[guest post by JVW]
On their last full day in office, the outgoing Trump Administration set a potential landmine for Team Biden:
The world has watched with shock over the past three years as the Chinese Communist Party constructed a vast, racist system of concentration camps, forced labor, and high-tech surveillance in the far-Western region of Xinjiang. Now, the U.S. government has decided to call these multifaceted horrors what they are: Crimes against humanity and genocide.
“Since the Allied forces exposed the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the refrain ‘Never again’ has become the civilized world’s rallying cry against these horrors,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement announcing the decision. “Just because an atrocity is perpetrated in a manner that is different than what we have observed in the past, does not make it any less an atrocity.”
The barbaric conduct that Pompeo has now deemed crimes against humanity and genocide stems from the Communist Party’s desire to annihilate the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims it has sought to supplant with Han Chinese settlers. As senior administration officials put it this afternoon, China’s actions aren’t at first blush the same as the mass killings at Srebrenica and in Rwanda. They are instead “a very patient evil,” designed to erase the Uyghurs over time through methods both tried-and-true and experimental.
I am beginning to believe that “a very patient evil” is an excellent description of Chinese intentions regarding the Uyghurs. In the 1990s and 2000s I bought into the idea that as China built up its economy and emerged as a strong trading partner throughout the world, they would inexorably begin the process of liberalizing and democratizing. But it appears now that Xi Jinping and his henchmen have figured out the nasty trick of giving gullible Westerners the illusion of liberalization, all the while maintaining an iron fist of bureaucratic totalitarianism inside of that silken glove of modernization.
The Trump Administration admits that there is no evidence of widespread murder, but points to the forced abortions and sterilization of Uyghurs inside of the internment camps as the “patient evil” China has undertaken in order to ultimately eradicate the Muslim ethnic group, who is believed to have emigrated from present-day Mongolia into Western China starting back in the ninth century. Estimates on the number of Uyghurs living in China vary from a low of about 11 million from the Chinese government to upwards of 20 million claimed by Uyghurs themselves. Consensus on the number currently interred also varies, from the one million generally accepted by international organizations to upwards of three million claimed by activists.
So now how does the incoming administration respond? There is little doubt that China will complain about this last-second move and will furiously lobby behind the scenes for it to be rescinded (they tried to hire retired United States Senator Barbara Boxer to work on behalf of the firm who supplies the surveliance equipment used in the internment campus and throughout Xinjiang, but backlash against her registering as a foreign agent for the Chinese Communist Party led her to rather testily pull out of the arrangement). To its credit, the Biden campaign has characterized China’s actions towards the Uyghurs as genocide, but as we have seen for years and years with the Armenians and Turks, lofty campaign rhetoric oftentimes does not translate to actionable items from the Oval Office.
I don’t hold any more hope for this coming administration than I did for the departing one, but perhaps a realistic and pragmatic approach to China, recognizing that government for what it is and not for what we had hoped it would become, can be a starting point for true foreign policy bipartisan agreement in this country.