In the wake of a recent New York Times investigation into the persecution of the Uyghur Muslim people of Xinjiang, it is time for the world to stop labouring under the increasingly absurd and dangerous assumption that China is an ordinary member of the international community. A cache of some four hundred documents published by the Times, representing one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades, proves beyond reasonable doubt something the world already knew – China is carrying out a campaign of genocide in Xinjiang, a campaign organised by high-level government officials at the direction of China’s dictator-for-life, Xi Jinping. Well, I say that if Xi and his cadres want to behave like banana republic pariahs, it’s high time we adjust our policies towards them accordingly. The United Nations, United States and the European Union should place personal sanctions on Xi and other high level Chinese state officials, freezing their international assets and barring citizens from dealing with them in any capacity. Such a move would obviously mark a radical break in relations. It would be the closest we can come to formally calling for regime change in China. So be it. Sic semper tyrannis.
Because the documents published by the Times are gut-wrenching. They strip back the reality of China’s current regime, exposing the extreme violence at its core. They show how President Xi Jinping delivered a series of private speeches to officials calling for an all-encompassing ”struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” in Xinjiang using the ”organs of dictatorship,” and showing ”absolutely no mercy.” The human cost of this ”struggle” would be immense. Acting on Mr. Xi’s speeches, party bosses urged officials to ”round up everyone who should be rounded up,” purging those who failed to comply. Millions of Uyghur Muslims were ultimately detained in concentration camps, where they faced torture, sterilization and indoctrination. We may never know the true number detained, but the documents leave a chilling hint at the scale of the gulag archipelago constructed by the Chinese state: officials were directed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in crowded facilities. The aim of this vast system of mass imprisonment was to eradicate the ”virus in (Uyghur) thinking” – in practice, Uyghur identification with their ethnic and religious culture – so as to sure up ”general unity.” As Timothy Grose put it, the camps were created to ”violently and permanently erase meaningful cultural markers (including Islam and native language) from Turkic Muslims.” This carries all the hallmarks of cultural genocide. Perhaps anticipating the global condemnation that would surely follow such a campaign of cultural extermination, Xi’s speeches reveal a general contempt for the vagaries of international opinion: ”Don’t be afraid if hostile forces whine, or if hostile forces malign the image of Xinjiang.”
It’s time we made Mr. Xi and his political allies afraid. In the wake of the Holocaust, the world committed itself to a simple promise: ”Never Again.” To our everlasting shame, we have broken that sacred vow again and again, in Cambodia, Rwanda and more recently Myanmar. We must not break that promise again today, for it would mean nothing less than the erasure of the Uyghur people. As the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, Xi is the figure ultimately responsible for this horror. He is drenched in the blood of innocents. So why should he continue to receive lavish state receptions and galas when travelling abroad? Why is he not instead condemned as a pariah for his crimes? It is hard to imagine North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un delivering an address to the jet-set class at Davos, or Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad wining and dining with the President of the United States at Mar-a-Lago, both honours afforded to China’s genocidaire-in-chief. It’s time we do away with diplomatic protocol and niceties and directly confront him for what he is – a brutal gangster dressed up in a Mao suit. And following from that recognition, we should commit ourselves to the only morally steadfast course of action – freezing his billions of dollars in assets parked in the West and barring citizens from doing business with him and his allies. Anything less would represent moral complicity – the blood of the Uyghur people would stain our hands, too.
Critics will no doubt argue that any such move to isolate China by sanctioning its political leadership will make it more dangerous, putting it on a war footing and empowering hardliners within the party. This neglects to acknowledge the fact that China is already on a war footing as evidenced by its genocidal campaign against ethnic minorities – the hardliners are already here, and they are already in complete control. The current status quo of active economic and diplomatic engagement with China and its leadership has not rendered it any less aggressive on the world stage, nor has it encouraged its political class to refrain from massive campaigns of extermination towards ethnic minorities. Clearly, something has to give. In a just world, that something should be Xi Jinping’s status as a respected global leader. If this means he can no longer send his daughter to Harvard as he directs attempts to eliminate an entire race of people from the face of the Earth, I can live with that.