The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim group who have a distinct culture and history, including the declaration of two short-lived independent republics, both known as East Turkestan, in the first half of the 20th century.
Nearly 11 million Uighurs (equivalent to the populations of Denmark and Norway combined) live in Xinjiang in the far northwest of China, an arid region of mountains and expansive steppes. Smaller groups are found across Central Asia. Scholars say Uighur identity developed over centuries around oasis towns.
In recent years, the Chinese government has launched a crackdown on Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including sweeping surveillance, mass detentions and forced assimilation. Video cameras and police checkpoints keep citizens under constant watch.
The lucky among the Uighurs, who number some 11 million in total, are trapped in an inescapable web of surveillance and oppression. The unlucky ones, numbering perhaps 1 million, are interned in ideological indoctrination camps where they are exploited as slave labor, tortured, and, according to recent reports, subjected to forced sterilizations.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced China’s treatment of Uighurs as the “stain of the century.”
What motive can China have for its ongoing torment of a small ethnic minority, which brings Beijing an ongoing avalanche of negative publicity in the West?
Xi’s policy flows, the experts tell us, from Beijing’s fear of terrorist and separatist movements among the Uighurs, who are a Turkic Muslim people with ethnic and religious ties to their neighbors and to Turkey.
Whatever the validity of this analysis, it misses the strategic vector, which again points directly to the Middle East.
Xi’s signature foreign policy achievement is the One Belt, One Road Initiative, a $1 trillion program that invests in infrastructure projects across the world designed to funnel resources back to a hungry China, thereby creating a global Chinese sphere of interest.
The jewel in the crown of the One Belt, One Road initiative is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—a multibillion-dollar program to build highways, rail lines, and pipelines from the port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean to Xinjiang, the Uighur heartland.
The northern terminus of the corridor is Kashgar—a Uighur city which, with cameras in every crevice, is likely the most surveilled metropolitan area in the world.
China is crushing the Uighurs, in other words, because their territory sits athwart China’s critical overland supply routes.
How determined is China in its advance toward the Middle East? Determined enough to commit genocide.
What are we in the U.S. doing to protect ourselves against this growing threat?
See the next article about China in the Middle East coming soon, here in China News.
Banner image by Greg Baker, Getty Images: A Chinese military honor guard marches off after greeting Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachith (not seen) on his arrival at Beijing airport to attend the Belt and Road Forum, on April 25, 2019.
Article based on the report China's Emerging Middle Eastern Kingdom, by Hudson Institute Senior Fellows Michael Doran and Peter Rough, published in Tablet.