic animals that have never been tried as a food source before is not and should not be part of the national culture of China, the media doesn’t need to worry about offending the Chinese people. It is practiced by just a few new nouveau riche to show off their wealth. If the Western world had found the courage to ignite a spark to start a backlash the first time after the SARS epidemic, the Chinese public would have done the rest to put an end to the practice. A little societal backlash from the Chinese public could have made a huge difference; saving the Chinese and world this misery we are experiencing now.
But, when it comes to China, no one seems to have the courage to speak up. No one knows this better than Uyghurs. Three million of them have been suffering in modern-day concentration camps since 2016. I have not been able to contact my relatives there since March 2017 like most other Uyghur immigrants living outside of China, because China has been using its newfound technological prowess to prevent our communications and making our lives difficult and making the lives of the 15 million Turkic speakers in Western China a living hell. I have been constantly worrying about my relatives there throughout this concentration camp saga and now the pandemic, but I can do nothing but pray. The international community’s failures to hold China responsible when it’s due is partially responsible for this pandemic and the sufferings of my people.