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China Confirms Wife, Mother of Australian Uyghur Detained in Xinjiang

Abdureshit had been preparing documents to join her husband in Australia at the time of her arrest

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xinjiang, china
Members of the Uyghur community in Melbourne, Australia, protest outside the Chinese consulate, in a file photo. RFA

Chinese authorities have confirmed that the wife and mother of an Australian citizen of Uyghur ethnicity are being detained in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) after Canberra pressed Beijing on their whereabouts.

In an email dated April 1, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told Almas Nizamidin that the Chinese Embassy in Canberra had responded to its inquiry about his wife Gulzeynep Abdureshit (in Chinese, Buzainafu Abudourexiti) and mother Zulpiye Jalalidin (Zuyipiya Jiala), who were taken into custody in the XUAR in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Citing authorities in the XUAR, the embassy said that Abdureshit was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and two years deprivation of political rights on June 5, 2017 for the crime of “assembling a crowd to disturb social order,” while Jalalidin was arrested on Nov. 6, 2018 on the same charges and is currently under investigation, DFAT said.

Abdureshit’s arrest came slightly more than a year after she and Nizamidin were married in the XUAR capital Urumqi, and DFAT said it had been informed that a medical examination conducted before she was detained “showed that she was not pregnant.”

Abdureshit had been preparing documents to join her husband in Australia at the time of her arrest.

“We understand that the information provided by the Chinese embassy may be particularly distressing for you and your family,” DFAT’s email said.

china, xinjiang
Citing authorities in the XUAR, the embassy said that Abdureshit was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Wikimedia

“Chinese authorities advised that if you would like to get in touch with your wife, you could apply for a visit through local law enforcement agencies in line with Chinese law,” it added, though it advised travelers to the XUAR to “exercise a high degree of caution.”

“The security situation in this region is volatile. Increased security measures are in place and individuals of Uyghur descent are particularly affected,” it warned.

The information provided by the Chinese Embassy in Canberra confirmed what Nizamidin had learned about his wife after traveling to the XUAR to find out what had happened to her.

“After my wife was arrested, I went to China and spent three months there,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service earlier this week.

Nizamidin had heard his wife was being held in the seat of the XUAR’s Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, and met with authorities there, seeking additional details.

“I was told that she committed a crime, however they didn’t give me any information—instead they interrogated me about what I’d been doing during the 10 years I have been living abroad,” he said.

“I tried so hard, but I was unable to obtain any official documents [from them] … I [later] obtained documentation on my wife’s sentencing, including the date of her sentencing, after paying a lot of money [in bribes] to relevant people.”

He said that despite having six months remaining on his visa, authorities forced him to leave China soon after.

China, xinjiang
Uyghur girl in Turpan, Xinjiang, China. Wikimedia

Nizamidin provided the documents he obtained to London-based rights group Amnesty International, which issued a statement on Sept. 28, 2017 saying that Abdureshit’s arrest and subsequent sentencing was believed to be “part of a wider crackdown on Uyghur students who studied abroad,” noting she had spent two years in Egypt as a student before returning to the XUAR in 2015.

“Amnesty International published a report stating that my wife was innocent, the Chinese authorities must be held accountable for her arrest and sentencing, and if she had committed any crime, they must reveal the details,” Nizamidin told RFA.

“However, the Chinese government remained silent. After that, I spoke to the media seven or eight times, but the Chinese government still said nothing—one of their common strategies.”

In November the following year, Nizamidin’s mother, a former school teacher who had been living in the U.S., was arrested soon after returning to the XUAR to take care of her aging parents.

‘A small achievement’

While Nizamidin said he considers China’s confirmation of his wife’s sentencing and the arrest of his mother “a small achievement,” he is frustrated that nobody has provided him with evidence of the charges against them.

“I believe [my wife was arrested] because she studied in Egypt,” he said, adding that “now they know my family background, they are even more determined not to release her.”

“They arrested my mother to take revenge on us—because my father is in America and I am living in Australia. They cannot [physically] do anything to us, so they took our loved ones to hurt us.”

Nizamidin said he also recently learned that his father-in-law and mother-in-law had been sentenced to prison in the XUAR, but knew little else about their situation, and had been cut off from communicating with his relatives in the region.

He expressed gratitude to the Australian government for intervening in his case, saying he believes the Chinese government’s rare acknowledgement of an arrest and sentencing came as the result “pressure” from Canberra and the international community.

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Flag of Xinjiang Uyghur. Wikimedia

When asked what he planned to do next, Nizamidin said he would apply to Chinese authorities to visit his wife, “but I am going to seek a safety guarantee from the Australian government before I travel.”

Camp network

Beginning in April 2017, authorities have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” in a network of political “re-education camps” in the XUAR.

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

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Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, earlier this month said that some 1.5 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equivalent to just under 1 in 6 members of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR—after initially putting the number at 1.1 million.

In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments. (RFA)

Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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China- Top Contributor in Global Warming

China is the leader in coal and clean energy and is the top emitter of greenhouse gases

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Climate China Coal
In this photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant that produces carbon black, an ingredient in steel manufacturing, in Hejin in central China. VOA

As world leaders gather in Spain to discuss how to slow the warming of the planet, a spotlight falls on China — the top emitter of greenhouse gases.

China burns about half the coal used globally each year. Between 2000 and 2018, its annual carbon emissions nearly tripled, and it now accounts for about 30% of the world’s total. Yet it’s also the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, and it manufactures about two-thirds of solar cells installed worldwide.

“We are witnessing many contradictions in China’s energy development,” said Kevin Tu, a Beijing-based fellow with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “It’s the largest coal market and the largest clean energy market in the world.”

That apparent paradox is possible because of the sheer scale of China’s energy demands.

But as China’s economy slows to the lowest level in a quarter century — around 6% growth, according to government statistics — policymakers are doubling down on support for coal and other heavy industries, the traditional backbones of China’s energy system and economy. At the same time, the country is reducing subsidies for renewable energy.

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A solar panel installation is seen in Ruicheng County in central China. VOA

At the annual United Nations climate summit, this year in Madrid, government representatives will put the finishing touches on implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which set a goal to limit future warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Nations may decide for themselves how to achieve it.

China had previously committed to shifting its energy mix to 20% renewables, including nuclear and hydroelectric energy. Climate experts generally agree that the initial targets pledged in Paris will not be enough to reach the goal, and next year nations are required to articulate more ambitious targets.

Hopes that China would offer to do much more are fading.

Recent media reports and satellite images suggest that China is building or planning to complete new coal power plants with total capacity of 148 gigawatts — nearly equal to the entire coal-power capacity of the European Union within the next few years, according to an analysis by Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Separately, investment in China’s renewable energy dropped almost 40 percent in the first half of 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research organization. The government slashed subsidies for solar energy.

Last week in Beijing, China’s vice minister of ecology and environment told reporters that non-fossil-fuel sources already account for 14.3% of the country’s energy mix. He did not indicate that China would embrace more stringent targets soon.

“We are still faced with challenges of developing our economy, improving people’s livelihood,” Zhao Yingmin said.

China is alternately cast as the world’s worst climate villain or its potential clean-energy savior, but both superlatives are somewhat misplaced.

As a fast-growing economy, it was always inevitable that China’s energy demands would climb steeply. The only question was whether the country could power a sufficiently large portion of its economy with renewables to curb emissions growth.

Many observers took hope from a brief dip in China’s carbon emissions between 2014 and 2016, as well as Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s statement in 2017 that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change.”

Renewed focus on coal

Today the country’s renewed focus on coal comes as a disappointment.

China Pollution
The pollution in China is at extreme levels. VOA

“Now there’s a sense that rather than being a leader, China is the one that is out of step,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki. He notes that several developed countries — including Germany, South Korea and the United States — are rapidly reducing their reliance on coal power.

Fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline and natural gas release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping heat and changing the climate. Coal is the biggest culprit.

Last year, coal consumption in the United States hit the lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

One place to consider the rise, pause and rise again of China’s coal sector is Shanxi province — a vast mountainous region in central China.

Shanxi is the heart of China’s traditional coal country, dotted with large mines, but also the site of some of the country’s largest solar and wind-power projects, according to state media.

During most of the past 30 years of rapid economic growth, the coal business boomed in Shanxi and nearby provinces. As China’s cities and industries expanded, coal supplied much of that power, and China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top carbon emitter in 2006.

But after climbing sharply for two decades, China’s emissions stalled around 2013 and then declined slightly in 2015 and 2016, according to Global Carbon Budget, which tracks emissions worldwide. This dip came as Chinese leaders declared a “war on pollution” and suspended the construction of dozens of planned coal power plants, including some in Shanxi.

At the same time, the government required many existing coal operators to install new equipment in smokestacks to remove sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other hazardous substances. About 80% of coal plants now have scrubbers, said Alvin Lin, Beijing-based China climate and energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit.

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This coal processing plant in China produces toxic air pollutants. VOA

As a result, the air quality in many Chinese cities, including Beijing, improved significantly between 2013 and 2017. Residents long accustomed to wearing face masks and running home air-filter machines enjoyed a reprieve of more “blue sky days,” as low-pollution days are known in China.

Annual levels of PM 2.5 — a tiny but dangerous pollutant — dropped by roughly a third across China between 2013 and 2017, from 61.8 to 42 micrograms per cubic meter, according to scientists at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and other institutions. They made the report in November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal.

“That’s a big improvement, although in terms of safe air quality, we’re still not there yet,” Lin said. China’s pollution levels are still well above standards set by the World Health Organization.

While these retrofitted coal plants emit fewer pollutants that harm human health, the scrubbers do not reduce greenhouse gases. “The new plants are good for air quality, but you still have all that carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere,” Lin said.

Carbon emissions rising

In the past three years, China’s carbon emissions have begun to rise again, according to Global Carbon Budget.

That trend was evident in the first half of 2019, when China’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels and concrete production rose 4%, compared with the same period last year, according to Myllyvirta’s preliminary analysis of Chinese government data.

The coming winter in Beijing may see a return of prolonged smog, as authorities loosen environmental controls on heavy industry — in part to compensate for other slowing sectors in the economy. Cement and steel production remain both energy intensive and heavily polluting.

Permits for new coal plants proliferated after regulatory authority was briefly devolved from Beijing to provincial governments, which see construction projects and coal operations as boosts to local economies and tax bases, said Ted Nace, executive director of Global Energy Monitor.

“It’s as though a boa constructor swallowed a giraffe, and now we’re watching that bulge move through the system,” said Nace. In China, it takes about three years to build a coal plant.

In November, Premier Li Keqiang gave a speech to policymakers emphasizing the importance of domestic coal to energy security.

But because China’s coal-power expansion is growing faster than energy demand, overcapacity “is a serious concern now,” said Columbia University’s Tu.

And once new infrastructure is built, it’s hard to ignore.

People in China
The highest red alert was issued for heavy smog in several cities in China. VOA

“It will be politically difficult to tear down a brand-new coal plant that’s employing people and supporting a mining operation. It will make it more difficult for China to transition away from coal,” Nace said.

Reliance on China

The world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius. All scenarios envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for holding planetary warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius involve steep worldwide reductions in coal-power generation.

In that effort, other countries rely on China to manufacture most of the solar panels installed worldwide, according to an analysis in the journal Science co-authored by Jonas Nahm, an energy expert at Johns Hopkins University.

“If we have any chance to meet climate targets, we have to do a lot by 2030 — and we won’t be able to do it without China’s clean-energy supply chain,” Nahm said.

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China’s manufacturing helped bring down the cost of solar panels by 80% between 2008 and 2013. Prices for wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries also dropped significantly, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“China has a really mixed record. On the one hand, it’s seen rapidly rising emissions over the past two decades,” Nahm said. “On the other hand, it’s shown it’s able to innovate around manufacturing — and make new energy technologies available at scale, faster and cheaper.” (VOA)