The Irish Times view on the China Cables: Xinjiang’s nightmare

The savagery that leaps from these cables has no place in the modern world. If increasing our dealings with China involves having to hold our noses to this sort of outrage, then that’s too high a price

A watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

A watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

 

The China Cables, the latest leak involving the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a number of its media partners, including The Irish Times, is small in terms of the number of documents involved. However, the topic could hardly be more important: the systematic incarceration of an ethno-religious minority on a mass scale.

A million, and quite possibly substantially more, men and women of Turkic ethnicity, including Uighurs, are being held in camps in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. They are being forced to learn Mandarin, the language of the majority ethnic group in China, abstain from religious practice (most are Muslim), and voice support for the very force, the Chinese Communist Party, that is trying to wipe out their culture. Children are being placed in orphanages where similar objectives are being pursued.

Xinjiang is a key location in China’s 'Belt and Road' programme for increased prominence in the world economy

In the leaked material is a set of secret instructions from a top party official, Zhu Hailun, to comrades across the province, telling them how to run the camps. It is an Orwellian document, full of blood-chilling, bureaucratic language that brings to mind Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, the Banality of Evil. The China Cables put to rest the absurd claim by the Beijing government that what it is doing in Xinjiang is an education and vocational training programme, where the camps have a “boarding school” ethos.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with delegates from the 2019 New Economy Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on November 22nd, 2019. Photograph: Jason Lee/Getty
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with delegates from the 2019 New Economy Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on November 22nd, 2019. Photograph: Jason Lee/Getty

One-party state

The campaign of oppression in Xinjiang is the policy in a one-party state headed by Xi Jinping, the man who had a calf named after him on a Co Clare farm during a visit to Ireland in 2012, and pucked a sliotar in Croke Park. Just last week, a separate cache of leaked documents published in The New York Times showed that in 2014, Xi gave secret speeches to Communist Party apparatchiks in which he set out the shape of the systematic programme of repression Beijing would soon unleash in Xinjiang. “We must be as harsh as them,” Xi said in one speech, “and show absolutely no mercy.”

Ireland’s trade and investment links with Xi’s China are growing at a rapid rate. In July, Zhang Chunxian, the former Party Secretary of Xinjiang (he was replaced in October 2016 by a colleague from Tibet, more expert in repression), led a Chinese delegation to Ireland to promote increased trade. The obscene attempt at a cultural wipe-out in Xinjiang is linked to this same issue. Xinjiang is a key location in China’s “Belt and Road” programme for increased prominence in the world economy. But the savagery that leaps from these cables has no place in the modern world. If increasing our dealings with China involves having to hold our noses to this sort of outrage, then that’s too high a price. The Irish Government should join with other EU states with a sense of human decency, and make its abhorrence clear to the Chinese regime.

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