The Uyghurs of China: Cultural Genocide in the Name of Counterterrorism

June 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Roberts, S. (George Washington University)

Date: 15 June 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Sean R. Roberts (George Washington University) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series.

The Uyghur ethnic group comprises less than one percent of China’s overall population. However, the Uyghurs, who are majority Muslim, are viewed by theChinese Communist Party(CCP) as a potential threat to China’s stability. China has viewed the Uyghurs as a threat to Chinese stability since the Qing Dynasty conquered the region and named it Xinjiang or “new frontier.” The CCP has attempted to justify its suppression of the Uyghur population by linking Uyghur separatist groups to the global war on terror. Dr. Roberts emphasized, however, that Uyghur separatist organizations, including a collection of several groups that have been called The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), either have weak connections to larger terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda, or do not have a presence inside of China.

In 2009, the CCP began forcibly assimilating the Uyghurs into Han culture by incentivizing assimilation, mass infrastructure development in the region, increased Han migration, and the displacement of the Uyghur population. Ultimately, the CCP’s goal is to destroy the Uyghurs’ cultural identity to better prepare the region for infrastructure developments related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Dr. Roberts stated. The specific tactics that the CCP is using to erase Uyghur culture include interethnic marriage, replacing the school system in Xinjiang to better reflect the Han culture, the threat of concentration camps and forced labor, and state surveillance. To combat China’s repressive repression of the Uyghurs, the USG and its Western allies have introduced legislation to prohibit the use of products created by Uyghur forced labor. Dr. Roberts argued that real economic sanctions from the USG and its allies are the only way to counter China’s repressive actions. The CCP has reacted to criticism from Western states by deeming the USG’s claims of ethnocentrism as fake news, leveraging its soft power in developing countries, and propagating whataboutisms that highlight a history of racial tensions and repression in the US.

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials


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