BEIJING (Reuters) – China called on the United States on Wednesday to invite the World Health Organization to investigate origins of the COVID-19 outbreak there, as sparring over the pandemic continued after the WHO wrapped up its field work in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Hours after the WHO team revealed preliminary findings at a Wuhan news conference on Tuesday, Washington said it wants to scrutinize data used by the team, which concluded that the virus causing COVID-19 did not originate in a laboratory in Wuhan, and that bats remain a likely source.
“We wish that the U.S. side can, like China, uphold an open and transparent attitude, and be able to invite WHO experts to the U.S. to conduct origin tracing research and inspection,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular daily briefing, repeating a call it has been making recently.
The origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, are highly politicized, with China pushing the idea that the virus has roots outside its borders.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the Biden administration had not been involved in the “planning and implementation” of the WHO investigation and wants to take an independent review of its findings and underlying data.
“The U.S. independently examining the WHO’s data? It’s the WHO who should examine the U.S. data,” said Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, on social media platform Weibo.
“Did we all mishear, or is this spokesperson really so shameless?”
Peter Ben Embarek, who heads the WHO-led team that spent four weeks in China – two of them in quarantine – said that the investigation had not dramatically changed its picture of the outbreak, although the virus could have crossed borders before arriving in Wuhan.
In addition to ruling out a lab leak, he said that frozen food could possibly be a means of transmitting the virus, which would support a thesis backed by Beijing, which has blamed some case clusters on imported food packaging.
The WHO’s conclusion “completely refutes the conspiracy theory raised by some anti-China hawks, like former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who has been accusing the Wuhan Institute of Virology of leaking the virus,” the Global Times wrote.
Pompeo had said there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the new coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory.
Chinese officials have stressed in recent months that the virus could have emerged in multiple regions outside China.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Norway's youth parties call for an end to China free trade talks
The youth wings of Norway’s main political parties have signed a letter calling for the country to rescind its normalization agreement with China and stop free trade negotiations due to China’s human rights violations.
The big picture: Amid growing global awareness that close economic ties with China can have a chilling effect on free speech, opposition to China’s Uyghur genocide is gaining momentum in Norway, where some politicians are fearful of jeopardizing ties with Beijing.
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Driving the news: In a letter dated February 9, a coalition of four advocacy groups — the Norwegian Uyghur Committee, Hong Kong Committee in Norway, Norwegian Tibet Committee and the Norwegian Taiwan Friendship Association — enumerate Beijing’s human rights violations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and accuse the Norwegian government of compromising democratic values in order to negotiate a free trade agreement.
The letter’s signatories include leaders from the youth wings of eight out of the nine political parties currently represented in Norway’s parliament. Only the Progress Party’s youth organization did not sign.
What they’re saying: “When we do not oppose dictatorships, we help to legitimize and strengthen them,” the letter states.
“Never before in world history has a dictatorship had so much economic and political power as China has today. Through a free trade agreement, we are not only contributing to strengthening this dictatorship, but to further undermining Norwegian democracy and the Norwegian space for expression.”
Background: China froze diplomatic ties with Norway in 2010, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
In 2016, the two countries signed a normalization agreement to end the diplomatic freeze, issuing a joint statement in which the Norwegian government stated that it “attaches high importance to China’s core interests and major concerns” and “will not support actions that undermine them.”
With diplomatic ties restored, the two countries resumed free trade talks.
In September 2020, the Norwegian industry minister said he was hopeful that a free trade agreement with China could be signed with by the end of the year, though a deal has yet to materialize.
The Feb. 6 letter calls for the end of trade talks and for the 2016 normalization agreement to be canceled, stating that, “With this agreement, Norway renounces the right to criticize the Chinese authorities, and at the same time undermines the freedom of expression of Norwegian civil society.”
“It is a question about our future, about the values we stand for,” Adiljan Abdurihim, secretary of the non-profit Norwegian Uyghur Committee, one of the non-profit groups that organized the letter, told Axios. “What we are suggesting to the government is, it’s ok to have economic relations with China but it should be on Norway’s terms.”
The EU is proclaiming a “good partnership” with China on climate issues, made smoother by avoiding mention of the country’s human rights record.
It’s not so easy for the U.S., which was slapped down by China last week as it tried to pursue a climate agenda while also denouncing China’s “genocide” against its Uighur Muslim minority.
EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans held a videoconference with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng [on February 1] — the first in a planned series of high-level meetings between the world’s first and third-largest greenhouse gas polluters. Timmermans did not use the chance to raise concerns about human rights with one of the seven members in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s paramount political body, his spokesperson said . . .
Timmermans caught Han up on this year’s plans to roll out the European Green Deal, aiming at the bloc becoming climate neutral by 2050. Han filled in Timmermans on China’s upcoming 14th Five-Year Plan, the first steps of China’s effort to reach net zero emissions by 2060.
After the meeting, Timmermans said the pair had “laid the foundations for a good partnership” that will continue ahead of the COP26 U.N. climate talks in November. Before then, the EU wants China to commit to cutting its emissions faster over the next decade and stop building new coal plants at home and abroad.
Chinese state outlet Xinhua reported that Han wanted to make “climate pragmatic cooperation” central to Beijing’s relationship with the EU.
China put 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, according to new international research, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world and potentially undermining its short-term climate goals.
The country won praise last year after President Xi Jinping pledged to make the country “carbon neutral” by 2060. But regulators have since come under fire for failing to properly control the coal power sector, a major source of climate-warming greenhouse gas.
Including decommissions, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity rose by a net 29.8 GW in 2020, even as the rest of the world made cuts of 17.2 GW, according to research released on Wednesday by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a U.S. think tank, and the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
The notion that China can be relied upon as a negotiating partner when it comes to climate has always been an absurdity. China’s regime does what it wants. If sticking to an international agreement, particularly with a counterparty lacking the sort of clout that Beijing respects, would run against what the regime regards as being in China’s (or, more importantly, its own) interest, then that agreement will not count for very much, if anything. Ask the people of Hong Kong how the Sino–British Joint Declaration on their future is holding up.
As for any suggestion that China will be inspired by the moral example that the EU is setting, well, call me skeptical, but I reckon that authoritarians engaged in genocide are unlikely to be moved by moral example.
And, yes, the torment being inflicted on the Uyghurs is, on any reasonable construction of the word, and as then–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out, genocide. In a must-read article for The Spectator, Charles Parton described in harrowing detail what has been going on in Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland. He noted that this was “not a holocaust,” but:
As Xi Jinping, quoting an earlier Chinese thinker, said in another context: ‘To destroy a people, you must first destroy its history’. And to prevent its resuscitation, he might have added that you must strangle language, education, culture and the ability to reproduce.
And that is what China appears to be doing to the Uyghurs.
While the situation has yet to descend into mass murder of a kind that might have been carried out by the Nazis, the Soviets, or earlier incarnations of the current Chinese Communist Party, it is estimated that over a million Uyghurs are being held in concentration camps.
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.
In 1953, Raphael Lemkin gave a speech in New York on Soviet genocide in Ukraine, something he saw as a sustained process, which included an onslaught on the intelligentsia (“the national brain”), the churches (“the soul of Ukraine”), and the dispersal (often through deportations) and fragmentation of the Ukrainian population, something that was achieved partly by an influx of non-Ukrainians into Ukraine (there has been significant immigration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang). The central act of this genocide was, notoriously, directing a man-made famine against “the farmers, the large mass of independent peasants who are the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine.”
Lemkin conceded that “there have been no attempts at complete annihilation, such as was the method of the German attack on the Jews,” but:
If the Soviet programme succeeds completely, if the intelligentsia, the priests and the peasants can be eliminated, Ukraine will be as dead as if every Ukrainian were killed, for it will have lost that part of it which has kept and developed its culture, its beliefs, its common ideas, which have guided it and given it a soul, which, in short, made it a nation rather than a mass of people.
Under Article 2 of the UN Convention on genocide, killing members of a ‘national, ethnical, racial or religious group’ is only one of five reasons for actions to qualify as genocide. The other four are: causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about a group’s destruction in whole or in part; preventing births; and forcibly transferring children to another group.
Genocide also requires that the actions have the ‘intent to destroy’. The CCP does not spell out its intent, although it comes close when Xi insists on the ‘Sinicization’ of religion or advances his vision of a new ‘Zhonghua minzu’ (usually translated as ‘Chinese nation’, but ‘Chinese race’ is closer). Nevertheless, the scale of the atrocities, the clear and detailed planning, the allocation of resources, and the very detailed methodologies of repression, all revealed in leaked documents, are surely sufficient to convince, if not convict.
The European Union will not wait for Beijing to adopt a ban on forced labor before ratifying its investment agreement with China, France’s junior minister for trade Franck Riester said Tuesday.
“[T]he European Union will sign [the investment agreement] with the provision noted in the text, which is to make sustained and continuous efforts for ratification” of an International Labour Organisation convention banning forced labor, Riester said.
Asked by POLITICO whether France would insist on China banning forced labor before voting in the Council to approve the deal, Riester said it would not, but would instead insist on a “calendar” for Beijing’s reforms.
In a flat, arid expanse of China’s far west Xinjiang region, a solar technology company welcomed laborers from a rural area 650 miles away, preparing to put them to work at GCL-Poly, the world’s second-largest maker of polysilicon.
The workers, members of the region’s Uighur minority, attended a class in etiquette as they prepared for their new lives in the solar industry, which prides itself as a model of clean, responsible growth. GCL-Poly promoted the housing and training it offered its new recruits in photographs and statements to the local news media.
But researchers and human rights experts say those positive images may conceal a more troubling reality — the persecution of one of China’s most vulnerable ethnic groups. According to a report by the consultancy Horizon Advisory, Xinjiang’s rising solar energy technology sector is connected to a broad program of assigned labor in China, including methods that fit well-documented patterns of forced labor.
Major solar companies including GCL-Poly, East Hope Group, Daqo New Energy, Xinte Energy and Jinko Solar are named in the report as bearing signs of using some forced labor, according to Horizon Advisory, which specializes in Chinese-language research. Though many details remain unclear, those signs include accepting workers transferred with the help of the Chinese government from certain parts of Xinjiang, and having laborers undergo “military-style” training that may be aimed at instilling loyalty to China and the Communist Party.
The EU makes great play of the fact that it is dedicated to ensuring that the horrors of Europe’s 20th century are not repeated. This noble claim would be rather more credible were Brussels not now busy deepening its relationship with a regime (now, arguably, more fascist than communist) that is operating concentration camps in the interests of something that looks a lot like genocide, while pursuing a foreign policy designed to bringing “lost” territories home, and of course cracking down on Hong Kong in a manner that is an affront to international law as well as to common decency.
Ministers have been accused of making a “mockery of democracy” by blocking a clear vote on giving the UK courts a role in determining whether a genocide is taking place.
The issue, wrapped up in the trade bill, will now return to the Lords where the proposal for a role for the UK courts – driven by allegations that Uighur Muslims are suffering a genocide at the hands of the Chinese government – is likely to be inserted for a third time.
Ministers had arranged Tuesday’s vote so that if Tory rebels backed an amendment passed by the Lords giving UK courts a role, they would also be backing a separate Labour-sponsored amendment imposing human rights audits before trade deals are signed.
UK ministers accused of ‘engineering’ vote on genocide claims
Some Tory MPs were prepared to rebel to give the courts a role, but not if by so doing they would also be backing the Labour-sponsored plan.
The independent peer Lord Alton said after the vote: “I am this evening preparing to retable the genocide amendment to enable the elected house to have the opportunity to vote on a fundamental issue. Denying them that right makes a mockery of democracy.” There is a significant majority in the Lords for giving the courts a role in determining genocide.
If peers reinsert the proposal, Tory rebel MPs, in alliance with opposition parties, have promised to try to ensure a clean vote on the issue when it returns to the Commons, probably next week.
In the only boost for ministers, MPs passed by 318 to 303 a government-sponsored compromise giving the foreign affairs select committee a role to investigate genocide and make recommendations in a Commons debate. Most MPs on the foreign affairs select committee regarded the offer as worthless, with one member, Chris Bryant, describing it as “the worst piece of parliamentary jiggery pokery” he had seen in 20 years.
The Labour MP added: “The bottom line is that this government seems to want to do everything in its power to prevent us as a nation clearly and unambiguously standing up against human rights abuse in China.” He said ministers had blocked a vote knowing they would lose.
Ministers used their control of the Commons order paper to prevent a clean vote on a Lords amendment to give the high court a role in advising parliament if a country with which the UK may negotiate a trade deal is committing genocide. Instead ministers welded two separate issues – the Labour proposal for human rights audits of trade agreements and the proposed role for the UK courts in genocide – into a single vote on the order paper.
The trade minister Greg Hands said it was a longstanding convention for related Lords amendments to be packaged together, but Tory MPs accused him of underhand tactics that were beneath him.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “The government’s attempts to deny MPs a vote on the genocide amendment are cynical to the extreme. Now is not the time for parliamentary games. Members from across the house have voiced their support for this amendment and they must be heard.”
The episode has revealed nervousness in the executive about the triple threat of losing control of its China policy, extending ministerial accountability to parliament for its trade policy and providing a novel UK judicial route to determine if foreign powers are committing genocide.
Ministers also appear to have been caught off guard by the power of a campaign largely built up outside parliament demanding tougher action to protect Uighur Muslims. The alliance spans religious groups, victims of genocide, human rights campaigners and international lawyers.
Thirty-three Tory MPs rebelled the last time they were given a straight vote on a role for the courts to rule on genocide, cutting the overall Commons majority to 11. The scale of the whipping led to a backlash and claims that the then chief whip, Mark Spencer, considered his job to be on the line with the vote.
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China poses serious strategic threat to Canada, says Canadian spy agency head
·2 min read
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community, the head of Canada’s spy agency said on Tuesday in a rare public appearance.
The remarks by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault mark the second time in a few months that Ottawa – mired in a broad diplomatic and trade dispute with Beijing – has identified China as a problem actor.
Vigneault told an online forum that hostile activity by state actors seeking among other things to purloin business secrets and sensitive data “represents a significant danger to Canada’s prosperity and sovereignty” and singled out China.
“The government of China … is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty,” he said.
The biopharmaceutical and health, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, ocean technology and aerospace sectors were most at risk from state-sponsored hackers, he said.
China regularly denies it is trying to steal secrets.
Vigneault also said China had used its Operation Fox Hunt – a search for what Beijing says are corrupt officials and executives who have fled abroad with their assets – to routinely threaten and intimidate political opponents in Canada.
“These activities … cross the line by attempting to
undermine our democratic processes or threaten our citizens in a covert and clandestine manner,” he said.
Last November, the Communications Security Establishment signals intelligence agency identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber crime threats for the first time.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Encouraged by the women who pierced the veil of silence, men are telling tales of how they were sexually abused in the transformation through education camps.
by Massimo Introvigne
Last week, all of a sudden, the BBC destroyed any tactical propaganda advantages China might have obtained from WHO inspectors singing the praise of how cooperative and transparent were those who showed them the laboratories in Wuhan. No detective would expect to find clues on a crime scene after more than one year, and that China has “friends” at the WHO has been an open secret for years.
But any brownie points China might have imagined it was winning with international media disappeared when the BBC told the horrific tale of how women are systematically raped in Xinjiang’s dreaded transformation through education camps. The story was not about occasional abuses by rogue guards. The brave women who testified denounced a pervasive “rape culture,” where sexual abuse is a tool to break Muslim identity and the self-respect of the female inmates. This is going so far that rape by prison guards is supplemented by night visits of masked Chinese men, to whom the female prisoners are “rented” for more abuse.
The Chinese foreign ministry ridiculed itself by arguing that the women who testified were “actresses” recruited by the BBC, while in fact all appeared with their real names, and their connections with the camps had been verified. The US, UK, and Australian government quoted the BBC report to condemn the atrocities and abuse of women in Xinjiang. Other governments, international institutions, and politicians all around the world did the same.
Bitter Winter, which contributed to the BBC report by supplying exclusive footage taken inside the transformation through education camps, reviewed the program hours after it was broadcasted. We received through our usual channels praise for our article (and much more for the BBC, of course) from former inmates in Chinese “educational” camps and jails. Some women who never found the courage to testify about rape with their real names told us they are considering doing this.
They also insisted that the horrific scenes of rape and torture described in the BBC report do not happen only in Xinjiang, nor are Muslim women the only victims. Female inmates from the banned religious movements labeled xie jiao, such as The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong, are also raped. Their stories are remarkably similar to those told to the BBC by the Uyghur and ethnic Kazakh women who encountered rape in the Xinjiang camps. The same combination of obsessive indoctrination and sexual abuse is used to deprogram or “de-convert” from their beliefs female devotees of The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong all around China.
There is more. More than one ethnic Kazakh who now live in foreign countries insisted with Bitter Winter that the tale of how men are also raped in the Xinjiang camps by male guards should be told. They said that sexual abuse of men in the camps is also a regular rather than an occasional occurrence, particularly with respect to the younger boys.
We asked whether none of them came out to testify as a handful of brave women, some of them ethnic Kazakhs, did for the BBC report and even before. The answer was that within the Kazakh society, including in the diaspora, admitting this kind of rape is particularly difficult. Some of their relatives and friends may believe that these former inmates are homosexual, while this is not the case. To our objection that same-sex sexual activity has been de-criminalized in Kazakhstan, they answered that, the laws notwithstanding, even being simply suspected of being homosexual leads to several forms of social ostracism. This seems confirmed by the fact that in a 2015 international survey Kazakhstan ranked #118 in a list of the world countries where homosexuals live a more peaceful and happy life.
Some of the men raped in the Xinjiang camps did tell their stories to human rights activists in Kazakhstan and elsewhere, but did not authorize them to publicize these reports with details that may lead, even indirectly, to their identification.
Until some of the raped men will testify with their names, surnames, and details of their detention, the CCP will deny that rape of male inmates happens in the transformation through education camps—although for that matter they deny it also in the case of women, where these details have already emerged. We are, however, satisfied that those who told us these stories are telling the truth.
One of the women who talked to the BBC, Tursenay Ziawudun, was subsequently interviewed by Fox News, and mentioned that, “We’re humans, but the way they torture these girls and even boys it’s like we’re animals.” “Even boys,” she said. Another part of the horrible truth is gradually emerging
The US Navy has two carrier strike groups operating together in the South China Sea, and it is the latest in a series of US military moves to spark complaints from Beijing.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group conducted coordinated dual carrier operations with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group on Tuesday, the Navy said in a statement, explaining that the carriers and the cruisers and destroyers that accompany them demonstrated the “Navy’s ability to operate in challenging environments.”
Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, the commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, said that the joint exercises “ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
The response from Beijing to the US military operations in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway over most of which China claims indisputable sovereignty, was less positive.
“This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region,” he argued, stressing that “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly defend national sovereignty and security and work together with regional countries to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The Chinese military expressed frustration with the FONOP and said that naval and air assets were deployed to drive away the US destroyer, Reuters reported after the Feb. 5 operation.
In response to the McCain’s Taiwan Strait transit on Feb. 4, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that “China will continue to stay on high alert and is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“We hope the US side will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite,” he added.
Last Thursday’s Taiwan Strait transit came after the Chinese military sent a force of eight H-6K bombers, four J-16 fighter jets, and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft flying past Taiwan and into the South China Sea.
There are about 12 million Uighurs, mostly Muslim, living in north-western China in the region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The Uighurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.
They make up less than half of the Xinjiang population.
In recent decades, there’s been a mass migration of Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and the Uighurs feel their culture and livelihoods are under threat.
Where is Xinjiang?
Xinjiang lies in the north-west of China and is the country’s biggest region.
Like Tibet, it is autonomous, meaning – in theory – it has some powers of self-governance. But in practice, both face major restrictions by the central government.
It is a mostly desert region, producing about a fifth of the world’s cotton.
It is also rich in oil and natural gas and because of its proximity to Central Asia and Europe is seen by Beijing as an important trade link.
In the early 20th Century, the Uighurs briefly declared independence, but the region was brought under the complete control of mainland China’s new Communist government in 1949.
What are the allegations against China?
The US has accused China of committing genocide against the Uighurs. According to international convention, genocide is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
It follows reports that, as well as interning Uighurs in camps, China has been forcibly mass sterilising Uighur women to suppress the population and separating Uighur children from their families.
On his final day in office under the Trump administration, US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said: “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”
A UN human rights committee in 2018 said it had credible reports the Chinese were holding up to a million people in “counter-extremism centres” in Xinjiang.
Earlier, leaked documents known as the China Cables made clear that the camps were intended to be run as high security prisons, with strict discipline and punishments.
People who have managed to escape the camps have reported physical, mental and sexual torture – women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse.
In December 2020 research seen by the BBC showed up to half a million people were being forced to pick cotton. There is evidence new factories have been built within the grounds of the re-education camps.
Anti-Han and separatist sentiment rose in Xinjiang from the 1990s, flaring into violence on occasion. In 2009 some 200 people died in clashes in Xinjiang, which the Chinese blamed on Uighurs who want their own state. But in recent years a massive security crackdown has crushed dissent.
Xinjiang is now covered by a pervasive network of surveillance, including police, checkpoints, and cameras that scan everything from number plates to individual faces. According to Human Rights Watch, police are also using a mobile app to monitor peoples’ behaviour, such as how much electricity they are using and how often they use their front door.
Since 2017 when President Xi Jinping issued an order saying all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation, there have been further crackdowns. Campaigners say China is trying to eradicate Uighur culture.
What does China say?
China has said reports it has detained Uighurs are completely untrue.
It says the crackdown them is necessary to prevent terrorism and root out Islamist extremism and the camps are an effective tool for re-educating inmates in its fight against terrorism.
It insists that Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest, but it is accused of exaggerating the threat in order to justify repression of the Uighurs.
China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uighur population through mass sterilisations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.
Facial recognition software developed by China-based Dahua, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance technology, purports to detect the race of individuals caught on camera and offers to alert police clients when it identifies members of the Turkic ethnic group Uighurs.
Dahua, though among Chinese companies sanctioned by the U.S. government, has a growing presence in the country with sales and support offices in Irvine and Houston. Despite restrictions on its business within the country, the company has at least 80 public contracts in California alone and a deal, reportedly valued at $10 million, with Amazon for 1,500 thermal cameras.
Screenshots of Dahua platforms, provided to The Times by video surveillance research organization IPVM, raise troubling privacy concerns. A user guide for a service targeted at law enforcement clients indicates the company’s technology can send a warning when it detects someone it identifies as Uighur; a consumer-facing product offers a feature to sort by race individuals who pass in front of its cameras.
It’s unclear if these features have been deployed in real-world applications, which features are available in specific markets, and whether any of them are available in products sold to U.S. companies and agencies. Dahua did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Bugra Arkin, 30, is among those who fear for the safety of his family members. Arkin, who came to Southern California to pursue his masters at USC, hasn’t heard from or spoken to his father since 2018. His conversations with his mother — still living in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi — over messaging app WeChat are measured and veer away from any discussion of his father or where he could be. She told Arkin that she had to download an app that monitors her phone activity and must report calls she receives at night to police the next day.
Dahua was added to the U.S. entity list in 2019, along with 27 other companies including the tech giant Huawei, for its ties to the “human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression,” according to the Department of Commerce. Being on the list doesn’t restrict U.S. companies or agencies from buying Dahua products — it urges caution when doing so — but blocks those companies from buying American products.
New details shared with The Times show Dahua developed capabilities that could further China’s campaign against Uighur Muslims. Screenshots provided by IPVM show product support documents for Dahua’s police surveillance platform that include several references to “real-time warning for Uighurs.”
Screenshots show that the real-time warning feature requires specific equipment that “support reporting Uighur attributes.”
The documents also reference “real-time warning for non-local Uighurs.”
Along with tracking members of the ethnic group, the service touts its broad facial recognition capabilities. The documents say this service can categorize every face detected for “similar or same passerby photos.”
A guide for a different Dahua policing tool lists categories of people the company can track, including “Uighurs with hidden terrorist inclinations,” a screenshot shows.
Dahua’s ability to use its technology to identify Uighurs was first exposed in November by engineer Serge Bazanski thanks to code the company posted from its software development kit on the public code-hosting platform Github. Among the attributes the code could filter was “EM_NATION_TYPE_UYGUR = 1.”
Dahua pulled the code shortly after Bazanski tweeted about it.
At the time, Dahua said in a statement to the South China Morning Post that it “does not sell products that feature [an] ethnicity-focused recognition function.”
Additional screenshots from a consumer-facing Dahua platform for examining footage captured using company cameras show a “race” filter available to some users. Other categories included in the company’s face recognition filters include age, gender, whether an individual is wearing a mask and whether an individual has a beard. These categories can be used to scan existing video footage and focus future recordings on individuals who meet the chosen criteria.
An archived version of Dahua’s publicly available software development kit shows a way the company categorizes people by race: EM_RACE_UNKNOWN = 0, EM_RACE_NODISTI = 1, EM_RACE_YELLOW = 2; EM_RACE_BLACK = 3 and EM_RACE_WHITE = 4.
The consumer-facing race filter alarmed Daniel Lewkovitz, chief executive of Calamity Monitoring, an Australian security company. Lewkovitz said he found the function when using the platform, called SmartPSS, on his desktop computer to look through footage to help the police in a criminal matter. His company will stop working with Dahua due to human rights concerns, he said.
“As soon as I became aware of it, I was absolutely appalled by it and I issued an instruction to my senior management that we are going to be moving away from this vendor,” Lewkovitz said.
Although being on the entity list doesn’t prohibit U.S. companies from purchasing Dahua equipment, the National Defense Authorization Act has since August prohibited the use of federal funds to enter into, extend or renew any contracts to purchase Dahua equipment. But at least one California contract to purchase Dahua equipment — the biggest in the state, according to public procurement data — used federal funding.
According to purchase documents reviewed by The Times, Modesto City Schools paid $362,000 to buy and install 57 Dahua camera kits in buses in October. School district spokeswoman Becky Fortuna said the cameras were purchased using federal funds and were intended to enhance the district’s contact-tracing efforts on school buses.
Fortuna said the district was not aware Dahua was on the entity list or that there were bans on using federal funding to purchase Dahua equipment. The district is seeking advice on how to proceed with the existing camera systems it has installed, she said, but won’t be buying anymore Dahua equipment.
Considering the U.S. government has already censured numerous Chinese companies on human rights grounds, anyone doing business with companies such as Dahua — even if those deals are legally compliant — should take into account the genocide against the Uighurs, Arkin said.
“China is buying those technology and those hardware to monitor us and destroy our lives,” Arkin said.
Arkin’s concerns about the Chinese government’s ability to monitor him come from experience. During his last trip to China in 2017, he said he was interrogated by police on three occasions about his education in the U.S., whether he’s trying to raise awareness about Uighurs in China and whether he had spoken to any foreign officials. On one occasion, he said, police took pictures of his face from every angle, a blood sample, a voice recording and eyelash samples.
“Face recognition is very dangerous,” he said. “They took my photo from every angle so even if I wear a mask they can still catch me.”
Police told him it was part of normal procedures and he was too scared to say no, he said.
Times staff writer Alice Su contributed to this report.
Today MPs are expecting to vote on a proposal that would block future trade talks with China if the High Court, which must first be consulted, rules that the atrocities against the Uighur and other mainly Muslim-minorities in China’s far west amount to genocide.
Boris Johnson’s government, unlike the administration of the US president, Joe Biden, seems determined not to mention the G word. Conservative MPs are under massive pressure to vote down the proposal. The outcome hangs by a thread.
A lifetime ago our grandparents’ generation, scarred in their souls by an unspeakable horror, said “never again”.
What scarred them was a genocidal project. It filled them with remorse that they had been powerless to stop it sooner, to grasp sooner it’s true enormity.
So that future generations would never have to feel the same remorse, those who bore the scars bequeathed to us the 1948 Genocide Convention. The convention gives a name to the evil it addresses. It is the highest expression in international law of our common humanity.
Today it seems there is another project. It aims, apparently, to wipe out an ancient culture; to put an end to a way of life; to destroy the very identity of the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim groups in Xinjiang.
Beijing has denied that is what is happening. But there is a growing body of evidence. It includes reports that the victims of this project have been rounded up by the hundred thousand and herded into camps; put to work as slaves in factories and fields; subjected to the systematic use of rape and torture to break their will; and forcibly sterilised. Many have allegedly had their children taken from them and consigned to state “orphanages”, where it is feared they are taught to hate their families, their religion, their culture.
Every gesture, word and deed are allegedly policed by the most advanced technological means; and in many cases, according to reports, they must accommodate state officials who monitor them around the clock in their homes, on pain of being sent to the camps. Places of worship, it has been credibly claimed, have been demolished, sacred texts vilified and beliefs abased.
In the face of this, our government has done all it can to avoid calling this evil by its name and to prevent its hands being tied by any invocation of the convention.
With all international options blocked by the Chinese authorities, the only path available runs through our own courts, as the government well knows. It’s not perfect. But it would hardly drive a coach and horses through our judicial system. The lesser evil is obvious.
The government first demanded that the UN high commissioner for human rights visit China to gather new evidence before any determination on genocide. But there is already a great deal of evidence, and ministers surely know that access will either be denied or so stage-managed as to be meaningless.
The government now wants a parliamentary committee to be charged with making a determination instead of the courts. But any credible ruling must be independent, and seen to be independent, of politics.
The government has, yes, announced modest measures to insulate UK supply chains from the alleged slave economy in Xinjiang. But it has failed to invoke its own much-trumpeted “Magnitsky” sanctions against Chinese officials. It will it says keep them under review. But if not now, when?
Right now our government is saying to the world: “Of course we are against these atrocities. But as long as our companies and consumers are not sullied, we will not call this evil by its true name, we will not stand with all our might against it; we will make our stand sitting down”.
Some say we cannot afford to confront a rising China. We do not call for China to be confronted. We do say that for our standing in the world and our own self-respect, we cannot afford not to call to account those responsible for a project that looks to us prima facie as genocidal as any since the convention was written into international law.
We have just, we are told, taken back control. The price of control is the obligation now to tell the world who we are and what we stand for. That is the question MPs will be asked. How each one votes will not soon be forgotten. What is decided will be entered on a slate that cannot be wiped clean.
Theologian and ant-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”. We appeal to the government, even at this eleventh hour: do the right thing and stop blocking the genocide proposal. We appeal to MPs of all parties: give this proposal the resounding support it deserves.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion
John Ashton was a senior UK diplomat. He served in Beijing and Hong Kong