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Women systematically raped and tortured in Uighur ‘re-education’ camps, says report

Women systematically raped and tortured in Uighur ‘re-education’ camps, says report

Kate Ng

Updated ·3-min read
 
 
Uighurs demonstrate in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul to ask for news of their relatives (AFP via Getty Images)
Uighurs demonstrate in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul to ask for news of their relatives (AFP via Getty Images)

Women detained within Uighur internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province have experienced mass rape, sexual abuse and torture, it has been reported.

According to the BBC, a number of former detainees and a guard have come forward to speak about what they experienced and saw within the camps, which China says are to “re-educate” Uighurs and other minorities.

The testimonies detail the traumatic abuse women went through while in the camps, described by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang, as “some of the most horrendous evidence I have seen since the atrocity began”.

He told the BBC: “This confirms the very worst of what we have heard before. It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”

One of the former detainees, Tursunay Ziawudun, said that in her nine months spent in the camps, she was tortured and gang-shaped on three occasions, by two or three men each time.

Another woman, Gulzira Auelkhan, who was detained for 18 months, told the broadcaster she was forced to strip other women naked and restrain them “so they cannot move”, before leaving them alone with Chinese men.

She said she would sit “silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower”, adding that the men would “pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates”.

When asked if there was a system of organised rape within the internment camps, she said: “Yes, rape.”

China has been roundly condemned for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs. In January, Washington accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for “arbitrary imprisonment” of more than a million people, torture and forced labour.

Last year, Mr Zenz published a report accusing China of using forced sterilisation, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims – allegations which Beijing has said were groundless and false.

The report was corroborated by Ms Ziawudun, who told the BBC that women detainees were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilised. They also underwent “unexplained medical tests, took pills and were forcibly injected every 15 days with a ‘vaccine’ that brought on nausea and numbness”.

A guard, who spoke to the BBC on the condition of anonymity, said he was “sure” that the detainees he brought into the camp “definitely experienced various types of torture”.

He said he did not know anything about rape, but said the camp guards used “electrocuting instruments” on the detainees, who were forced to make “confessions” to perceived offences.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denied the testimonies in the report, telling Reuters that it “is wholly without factual basis” and accused the people interviewed by the BBC of having been “proved multiple times” to be “actors disseminating false information”.

Beijing has strongly denied and rejected accusations of abuse in the “re-education” camps and has said the purpose of the camps is to provide vocational training and help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and to teach the Uighur people new skills.

In a statement to the broadcaster, a spokesperson insisted the Xinjiang camps were not detention camps but “vocational education and training centres”.

She added that the Chinese government “protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally”, and that it “attaches great importance to protecting women’s rights”.

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Biden administration indicates in no hurry to engage China

Biden administration indicates in no hurry to engage China

 
David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis
Updated 
 
 

By David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration indicated on Tuesday it is in no hurry to engage with China, a strategic rival it has vowed to out-compete, and said it and would do so once it was in “lockstep” with allies and partners.

President Joe Biden has spoken to many world leaders since taking office on Jan. 20, but has yet to speak to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, and White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing she could not say when a call might take place.

Psaki said that with Antony Blinken in place as U.S. secretary of state, “there are additional layers to engage with the Chinese,” but both she and State Department spokesman Ned Price said speaking to allies and partners came first.

Price told a briefing there were issues, including climate change, “in which it is our national interest to cooperate on a limited basis with China.”

He said U.S. alliances and partnerships were a “force multiplier across any range of challenges, and that includes in our relationship with Beijing.

“So, as a first step we want to make sure that we are in lockstep with those allies, in lockstep with those partners, and then … you can expect that there will be engagement in several areas with China.”

Xi congratulated Biden on his election, even though Biden called him a “thug” during the campaign and vowed to lead an international effort to “pressure, isolate and punish China.”

Psaki declined to say whether China had requested a call with Biden.

The Biden administration has not fully articulated its strategy towards China, the world’s second largest economy, but has indicated it will broadly continue the tough approach taken by former President Donald Trump.

It has vowed to “out-compete” Beijing and endorsed a last-minute Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang, while also stressing the hope to cooperate on policy priorities like climate change..

Blinken last week called the U.S.-China relationship arguably the most important Washington has in the world, while Psaki told the briefing: “Of course, the relationship with China is going to be multi-layered, we’ll deal with climate, we’ll deal with the economy, we’ll deal with security.”

China’s top diplomat called on Tuesday for U.S.-China relations to be put back on a predictable and constructive path, while saying Washington should respect Beijing’s position on Taiwan and stop meddling in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Asked about the comments, Price said China should “cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan, and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected leadership.”

Separately, Price said Washington was “deeply concerned” by China’s attempts to disbar and harass lawyers representing 12 Hong Kong people convicted after trying to flee to Taiwan by boat.

“We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and to reinstate their legal credentials at once,” he said in a tweet.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool)

‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape

'Their goal is to destroy everyone': Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape

Matthew Hill, David Campanale and Joel Gunter – BBC News

Updated 
 
 

Women in China’s “re-education” camps for Uighurs have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured, according to detailed accounts obtained by the BBC. You may find some of the details in this story distressing.

Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China's network of internment camps
Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China’s network of internment camps

The men always wore masks, Tursunay Ziawudun said, even though there was no pandemic then.

They wore suits, she said, not police uniforms.

 

Sometime after midnight, they came to the cells to select the women they wanted and took them down the corridor to a “black room”, where there were no surveillance cameras.

Several nights, Ziawudun said, they took her.

“Perhaps this is the most unforgettable scar on me forever,” she said.

“I don’t even want these words to spill from my mouth.”

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Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China’s vast and secretive system of internment camps in the Xinjiang region. According to independent estimates, more than a million men and women have been detained in the sprawling network of camps, which China says exist for the “re-education” of the Uighurs and other minorities.

Human rights groups say the Chinese government has gradually stripped away the religious and other freedoms of the Uighurs, culminating in an oppressive system of mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and even forced sterilisation.

The policy flows from China’s President, Xi Jinping, who visited Xinjiang in 2014 in the wake of a terror attack by Uighur separatists. Shortly after, according to documents leaked to the New York Times, he directed local officials to respond with “absolutely no mercy”. The US government said last month that China’s actions since amounted to a genocide. China says reports of mass detention and forced sterilisation are “lies and absurd allegations”.

First-hand accounts from inside the internment camps are rare, but several former detainees and a guard have told the BBC they experienced or saw evidence of an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.

Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled Xinjiang after her release and is now in the US, said women were removed from the cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. She said she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men.

Ziawudun has spoken to the media before, but only from Kazakhstan, where she “lived in constant fear of being sent back to China”, she said. She said she believed that if she revealed the extent of the sexual abuse she had experienced and seen, and was returned to Xinjiang, she would be punished more harshly than before. And she was ashamed, she said.

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Tursunay Ziawudun was able to flee to Kazakhstan, and then on to relative safety in the US

It is impossible to verify Ziawudun’s account completely because of the severe restrictions China places on reporters in the country, but travel documents and immigration records she provided to the BBC corroborate the timeline of her story. Her descriptions of the camp in Xinyuan county – known in Uighur as Kunes county – match satellite imagery analysed by the BBC, and her descriptions of daily life inside the camp, as well as the nature and methods of the abuse, correspond with other accounts from former detainees.

Internal documents from the Kunes county justice system from 2017 and 2018, provided to the BBC by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang, detail planning and spending for “transformation through education” of “key groups” – a common euphemism in China for the indoctrination of the Uighurs. In one Kunes document, the “education” process is described as “washing brains, cleansing hearts, strengthening righteousness and eliminating evil”.

The BBC also interviewed a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was detained for 18 months in the camp system, who said she was forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men. Afterwards, she cleaned the rooms, she said.

“My job was to remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move,” said Gulzira Auelkhan, crossing her wrists behind her head to demonstrate. “Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter – some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower.”

The Chinese men “would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates”, she said.

Some former detainees of the camps have described being forced to assist guards or face punishment. Auelkhan said she was powerless to resist or intervene.

Asked if there was a system of organised rape, she said: “Yes, rape.”

“They forced me to go into that room,” she said. “They forced me to take off those women’s clothes and to restrain their hands and leave the room.”

Some of the women who were taken away from the cells at night were never returned, Ziawudun said. Those who were brought back were threatened against telling others in the cell what had happened to them.

“You can’t tell anyone what happened, you can only lie down quietly,” she said. “It is designed to destroy everyone’s spirit.”

Mr Zenz told the BBC that the testimony gathered for this story was “some of the most horrendous evidence I have seen since the atrocity began in 2017”.

“This evidence confirms the very worst of what we have heard before,” he said. “It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture, at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”

Gulzira Auelkhan makes tea at home in her village. She was detained for 18 months
Gulzira Auelkhan makes tea at home in her village. She was detained for 18 months

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic minority group that number about 11 million in Xinjiang in north-western China. The region borders Kazakhstan and is also home to ethnic Kazakhs. Ziawudun, who is 42, is Uighur. Her husband is a Kazakh.

The couple returned to Xinjiang in late 2016 after a five-year stay in Kazakhstan, and were interrogated on arrival and had their passports confiscated, Ziawudun said. A few months later, she was told by police to attend a meeting alongside other Uighurs and Kazakhs and the group was rounded up and detained.

Her first stint in detention was comparatively easy, she said, with decent food and access to her phone. After a month she developed stomach ulcers and was released. Her husband’s passport was returned and he went back to Kazakhstan to work, but authorities kept Ziawudun’s, trapping her in Xinjiang. Reports suggest China has purposefully kept behind and interned relatives to discourage those who leave from speaking out. On 9 March 2018, with her husband still in Kazakhstan, Ziawudun was instructed to report to a local police station, she said. She was told she needed “more education”.

According to her account, Ziawudun was transported back to the same facility as her previous detention, in Kunes county, but the site had been significantly developed, she said. Buses were lined up outside offloading new detainees “non-stop”.

The women had their jewellery confiscated. Ziawudun’s earrings were yanked out, she said, causing her ears to bleed, and she was herded into a room with a group of women. Among them was an elderly woman who Ziawudun would later befriend.

The camp guards pulled off the woman’s headscarf, Ziawudun said, and shouted at her for wearing a long dress – one of a list of religious expressions that became arrestable offences for Uighurs that year.

“They stripped everything off the elderly lady, leaving her with just her underwear. She was so embarrassed that she tried to cover herself with her arms,” Ziawudun said.

“I cried so much watching the way they treated her. Her tears fell like rain.”

The women were told to hand over their shoes and any clothes with elastic or buttons, Ziawudun said, then taken to cellblocks – “similar to a small Chinese neighbourhood where there are rows of buildings”.

Nothing much happened for the first month or two. They were forced to watch propaganda programmes in their cells and had their hair forcibly cut short.

Then police began interrogating Ziawudun about her absent husband, she said, knocking her on the floor when she resisted and kicking her in the abdomen.

“Police boots are very hard and heavy, so at first I thought he was beating me with something,” she said. “Then I realised that he was trampling on my belly. I almost passed out – I felt a hot flush go through me.”

A camp doctor told her she might have a blood clot. When her cellmates drew attention to the fact that she was bleeding, the guards “replied saying it is normal for women to bleed”, she said.

According to Ziawudun, each cell was home to 14 women, with bunk beds, bars on the windows, a basin and a hole-in-the-floor-style toilet. When she first saw women being taken out of the cell at night, she didn’t understand why, she said. She thought they were being moved elsewhere.

Then sometime in May 2018 – “I don’t remember the exact date, because you don’t remember the dates inside there” – Ziawudun and a cellmate, a woman in her twenties, were taken out at night and presented to a Chinese man in a mask, she said. Her cellmate was taken into a separate room.

“As soon as she went inside she started screaming,” Ziawudun said. “I don’t know how to explain to you, I thought they were torturing her. I never thought about them raping.”

The woman who had brought them from the cells told the men about Ziawudun’s recent bleeding.

“After the woman spoke about my condition, the Chinese man swore at her. The man with the mask said ‘Take her to the dark room’.

“The woman took me to the room next to where the other girl had been taken in. They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock.”

Ziawudun’s torture that first night in the dark room eventually came to an end, she said, when the woman intervened again citing her medical condition, and she was returned to the cell.

About an hour later, her cellmate was brought back.

“The girl became completely different after that, she wouldn’t speak to anyone, she sat quietly staring as if in a trance,” Ziawudun said. “There were many people in those cells who lost their minds.”

Alongside cells, another central feature of the camps is classrooms. Teachers have been drafted in to “re-educate” the detainees – a process activists say is designed to strip the Uighurs and other minorities of their culture, language and religion, and indoctrinate them into mainstream Chinese culture.

Qelbinur Sedik, an Uzbek woman from Xinjiang, was among the Chinese language teachers brought into the camps and coerced into giving lessons to the detainees. Sedik has since fled China and spoken publicly about her experience.

The women’s camp was “tightly controlled”, Sedik told the BBC. But she heard stories, she said – signs and rumours of rape. One day, Sedik cautiously approached a Chinese camp policewoman she knew.

“I asked her, ‘I have been hearing some terrible stories about rape, do you know about it?’ She said we should talk in the courtyard during lunch.

“So I went to the courtyard, where there were not many cameras. She said, ‘Yes, the rape has become a culture. It is gang rape and the Chinese police not only rape them but also electrocute them. They are subject to horrific torture.'”

That night Sedik didn’t sleep at all, she said. “I was thinking about my daughter who was studying abroad and I cried all night.”

A picture taken on July 13, 2018 shows Sayragul Sauytbay, 41, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national and former employee of the Chinese state, who is accused of illegally crossing the border between the countries to join her family in Kazakhstan, sits inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in the city of Zharkent.
Sayragul Sauytbay, a teacher, said she witnessed a harrowing rape. She was later accused of crossing illegally into Kazakhstan

In separate testimony to the Uighur Human Rights Project, Sedik said she heard about an electrified stick being inserted into women to torture them – echoing the experience Ziawudun described.

There were “four kinds of electric shock”, Sedik said – “the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick”.

“The screams echoed throughout the building,” she said. “I could hear them during lunch and sometimes when I was in class.”

Another teacher forced to work in the camps, Sayragul Sauytbay, told the BBC that “rape was common” and the guards “picked the girls and young women they wanted and took them away”.

She described witnessing a harrowing public gang rape of a woman of just 20 or 21, who was brought before about 100 other detainees to make a forced confession.

“After that, in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her,” Sauytbay said.

“While carrying out this test, they watched people closely and picked out anyone who resisted, clenched their fists, closed their eyes, or looked away, and took them for punishment.”

The young woman cried out for help, Sauytbay said.

“It was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “I felt I had died. I was dead.”

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Ziawudun broke down in tears as she identified footage and images of the camps

In the camp in Kunes, Ziawudun’s days drifted into weeks and then months. The detainees’ hair was cut, they went to class, they underwent unexplained medical tests, took pills, and were forcibly injected every 15 days with a “vaccine” that brought on nausea and numbness.

Women were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilised, Ziawudun said, including a woman who was just about 20 years old. (“We begged them on her behalf,” she said.) Forced sterilisation of Uighurs has been widespread in Xinjiang, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press. The Chinese government told the BBC the allegations were “completely unfounded”.

As well as the medical interventions, detainees in Ziawudun’s camp spent hours singing patriotic Chinese songs and watching patriotic TV programmes about Chinese President Xi Jinping, she said.

“You forget to think about life outside the camp. I don’t know if they brainwashed us or if it was the side effect of the injections and pills, but you can’t think of anything beyond wishing you had a full stomach. The food deprivation is so severe.”

Detainees had food withheld for infractions such as failing to accurately memorise passages from books about Xi Jinping, according to a former camp guard who spoke to the BBC via video link from a country outside China.

“Once we were taking the people arrested into the concentration camp, and I saw everyone being forced to memorise those books. They sit for hours trying to memorise the text, everyone had a book in their hands,” he said.

Those who failed tests were forced to wear three different colours of clothing based on whether they had failed one, two, or three times, he said, and subjected to different levels of punishment accordingly, including food deprivation and beatings.

“I entered those camps. I took detainees into those camps,” he said. “I saw those sick, miserable people. They definitely experienced various types of torture. I am sure about that.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Left) opens his umbrella, 2013
Analysts say the policy against the Uighurs flows directly from President Xi Jinping

It was not possible to independently verify the guard’s testimony but he provided documents that appeared to corroborate a period of employment at a known camp. He agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

The guard said he did not know anything about rape in the cell areas. Asked if the camp guards used electrocution, he said: “Yes. They do. They use those electrocuting instruments.” After being tortured, detainees were forced to make confessions to a variety of perceived offences, according to the guard. “I have those confessions in my heart,” he said.

President Xi looms large over the camps. His image and slogans adorn the walls; he is a focus of the programme of “re-education”. Xi is the overall architect of the policy against the Uighurs, said Charles Parton, a former British diplomat in China and now senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“It is very centralised and it goes to the very top,” Parton said. “There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this is Xi Jinping’s policy.”

It was unlikely that Xi or other top party officials would have directed or authorised rape or torture, Parton said, but they would “certainly be aware of it”.

“I think they prefer at the top just to turn a blind eye. The line has gone out to implement this policy with great sternness, and that is what is happening.” That left “no real constraints”, he said. “I just don’t see what the perpetrators of these acts would have to hold them back.”

According to Ziawudun’s account, the perpetrators did not hold back.

“They don’t only rape but also bite all over your body, you don’t know if they are human or animal,” she said, pressing a tissue to her eyes to stop her tears and pausing for a long time to collect herself.

“They didn’t spare any part of the body, they bit everywhere leaving horrible marks. It was disgusting to look at.

“I’ve experienced that three times. And it is not just one person who torments you, not just one predator. Each time they were two or three men.”

Later, a woman who slept near Ziawudun in the cell, who said she was detained for giving birth to too many children, disappeared for three days and when she returned her body was covered with the same marks, Ziawudun said.

“She couldn’t say it. She wrapped her arms around my neck and sobbed continuously, but she said nothing.”

The Chinese government did not respond directly to questions from the BBC about allegations of rape and torture. In a statement, a spokeswoman said the camps in Xinjiang were not detention camps but “vocational education and training centres”.

“The Chinese government protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the government “attaches great importance to protecting women’s rights”.

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Tursunay Ziawudun at home in the US with her landlady, who supports her

Ziawudun was released in December 2018 along with others who had spouses or relatives in Kazakhstan – an apparent policy shift she still doesn’t fully understand.

The state returned her passport and she fled to Kazakhstan and then, with the support of the Uighur Human Rights Project, to the US. She is applying to stay. She lives in a quiet suburb not far from Washington DC with a landlady from the local Uighur community. The two women cook together and take walks in the streets around the house. It’s a slow, uneventful existence. Ziawudun keeps the lights low when she is in the house, because they shone brightly and constantly in the camp. A week after she arrived in the US, she had surgery to remove her womb – a consequence of being stamped on. “I have lost the chance to become a mother,” she said. She wants her husband to join her in the US. For now, he is in Kazakhstan.

For a while after her release, before she could flee, Ziawudun waited in Xinjiang. She saw others who had been churned through the system and released. She saw the effect the policy was having on her people. The birth rate in Xinjiang has plummeted in the past few years, according to independent research – an effect analysts have described as “demographic genocide”.

Many had turned to alcohol, Ziawudun said. Several times, she saw her former cellmate collapsed on the street, the young woman who was removed from the cell with her that first night, who she heard screaming in an adjacent room. The woman had been consumed by addiction, Ziawudun said – she was “like someone who simply existed, otherwise she was dead, completely finished by the rapes”.

“They say people are released, but in my opinion everyone who leaves the camps is finished.”

And that, she said, was the plan. The surveillance, the internment, the indoctrination, the dehumanisation, the sterilisation, the torture, the rape.

“Their goal is to destroy everyone,” she said. “And everybody knows it.”

Photographs by Hannah Long-Higgins

Readers in the UK affected by sexual abuse or violence can find support information via the BBC website here.

More coverage of China’s camps

Originally published 

U.S. calls Myanmar takeover a coup, China calls it a “reshuffle”

U.S. calls Myanmar takeover a coup, China calls it a "reshuffle"

CBSNews

Updated 
 
 

Beijing — The military takeover in Myanmar and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi has been labelled a coup by the Biden administration. The characterization made by State Department officials in a call with reporters on Tuesday triggered a freeze in certain U.S. assistance to the country and a review of other aid programs, but CBS News correspondent Christina Ruffini said the officials made it clear the administration would continue to help to the people of Myanmar and bolster efforts to foster democracy in the country.

“We have expressed grave concern regarding the Burmese military’s detention of civilian government leaders,” a State Department official said on the call. “After a careful review of the facts and circumstances, we have assessed that Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s ruling party, and Win Mynt, the duly elected head of government, were deposed in a military coup on February 1st.”

The Biden administration honed its stance on Tuesday hours after Chinese state media dismissed the takeover as “a major cabinet reshuffle,” rolling out euphemisms to avoid calling it a coup. Democratic leaders around the world have slammed the Burmese military, and Mr. Biden had already made it clear the U.S. was “taking note” of who was standing up for Myanmar’s people.

In its softly-softly approach, Beijing called for all parties in Myanmar to “resolve their differences,” and the official Xinhua news agency on Monday described the military replacing elected ministers after the coup as a “major cabinet reshuffle.” The nationalist Global Times meanwhile quoted unnamed experts as saying the generals’ power-grab could be seen as “an adjustment to the country’s dysfunctional power structure.” The statement almost echoed remarks posted online later by Myanmar’s military rulers, who described their takeover as “inevitable.”

Supporters of the military takeover of Myanmar's government wave national and military flags, February 2, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. / Credit: Thein Zaw/AP
Supporters of the military takeover of Myanmar’s government wave national and military flags, February 2, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. / Credit: Thein Zaw/AP

The paper — known for its fiery commentaries against China’s critics — also used the occasion to take a pop at former U.S. president Donald Trump, whose combative approach to Beijing had plunged U.S.-China ties to their lowest in decades. “Some experts mentioned that… Trump, who refused to admit his election defeat and reportedly incited the Capitol riots, might be the Myanmar military’s inspiration,” it wrote.

CBS News asked on the Tuesday call if, given the Myanmar military’s claims to have acted in response to election fraud, the U.S. officials believed the Burmese commanders might have been emboldened by the false claims of fraud in the U.S. election. The officials did not comment. Beijing has long rebuffed what it sees as interference in its “internal affairs” — such as criticism over its human rights record — and has taken a similarly neutral stance on most foreign affairs. Myanmar is also a vital piece of Beijing’s huge Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. President Xi Jinping visited the country last January, and promised to support the Myanmar government on a development path “suited to its own national conditions.”

China, the U.N., and leverage

European officials, on the other hand, were quick to condemn the takeover, labelling it unequivocally a coup on Monday. Many others, including President Biden in the U.S. and the head of the United Nations, slammed the military’s actions and called for an immediate restoration of democracy in Myanmar, but did not immediately use the word coup on Monday.

The EU condemns in the strongest terms the military coup carried out in #Myanmar. It is an unacceptable attempt to forcibly overturn the will of the people of Myanmar. The EU will consider all options at its disposal to ensure that democracy prevails. https://t.co/QJyMkfB871

— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) February 2, 2021

The United Nations Security Council was set to take up the issue later on Tuesday, but the Biden administration didn’t wait for that meeting to make it’s stance on the military’s actions clear. It will still be hoping to muster support for a coordinated international response, however.

Myanmar’s military justified its power grab by alleging widespread fraud in elections held three months ago that the NLD won in a landslide. It has imposed a state of emergency for one year, after which it says it will hold fresh elections.

So far China, and to a slightly lesser extent Russia, have been the only nations willing to defend the military’s actions in Myanmar, which was previously known as Burma and is still called that by the U.S. government.

Myanmar's military stand guard at a checkpoint manned with an armored vehicles blocking a road leading to the parliament building, February 2, 2021, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. / Credit: AP
Myanmar’s military stand guard at a checkpoint manned with an armored vehicles blocking a road leading to the parliament building, February 2, 2021, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. / Credit: AP

Russia used extremely gentle rhetoric in describing the military’s takeover, suggesting it was merely an internal disagreement over “differences that arose following the results of the parliamentary elections.”

“We hope for a peaceful settlement of the situation in accordance with the current legislation through the resumption of political dialogue,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday, adding, pointedly, that it had “paid attention to the statement of the military authorities about their intention to hold new parliamentary elections in a year.”

Crucially, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council both China and Russia wield veto power over any resolutions proposed within that body, so they could thwart efforts led by other countries to impose multilateral sanctions on the military-run regime in Myanmar — or even to formally label it’s actions a coup.

The U.K. holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of February and therefore steers the agenda, and it chose to keep the Tuesday meeting closed in what is known as “consultations,” reports CBS News’ Pamela Falk, with a briefing by Christine Schraner Burgener, Special Envoy on Myanmar, who has already been “actively engaged” on the ground, the U.K. said.

Keeping the meeting closed could soften any tense exchange and lead to a statement by the 15-nation Council, which, even if unenforceable, would send a message to Myanmar’s military rulers.

“We will look at any range of measures,” U.K. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told Falk during a press exchange on Monday. The British envoy, who will run Tuesday’s meeting, served as the U.K. Ambassador to China from 2015 – 2020 and has significant expertise dealing with the country as world leaders try to shape the next steps in their response, and possibly call for the release of Suu Kyi and other political leaders.

The U.S. can also act unilaterally, and the Biden administration has vowed to “take action against those responsible” if the Burmese military fails to “reverse these actions immediately.”

But as Asia analysts at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a Monday note on Myanmar, the U.S. government’s leverage over the new military leadership is limited by Washington’s relatively small investment footprint in the country.

“Despite a decade of opening, U.S. businesses remain relatively modest players in the Myanmar economy,” the CSIS analysts said. “Those that have invested are mainly geared at providing goods and services to the domestic market in Myanmar, which means their departure will mostly harm private citizens. U.S. businesses have stayed away from the natural resource extraction and commodities export sectors in which the military is heavily invested.”

The analysts said the effectiveness of any punitive measures imposed by Washington will hinge on support from other Asian nations, which have closer business ties with Myanmar. That support, however — even from close allies — may be difficult to solidify.

“It will be more difficult for the United States to get major investors in Myanmar, like Japan and Singapore, to follow suit. And the largest foreign player in Myanmar’s economy, China, will be all too happy to recalibrate its engagement to recognize the new facts on the ground,” said the CSIS. “That will likely soften the blow of any U.S. sanctions.”

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Ministers move to stop backbench revolt over UK courts’ role in genocide rulings

Ministers move to stop backbench revolt over UK courts' role in genocide rulings

Government offers alternative to amendment that could force UK to reconsider trade deals with countries such as China

Robert Buckland, the justice secretary
MPs asked Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, to confirm that Tory whips should not cite the views of the judiciary. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
 
 Diplomatic editor
 

The government is seeking to fend off a backbench revolt over China by giving the foreign affairs select committee new powers to investigate whether a country is so clearly breaching human rights that the UK should not agree to a free trade deal with it.

The proposal is being canvassed as an alternative to a measure that would give the high court the power to make a preliminary determination that a country with which the UK is negotiating a trade deal is committing genocide. Such a determination would require the government to consider pulling out of any free trade agreement.

 

Backbenchers want to give the courts the power to assess cases of alleged genocide, such as the abuses being committed by China against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The MPs see the proposal as a way of breaking a wider impasse over the inability of the international courts to intervene in such issues.

Ministers narrowly saw off a backbench revolt by MPs on the issue a fortnight ago, but peers are expected to reinstate a revised version of the measure when the trade bill returns to the Lords on Tuesday. On 19 January, MPs voted by 319 to 308 to reject the genocide amendment, cutting into Johnson’s working majority of 87 and reflecting the strength of feeling in the Conservative party about the UK’s ties to China.

Three government ministers are due to stage an all-party meeting with peers on Monday to try to persuade them not to give any role to the UK courts in genocide determination. A rival meeting has been organised for earlier on Monday by cross-party supporters of the proposal.

The foreign affairs select committee is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the proposed new powers, but it is understood some members are opposed to it.

Under the government proposal, not yet seen in legislative form, the committee would be empowered to examine the human rights breaches of any country with which the UK is proposing to negotiate a trade agreement. It would be empowered to make recommendations, and if the government did not accept the recommendation, force a vote on the floor of the Commons.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP on the committee, described the plan as nonsense. “It’s an attempt to buy off a rebellion. The committee already has the power to produce a report or make recommendations, but even when the committee unanimously declared the treatment of the Yazidi as genocide, the government simply ignored it.

“The main point is that it should be a court, not a bunch of politicians that weigh the evidence and adjudicate on genocide. With China exercising an international veto, we need a domestic court to adjudicate. If we allow ourselves to be fobbed off with this, genocide will continue with impunity.”

It is not clear if the vote of MPs on a recommendation from the committee would be legally or morally binding on the executive.

Privately, the government has been arguing that the judiciary, including the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, does not want the judiciary to be handed the responsibility of genocide determination.

Tory MPs were so incensed by the whips lobbying against the plan and citing the views of judges that Sir Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, was asked to give an undertaking that it was a breach of separation of powers for the whips to cite the views of the judiciary in a political controversy.

Supporters of the genocide amendment claim heavyweight legal support, including from the human rights barrister Helena Kennedy, and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC.

China arrests suspects in fake COVID-19 vaccine ring

China arrests suspects in fake COVID-19 vaccine ring

 
HUIZHONG WU
Updated 
 
 

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chinese police have arrested more than 80 suspected members of a criminal group that was manufacturing and selling fake COVID-19 vaccines, including to other countries.

Police in Beijing and in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces broke up the group led by a suspect surnamed Kong that was producing the fake vaccines, which consisted of a simple saline solution, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The vaccines were sold in China and to other countries, although it was unclear which ones. The group had been active since last September, according to state media.

 

“China has already reported the situation to the relevant countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Tuesday.

“The Chinese government highly values vaccine safety and will continue to take efforts to strictly prosecute any counterfeits, fake sales and illegal business, and other related actions that involve vaccines,” Wang said. “At the same time, China will strengthen our law enforcement cooperation with the relevant countries, to earnestly prevent the spread of this type of illegal and criminal action.” He did not offer further details.

China has a long history of vaccine scandals resulting from manufacturing issues as well as business practices. In 2016, police arrested two people who were in charge of a ring that sold millions of improperly stored vaccines across the country.

In response to recent scandals, China reformed vaccine safety regulations and increased criminal penalties for those caught making counterfeits.

Domestically, many Chinese citizens did not trust homegrown vaccines and surveys previously showed that trust in vaccines fell after scandals like the one in 2016. However, since the pandemic has struck, confidence has been high. A total of 74% of respondents in a recent survey published in Chinese business magazine Caixin said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was available.

China has at least seven COVID-19 vaccines in the last stage of clinical trials, and has one that has been approved for domestic use, made by state-owned Sinopharm.

Chinese vaccine makers have seized the opportunity provided by the pandemic to go global, with Sinopharm and other Chinese companies making deals or donating their vaccines in at least 27 countries around the world.

Domestically, China has given more than 24 million doses of its homegrown vaccine candidates, as part of a mass vaccination campaign. It has so far refrained from giving the vaccine to the most elderly, instead targeting key groups such as medical workers and workers who work in food- related industries, as well as adults between the ages of 18 and 59.

Taiwan lawmakers seek to remove references to mainland unity from constitution

Taiwan lawmakers seek to remove references to mainland unity from constitution

Lawrence Chung

Published ·3 min read
 
 

Pro-independence lawmakers in Taiwan have repeated calls to change the emblem and flag and revise the constitution to remove references to unification with mainland China.

At a session of the legislature on Monday, members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party called on the government to push for the change, saying it was necessary if Taiwan was to become a “normalised country”, but the opposition dismissed the move as a provocation.

The move is unlikely to succeed because of the difficulty in changing the constitution, but it reflects consistent efforts by supporters of independence to change the status quo.

 

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

DPP lawmaker Chen Ting-fei, a supporter of the change, argued the constitution was out of date, saying: “Our constitution actually reflects a Greater China mentality and our so-called territory does not reflect our reality – that our jurisdiction only extends to Taiwan, Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu, but not China and even Mongolia.”

Chen, along with 57 other legislators, including members of the DPP, New Power Party and Taiwan Statebuilding Party, endorsed a proposal to change the island’s emblem and anthem, saying they were associated with the opposition Kuomintang.

“Our emblem and anthem actually came from the KMT, which should not be used to represent our country,” Chen said on Monday.

The emblem, a white sun on a blue background, was adopted by the KMT, or Nationalists, in 1927 when they controlled the Chinese mainland, while the anthem was adopted 1937.

They have remained unchanged since the KMT was defeated by the Communists in the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chen Ting-fei said the constitution reflected a “Greater China” mentality. Photo: Facebook alt=Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chen Ting-fei said the constitution reflected a “Greater China” mentality. Photo: Facebook

The KMT dismissed the latest move as “deception”.

“What the DPP proposed was just a political trick to deceive the public, deliberately provoke the mainland and divide people in Taiwan,” said KMT spokeswoman Lu Chen-wei.

“If President Tsai Ing-wen really thinks this should be done, she should clearly and loudly declare her intention followed by bold actions. But obviously she dares not.

“All the DPP wants is to increase the anti-mainland sentiment and increase support from the pro-independence camp, which is not in the interest of the Republic of China,” she said, using Taiwan’s official title.

On Monday, the speaker of the legislative yuan Yu Shyi-kun, a DPP member, said the legislature’s constitutional amendment committee will discuss the proposal this month.

But there are many constitutional hurdles to clear before the proposal can become law. First, the committee must reach a consensus before putting a formal motion before the full legislature.

A quarter of lawmakers must then approve it being put to a vote, and three quarters must vote in favour for it to trigger a referendum. Finally it must win the support of 50 per cent of all eligible voters for it take effect.

Currently, the DPP holds 61 of the 113 legislature seats, with 38 held by the KMT and the rest by other opposition parties, making it almost impossible for the motion to pass.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

China rights activist missing after being stopped at airport

China rights activist missing after being stopped at airport

 
Updated 
 
 

BEIJING (AP) — Authorities have given no word on the status of Chinese legal rights activist Guo Feixiong after he was blocked from leaving the country last week to join his family in the United States, his sister said Tuesday.

Yang Maoping said they had no word from Guo or information from police since he was reportedly detained at Shanghai’s Pudong airport Thursday while attempting to board a flight to the U.S.

Guo had messaged friends that he would go on hunger strike unless allowed to leave the country to be with his wife who is undergoing treatment for cancer.

 

“I have been informed that I cannot leave the country because I am under suspicion of endangering state security and other such charges. I will now go on indefinite hunger strike and call on the people of China and governments and people around the world to offer assistance,” Guo said in a text sent to friends and passed on to journalists.

As a lawyer, Guo represented government critics and had been imprisoned for more than 10 years under China’s loosely defined state security laws. The ruling Communist Party frequently uses travel bans to punish those who challenge it, often as a prelude to prosecution and lengthy prison terms.

Yang said Guo’s concern over his wife’s health had pushed him to risk another confrontation with authority.

“The lack of information on top of her health situation is very distressing,” Yang said.

Top Chinese diplomat calls for China, U.S. to mend relations

Top Chinese diplomat calls for China, U.S. to mend relations

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi greet media as he walks to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo
 
Updated 
 
 

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top diplomat called on Tuesday for Beijing and Washington to put relations back on a predictable and constructive path, saying the United States should stop meddling in China’s internal affairs, like Hong Kong and Tibet.

Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, is the highest ranking Chinese leader to speak on China-U.S. relations since President Joe Biden took office.

Under the Trump administration, U.S. relations with China plunged to their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979, as both sides clashed over issues ranging from trade and technology to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, and the South China Sea.

 

While reassuring the United States that China has no intention to challenge or replace the U.S. position in the world, Yang stressed that no force can hold back China’s development.

“The United States should stop interfering in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and other issues regarding China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Yang said, defining these as issues concerning China’s core interests and national dignity.

Speaking at an online forum organised by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations on Tuesday in Beijing, Yang said China never meddles with U.S. internal affairs, including its elections.

Yang, whose position in the ruling Communist Party gives him more influence than even the foreign minister, also urged the Biden administration not to abuse the concept of national security in trade.

“We in China hope that the United States will rise above the outdated mentality of zero-sum, major-power rivalry and work with China to keep the relationship on the right track,” he said.

Yang reasserted that China is prepared to work with the United States to move the relationship forward along a track of “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”

The word “cooperation” appeared 24 times in his speech. He suggested that U.S. firms could gain from an estimated 22 trillion dollars worth of exports to China in the coming decade.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Vincent Lee in Washington; Editing by Christian Schmollinger & Simon Cameron-Moore)

‘Mandarin only’: China removes Uyghur language as medium of instruction in Xinjiang

‘Mandarin only’: China removes Uyghur language as medium of instruction in Xinjiang

” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” />Uyghur students in China's Keplin county in Xinjiang are no longer allowed to study in Uyghur language

Uyghur Muslims in China/ Image Source: BBC

Even as China continues to reject the allegations of ongoing human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, the alleged atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims continues. In a recent revelation, it has now been revealed that the Chinese authorities have removed the Uyghur language instruction from educational institutions in the region.

According to a Radio Free Asia (RFA) report, the Keplin county in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) no longer provides education in Uyghur language to students. Xinjian province is the home to Uyghur population, and the national laws guarantee minorities the right to bilingual education.

In an audio recording accessed by RFA’s Uyghur Service this week, a person claiming to be an Uyghur man from Kelpin county was reportedly heard making phone calls to the Bureau of Education in his hometown to ask for information about how to place the children of his neighbours, who he claims are detained in an internment camp, in school.

Instruction to be carried out in ‘national language’ or ‘Mandarin Chinese’ only

Continuing, the man who identified himself as an employee of the Kelpin Bureau of Education says that the caller could bring the two children, reportedly aged five and seven, to the bureau offices. As the caller asked to clarify which language the children would study in, the bureau employee said that instruction in Kelpin would be carried out in the “national language,” or Mandarin Chinese only.

When the caller asked if it is possible to choose the medium of instruction to be Uyghur, the Bureau employee responded by saying, “The national language is the standard now.”

After receiving the audio recording, the RFA has now received similar calls from Kelpin County No. 1 Intermediate School. One of the administrators confirmed to RFA that “schools in Kelpin no longer offer Uyghur language instruction”.

“Speaking Uyghur language is not allowed [on school grounds],” the administrator said stating, “Normally, it’s not even OK for us (staff) to speak to one another in Uyghur.”

Persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China

According to a 2017 report by the head of the Institute of Sociology at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, the increasing Muslim population in Xinjiang contributed to increased political risk, poverty, and extremism. One of the reasons cited behind their high birth rates was the Islamic belief that the foetus was a gift from God.

However, experts are of the view that it is a strategy of the Communist Party of China (CCP) to strip Uighurs of their religious and ethnic identity and assimilate them into the dominant Han Chinese ethnicity. While Uighur Muslims are often subjected to re-educational programs, forced labour, and digital surveillance, their children are indoctrinated in orphanages.

Reportedly, Uyghur Muslims have been the subject of a massive crackdown since 2017. They were held up in prisons for praying, traveling abroad, or even using social media under the pretext of containing ‘ religious extremism’. According to researcher Zenz, two counties and townships have directed authorities to leave no ‘blind spots’, contain illegal births, and decrease fertility levels.

However, China has rejected allegations of cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps and interfering in their religious activities. The Communist Party of China has denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang even as several reports highlight brutal crackdown on the ethnic community.

Recently, a commission of the United States Congress, in a new report, said that China has possibly carried out “genocide” against Uyghurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.