Opinion

Biden can’t defend China’s abuse of Uighurs as just a cultural ‘norm’

To hear the Chinese Communist Party tell it, the network of concentration camps in China’s far west are “vocational schools.” But former women inmates, largely Uighurs and Kazakhs, tell a different story. 

They describe the camps as houses of horrors where Chinese camp guards systemically use gang rape and torture to violate their bodies and break their will to resist. 

The new testimony, contained in a blockbuster BBC report, has aroused worldwide condemnation. It also confirms the State Department’s recent finding that China is committing genocide against its Uighur minority. 

Take Tursunay Ziawudun, who described to the BBC how she and her cellmates were beaten, tortured and raped. 

The guards and other masked men come at night, Ziawudun said, and “don’t only rape, but also bite all over your body … They did not spare any part of the body, they bit everywhere, leaving horrible marks … I have 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.” 

The guards would also torture them by inserting a cattle prod into their vaginas and anuses, repeatedly shocking them. 

Ziawudun, who now lives in the US, recounted how some of the women who were mistreated in this way lost their minds. Others, she said, were taken away by the guards and “never returned.” 

A Uyghur woman protests before a group of paramilitary police in China in 2009.
A Uighur woman protests before a group of paramilitary police in China in 2009.
AP

Gang rape is also sometimes used as a means of public discipline. Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh woman, told the BBC that rape in the camps was “common.” One time a young girl was brought in front of some 100 detainees for some infraction. Her punishment came when, “in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her.” Any women inmates who tried to close their eyes or look away from this horrific scene were themselves taken away by the police for more “punishment.” 

Some of the camps also pimp out the women in their custody to the wider public to make money. Gulzira Auelkhan, an older woman who spent a year and a half in the camps, told how not just the police, but Han Chinese civilians from outside the prison system “would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates.” 

Auelkhan was forced to go with the women to the rape rooms, where she would “remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move.” 

Qelbinur Sedik, an ethnic Uzbek woman, told the BBC that in the camps “the rape has become a culture. It is gang rape and the Chinese police not only rape the [women] but also electrocute them. They are subject to horrific torture.” 

China has denounced the BBC report as “lies and fabrications” and has attacked everyone from the British government down to the individual witnesses themselves. 

Beijing’s denials would be more convincing if China … 

  • had not already locked up millions of Uighur men and women in concentration camps, where they spend their days making cheap goods for export and their evenings memorizing the sayings of the same tyrant who ordered their incarceration. 
  • did not uniformly rely upon the “four tortures” — the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape — to break prisoners and extract “confessions” in its prison system. 
  • was not in the business of killing some of those same prisoners to harvest their organs, parting out heart, liver, lungs and kidneys for resale like so many used car parts. 
  • wasn’t already committing genocide against the Uighurs by systematically aborting and sterilizing large numbers of Uighur women. 

As it is, however, the claims of systematic rape and torture fit into a larger pattern of genocide. 

China, led by President Xi Jinping, has denounced reports of prison abuse as “lies and fabrications.”
China, led by President Xi Jinping, has denounced reports of prison abuse as “lies and fabrications.”
Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

They are part and parcel of the systematic dehumanizing and destruction of an entire people that China’s leaders have slated for extermination. 

The US State Department’s declaration of genocide, issued by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his last day in office, does not trigger any automatic penalties. 

The Biden administration should move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on the Chinese officials responsible for these outrages and place new curbs on the importation of goods made by prison labor in the camps. 

Yet the new administration seems to be moving in the other direction, counseling “strategic patience,” as if we can simply wait China out, genocide or no genocide. 

Add to this President Biden’s remarks at last Tuesday’s town hall meeting, in which he justified China’s human-rights abuses by saying that, “Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow.” 

I wonder what the Uighur women in China’s concentration camps would say about that as they are chained down in bed for the guards’ nightly violation. 

Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s ‘Dream’ is the New Threat to World Order.”


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