The cultural cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China

china criticism

Uyghur is a Muslim community that makes up 45% of Xinjiang’s population, an area dominated by the Han Chinese. Even though they have significant numbers in the region, they are still not considered the province's indigenous local population. Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang speak a language similar to Turkish and are approximately 12 million in number.

Xinjiang, China’s largest region, is rich in cotton, natural gas and oil and mainly comprises deserts.

Why is China being accused of Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang?

Following a BBC investigation that uncovered detailed rape allegations of Uyghur women internment camps as well as forcible mass sterilisation, several countries like UK, US, Canada and The Netherlands have accused China of genocide.

UK Foreign Secretary-

Appaling violations of the most basic human rights.

The systemic oppression seems to be long-standing, considering that in 2014 president Xi Jinping launched “People’s War on Terror’ following which high-level officials were asked to round up people in Xuar, where Uyghurs made up ninety percent of the population.

Since then, the Chinese government has put an end to almost all of the Uyghur culture, including their education, worship, and architecture.

The government also imposed a ban on fasting during the month of Ramadan, and an order that prohibited all religions that weren’t Chinese in orientation.

The cotton controversy

Documents suggest that Xinjiang, which comprises 85% of China’s cotton and 20% of the world’s produce, uses forced labour to achieve those numbers.

Disguised as a labour transfer scheme that aims to eradicate poverty, research shows that more than half a million minority workers per year are being coerced into cotton picking. China’s defence for these inhuman allegations is that the labourers are being paid heftily (around $763 per month) and that the accusations are nothing more than propaganda to soil the image of Xinjiang.

Following all the disapproval around Chinese cotton, several brands have cut ties with China for raw material, causing China to boycott several western brands including H&M. But the problem remains that some major brands have not denied using Chinese cotton, according to research by BBC. This means that the clothes on the backs of millions of unsuspecting people are probably produced from the labour of illegally overworked ethnic minorities.

The re-education policy in Xinjiang

Re-education camp Xinjiang, China

An article by Gene A Bunin, in conversation with several Uighur restaurant owners, reveals the true terror of the politically enforced repression being faced by the Uighur. Their families were uprooted, relatives relocated in the name of Islamic extremism.’ To avoid apprehension of students whose relatives were taken away for re-education,’ they were offered free tuition fees and explanations for the same in the form of euphemisms, the most prevalent ones being re-education’ and ‘studies to combat the virus of Islamic radicalism’.

403 pages of internal government documents have been leaked to The New York Times that blatantly state the imprisonment of a million ethnic groups including the Uighurs and Kazakhs in what seem to be concentration camps. The documents justify their measures as simply providing quarantine centres for those ‘infected’ by religious extremism.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute found evidence of 380 recent camps in Xinjiang.

Amnesty International and a UN human rights group have also received such reports of around a million Uighurs being held in ‘counter-extremism centres’

The Birth Rate plummet

A Report by Aspi found that the birthrate across Xinjiang fell by 48.74% in 2 years (2017 and 2019). It is believed that the government has been forcibly sterilising and even aborting Uighur women in attempts to decrease the Uighur population, a claim verified by some Uighur women who were subject to such coercion.

A woman has even testified to being forced into an abortion at 6 and a half months of pregnancy, for not following the policies of population control, although it is rumoured that some Chinese families were allowed to have even up to 3 children.

China has addressed the drop in minority births as simply a result of non-discriminatory factors of population control like family planning services and an increase in per capita income.

Why is the Islamic world quiet about Uyghurs

Another classic example of China's economic power can be seen in the silence of the Islamic world. Sri Lanka though not being an Islamic country is under the economic stress of Chinese loans. You can read about this here. Bangladesh being the only Islamic country to hold symbolic protest against China in their country recently has set an example for a country like Pakistan, which has no other option but to support China even at the cost of their commitment to their religion. The same analogy can be applied in the case of many other Islamic countries.


China tends to follow a policy of political secrecy. It is going to be very difficult for the western world or global media to confirm the unverified claims about the current situation of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Although it is quite evident that methods of cultural cleansing are at play here. The plight of these minority groups is being advocated on social media platforms globally.