Why Xinjiang? Why now?

Guess that is what you get for not reading corporate, state-owned and ‘independent’ media in places like Australia. Within one day after returning, a number of people have been brought me up to speed on what is not merely selective sensationalism in regard to Xinjiang, but what can only be described as wilful misinformation. I have heard talk in the media and by government figures of ‘camps’ (invoking Nazi concentration camps), of ‘brainwashing’, of a whole minority nationality – the Uyghur – being subjected to ‘human rights abuses’.

My initial reaction was to think that this was a large science fiction plot, with another earth-like planet and a place called China, about which fanciful narratives had been developed. It is certainly not the China in which I live and work for a large part of the year. But then I realised that such narratives are supposedly speaking about the same place. So I enquired further and found that the following information is systematically not made available in this part of the world, even though one can easily find it (and not merely in an earlier post).

Ever since the incorporation of Xinjiang into China in the mid-eighteenth century, it has been a restive part of the country on the western border. However, from the 1990s, these problems have become more acute. The reason was a notable increase in influence from Islamic extremism from further west, with a number of outcomes.

To begin with, there were a spate of terrorist attacks. If we take only the period from 2008, we find: an attempted suicide attack on a China Southern flight in 2008; in the same year there were threats to launch attacks on the Beijing Olympics; a car ramming in Tiananmen Square in 2013, with injuries but no fatalities; a knife attack Kunming Railway Station in 2014, killing tens of people and injuring many more. All were perpetrated by radical Muslim Uyghurs. Further, some Uyghurs were discovered training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and had developed links with militant groups in restive parts of Pakistan. Radical fronts outside China were passing weapons, explosives and militants along drug routes. The list could go on, but the situation is quite clear: some Muslims among the Uyghur minority were engaged in organising and carrying out terrorist activities.

The question arose: how to deal with this distinct and deadly problem? It is not a problem facing China alone. In countries like Australia, there are strong pushes to have people stripped of citizenship and expelled. But this is hardly a solution, for it passes the problem onto someone else. In other places, the response is to lock them up and throw away the key. But this serves to radicalise them even further. More brutally, some countries send armed forces to the supposed source of terrorism, invade and destroy the country in question and thereby foster with even more extremism.

Some places, however, have decided to try a different approach. The primary problem was with mostly young people from a range of backgrounds. They may have been fighting in the Middle East, been to training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, married an extremist husband, or been radicalised at home and formed part of a cell. Upon returning home or having the their cell discovered, the problem was to find a way to help them fit back into their local communities. In close consultation with Muslim leaders, programs were set up. Given an often low level of education, the programs included classes to improve educational levels. Often unemployable and poor, they were give vocational training in skills for future work. Contact with outside radical groups was closed or monitored very closely. And – most importantly – a long process of cultural, ideological and theological education began, led by local experts and Muslim leaders, to try and get these young extremists to see that Islam is not about what they had been led to believe.

This approach has been and continues to be tried in many places around the world, with different emphases and different levels of success. For example, the city of Aarhus, Denmark, undertook a such a deradicalization program, albeit not without some controversy inside Denmark, since a good number wanted them expelled for good. Turkey has had significant success with its program, France some success, the UK perhaps less so and Australia even less. In fact, ‘deradicalization’ has become an in-word, journals have been established, businesses have tried to cash in. As is their common practice, Chinese scholars and government officials (both national and local – in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region) studied these approaches carefully and came up with one that is similar in some respects and unique in others (more information here, here and here). The Chinese prefer to call them ‘de-extremism’ activities, given the dangers of separatism, extremism and terrorism.

Of course, we may criticise one or another approach. None is perfect in dealing with a persistent problem shared by many countries. Some times they are too heavy-handed and alienate young people further. At other times they are too soft and make not enough difference. But the underlying purpose in a Chinese situation should be forgotten: the recovery of a person’s life so that they may re-enter as a productive member the society they left not so long ago.

As I have mentioned before on a number of occasions, these programs are only part of an immediate response to a profound challenge to social and religious harmony (hexie), stability (wending) and security (anquan). But what is unique about the Chinese method relates to the basic human right to economic wellbeing. Thus, the longer term approach is to deal with the systemic poverty in Xinjiang, based on the position that poverty provides a breeding ground for radicalism like this. Not all such approaches in the past have worked so well, so now Xinjiang receives a massive amount of preferential economic incentives for people to innovate and find their own ways out of poverty. It is also a significant feature of the Belt and Road Initiative, for which Xinjiang is the pivot.

This raises the double question with which I started. Why Xinjiang? Why now? For a minority of ‘Western’ countries, Tibet used to be the flavour of the month, but now it is Xinjiang. Are the de-extremism programs new in Xinjiang? No, the programs in various forms have been under way for four or five years, although they were revised and updated in April 2017, with new regulations and the expansion of vocational and training centres. The more significant poverty alleviation projects span decades. So why do media outlets and some government figures in a relatively small number of countries focus so much attention on Xinjiang?

The first part of an answer is that 2018 marked the first real signs of significant success of the Chinese approach in Xinjiang. A minimal standard is that no terrorist activity has taken place since 2014, compared with 1,136 across the world in 2017 and 639 in the first half of 2018. More importantly the perception in China and abroad is that Xinjiang is now safe for travel. A few years ago I mentioned to a few people that I would like to travel to Xinjiang. Too dangerous! They said. Don’t go there. Now there is no problem. This year more than 100 million Chinese and foreign travellers flocked to Xinjiang. Further, with the Belt and Road Initiative, economic activity has noticeably improved, with investments doubling over the last two years and Xinjiang growing in 2017 by 7.6 percent. As has been pointed out again and again and again and again and again, stability has returned to Xinjiang as a result of the programs.

The second part of the answer comes from a Turkish perspective: 2018 saw the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, with close and pragmatic cooperation between all Central Asian countries, a number of European countries, nearly all countries in Africa, and many in other parts of the world. The initiative has been running already for some time, but 2018 was the launch. A significant plank in the initiative is Turkey, for whom China is its second largest trading partner (Germany is still the first, for now). Given the importance of both Xinjiang and Turkey in the Belt and Road Initiative, the rhetoric and misinformation concerning Xinjiang is seen – quite strongly in Turkey – as an effort by some ‘Western’ countries to drive a wedge between China and Turkey.

Turkey is of course not the only Muslim majority country to be involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. It includes Pakistan, the countries of Central Asia, some in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. Noticeably, these countries have not joined the rhetoric and misinformation from a handful of ‘Western’ countries. But the Turkish perspective may give us an insight into why Xinjiang has become the flavour of the month among some ‘Western’ countries.

The catch is that the effort will not succeed. The Muslim majority countries are singularly unimpressed with some ‘Western’ countries, which have consistently demonised Islam for a good while, now trying to irritate China over its treatment of Muslim extremists. And the Chinese are confident enough that the Belt and Road Initiative has already developed too far for anyone to derail it.

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Report on United States human rights abuses in 2017

The Information Office of the State Council in China has published its annual report on human rights abuses in the United States. You can find a full copy of the report here, and a news summary at Xinhua News. While the report details abuses of civil rights, systemic racial discrimination, increasing flaws in US-style democracy, and flagrant abuse of human rights in other countries, an underlying theme concerns the right to economic wellbeing (a basic principle of Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights).

On this note, the following points are relevant:

In December 2017, 52.3 million Americans lived in “economically distressed communities” and 18.5 million were living in deep poverty.

Of those living in poverty in the United States, there were about 13.3 million children – 18 percent of those under the age of 18. The U.S. Urban Institute statistics revealed that nearly 9 million children in the United States (11.8 percent of American children) would grow up in persistently poor families.

The average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for black families and that median white wealth is twelve times higher than median black wealth. More than one in four black households had zero or negative net worth.

White Paper: Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief in China

As soon as I arrived in China, the government published a new ‘white paper’, called ‘China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief’. The Chinese original can be found here, but translations into other languages are not yet available. The comrades at the Central and Compilation Bureau will be working on the translations as I write.

However, a number of new outlets have given a foretaste, such as this one at Xinhua News:

China Tuesday issued a white paper noting that the country adopts policies on freedom of religious belief, and that such freedom is protected under the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics.

The white paper, titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief,” was issued by the State Council Information Office.

It said that respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.

“Believers and non-believers enjoy the same political, economic, social and cultural rights, and must not be treated differently because of a difference in belief,” the white paper said, adding that the state respects citizens’ freedom to religious belief and protects their normal religious activities.

It said China manages religious affairs in accordance with the law, adheres to the principle of independence and self-management, actively guides religions to adapt to the socialist society, and unites religious believers and non-believers to the greatest extent.

Also, the document said the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics is continuously being improved, providing stronger guarantees for the lawful rights and interests of religious believers.

The religious activities of foreigners in China are also protected in accordance with the law, according to the white paper.

The document noted that religious extremism and violent terrorist activities are dealt with in accordance with the law. It said China opposes all extremism that seeks to instigate hatred, incite discrimination and advocate violence by distorting religious doctrines or through other means, and forbids any discriminatory behavior on the grounds of region, ethnicity and religion.

“China takes measures against the propagation and spread of religious extremism, and at the same time, carefully avoids linking violent terrorism and religious extremism with any particular ethnic group or religion,” it said.

DPRK statement on human rights: religion

In completing my chapter on ‘Religion and Revolution in Korea’, I found a great site for downloading recent statements on a range of issues. Volume 9 concerns human rights, which articulates some of the main points from the constitution. Of interest for my current purposes is the following (pp. 54-55):

68. Provision of the Freedom of Thought and Religion

In the DPRK everybody is fully provided with the right to choose and follow their thought and religion according to their own free will.

Through their everyday life and experience and through historical process, the Korean people have realized that the Juche idea is an idea that thoroughly defends and realizes their independence and truly guarantees human rights, and that when they advance along the road indicated by the idea genuine happiness and prosperity will be achieved.

And they have acquired this idea as an element of their faith and will on their own accord.

They follow the Juche idea and think and act as required by it.

In the DPRK the church and the state are clearly separated, and everybody is fully provided with the freedom of religion.

In accordance with the Constitution, people are free to choose and follow any religion, and can officially or personally, privately or jointly hold religious service, ritual and ceremony. They can also build religious structures or conduct religious education.

At present there exist in the DPRK the Korean Christians Federation, Korean Buddhists Federation, the Korean Catholics Association, the Chondoist Association of Korea and Korean Council of Religionists.

Foreigners resident in the DPRK and expatriates are also given complete freedom of religion.

Is China becoming a world leader on human rights?

They are certainly busy up north in the people’s republic. As the United States undergoes a UN investigation for extreme poverty, with the investigator citing profound human rights violations in terms of private wealth and public squalor, and as the USA refuses to ratify international human rights agreements (Australia, I should add, does not have a bill of rights), China moves on with a major ‘white paper’ on human rights. The full text may be found here, but this image provides a handy overview:

From the fuller document, I particularly like section V on CPC leadership and direction concerning human rights, as well as due attention to international concerns – in light of ‘building a community of shared future for humanity’ – in light of Xi Jinping Thought.

But you have to love this one, concerning the enhancement of social mechanism:

Guaranteeing people’s right to self-governance at the community level. China has made constant effort to improve self-governance at the community level, strengthen community consultation in urban and rural areas, and complete the mechanism to help urban and rural residents express their demands, coordinate interests and protect rights and interests. By 2016 about 85 percent of villages had set up villagers’ meetings or meeting of villagers’ representatives. Eighty-nine percent of communities had established congresses of residents. Sixty-four percent of communities had established consultative councils, and consultative forms such as “villager discussion”, “community consultation”, “property owner consultation”, and “villager hearing on decision-making” have steadily taken shape in China. By 2016, 98 percent of rural villages nationwide had formulated villagers’ codes of conduct or villagers’ self-governance regulations, while similar residents’ codes of conduct or residents’ self-governance regulations had been formulated in urban communities. These play an extensive role in social governance.

 

Beijing Declaration on Human Rights

It appears there is no resting for the post-19th Congress CPC. First there was a forum to examine new modes of cooperation between the CPC and other world political parties (here and here), and yesterday the first forum on South-South Human Rights concluded. With over 300 delegates from 70 countries, it was a major event. And it has produced a major statement on human rights (copied below). A news report on the closing of the forum and its achievements can be found here.

Note especially the focus on universal and particular dimensions, collective and individual, sovereignty and that the ‘right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights’. These points come straight out of the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights, which I have discussed earlier. But they are also clearly the concerns of many countries in the developing world.

Beijing Declaration on Human Rights

(Copied from Xinhua News)

From December 7 to December 8 of 2017, the first “South-South Human Rights Forum” was held in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter. Mr. Huang Kunming, Member of the Political Bureau and the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, Minister of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, attended the opening ceremony of the forum and read President Xi Jinping’s congratulatory letter and delivered a speech. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also attended the opening ceremony and delivered a speech. The forum is jointly sponsored by the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, and is attended by more than 300 representatives from over 70 countries and international organizations in the world. The representatives actively participated in discussions on the development of human rights in the developing countries and the world.

The participants believed that the congratulatory letter addressed to the forum by President Xi Jinping pursues the value of putting the people first and the development thought centered on the people, insisting on the unity of universality and particularity of human rights, emphasizing cooperation for development, promoting human rights through development, and calling for joint development of a community of shared future for human beings, which would play an important leading role in the development of human rights in the developing countries and the world at large.

The participants stressed that President Xi Jinping’s proposal to build a community of shared future for human beings is a major concept which conforms to the trend of the times, fits the requirements of development, and reflects the pursuit of a new human social value. It has pointed out the direction for solving global problems, including human rights governance, and is a major ideological contribution made by China to promote the development and progress of human society.

The participants pointed out that in today’s world, the population of developing countries accounts for more than 80 percent of world population, and the development of the global human rights is inseparable from the joint efforts of the vast numbers of developing countries. Over the years, the human rights situations in the developing countries have been continuously improved, which has made a major contribution to the promotion and development of human rights in the world. However, due to the constraints and impacts of various factors, there are still many problems in improving the human rights protection of developing countries. Therefore, it is necessary for developing countries and the international community to keep on making their unremitting efforts.

It is noted that China develops human rights based on national conditions, with the right to subsistence and the right to development as the primary basic human rights. China adheres to a comprehensive and evolving view of human rights, making not only great achievements in the development of its own human rights cause but also significant contributions to the development of human rights in the world, offering China’s experience.

Around the topic “Building A Community of Shared Future for Human Beings: New Opportunities for South-South Human Rights Development,” participants had in-depth reflection and discussions and they jointly declared the following articles:

Article 1

In order to ensure universal acceptance and observance of human rights, the realization of human rights must take into account regional and national contexts, and political, economic, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds. The cause of human rights must and can only be advanced in accordance with the national conditions and the needs of the peoples. Each State should adhere to the principle of combining the universality and specificity of human rights and choose a human rights development path or guarantee model that suits its specific conditions. States and the international community have a responsibility to create the necessary conditions for the realization of human rights, including the maintenance of peace, security and stability, the promotion of economic and social development and the removal of obstacles to the realization of human rights.

Article 2

Human rights are an integral part of all civilizations, and all civilizations should be recognized as equal and should be respected. Values and ethics of different cultural backgrounds should be cherished and respected, and mutual tolerance, exchange and reference should be honored. All governments and peoples should work together to build a community of shared future for human beings based on the principles of mutual benefit and sharing, build a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness, tolerance and cleanness, so that humanity is free from fear, from poverty, from disease, from discrimination and from isolation. The community of shared future for human beings represents the yearning of peoples of the world for peace, development and prosperity.

Article 3

The right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights. The main body of the right to development is the people. In order to maximize the overall interests of mankind, it is necessary to uphold the unity of the right to development at individual level and the right to development at collective level, so that all peoples have equal opportunities for development and fully realize the right to development. Developing countries should pay special attention to safeguarding the people’s right to subsistence and right to development, especially to achieve a decent standard of living, adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, the right to housing, the right to security, work, education, and the right to health and social security. The international community should take the eradication of poverty and hunger as the primary task, and strive to solve the problem of insufficient and unsustainable development and create more favorable conditions for the realization of the people’s right to development especially in the developing countries.

Article 4

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human dignity is not only related to human freedom, but also decisive to the all-round development of human beings. Human rights are the unity of individual rights and collective rights. The right to subsistence and the right to development, the right to peace, and the right to the environment are both important collective human rights and the prerequisite and basis for the realization of individual human rights. All human rights are indivisible and interdependent. The acquisition of civil and political rights is inseparable from the simultaneous acquisition of economic, social and cultural rights, which are equally important and interrelated.

Article 5

Human rights are inalienable, and all countries should make efforts to promote the legal guarantee of human rights. Restrictions on the exercise of human rights must be determined by law, and only for the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of other members of society (including freedom from religious desecration, racism and discrimination) and meet the legitimate needs of national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morals and the general welfare of the people. Everyone is responsible to all others and to society, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be balanced with the fulfillment of corresponding responsibilities.

Article 6

States should, in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, focus on guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of specific groups, including ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic groups and migrant workers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and displaced persons. States have an obligation to respect and protect religious minorities, and religious minorities have the same obligation to adapt to their local environment, and this includes the acceptance and observance of the Constitution and laws of their localities, as well as their integration into the local society. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs, including the choice of believing or not believing a religion, and the choice of believing one religion or another, without being discriminated.

Article 7

South-South cooperation is an important way to promote development and human rights progress in developing countries. The South-South countries should adhere to the spirit of solidarity, sharing of responsibilities and obligations, mutual help and win-win cooperation, and insist on promoting cooperation with unity, advancing development through cooperation, and promoting human rights through development, making efforts to achieve more adequate human rights protection. The international community should, in line with the principles of balance, inclusiveness and sustainability, actively support better development of developing countries and constantly improve the protection of human rights in those countries.

Article 8

The international community’s concern for human rights matters should always follow the international law and the universally recognized basic norms governing international relations, of which the key is to respect national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. All countries should adhere to the principle of sovereign equality, and all countries, big or small, have the right to determine their political systems, control and freely use their own resources, and independently pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. The politicization, selectivity and double standards on the issue of human rights and the abuse of military, economic or other means to interfere in other countries’ affairs run counter to the purpose and spirit of human rights. The relevant actions of the international community to protect human rights must be in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and should respect the views of the concerned states and regional organizations.

Article 9

The realization of human rights is never-ending and the development of human rights is always ongoing. In terms of human rights protection, there is no best way, only the better one. The satisfaction of the people is the ultimate criterion to test the rationality of human rights and the way to guarantee them. It is the responsibility of governments to continuously raise the level of human rights protection in accordance with the demands of their peoples. The international community should promote human rights cooperation through dialogue and exchange, mutual learning and mutual understanding and consensus-building on the basis of equality and mutual respect.