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Concentration Camps: Uyghurs Chafed Under Tough Chinese Controls During Ramadan

“Our concerns are significant when it comes to the ongoing repression in China,” said Randall Schriver, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

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Police officers stand watch near a center believed to be used for 're-education' in Xinjiang's Korla city, Nov. 2, 2017. RFA

As Muslims worldwide began a month of abstaining from food or drink from dawn until sunset for Ramadan Monday, Uyghurs chafed under tough Chinese controls over observations of the annual Muslim holy month in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Activists and U.S. politicians meanwhile called for greater world attention to and condemnation of China’s network of political “re-education camps” that have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

Authorities in Xinjiang have typically forced restaurants to stay open and restricted access to mosques during Ramadan to discourage traditional observation of the holy month, and in recent years authorities’ have tried to ban fasting among Uyghurs, drawing widespread criticism from rights groups.

“The entire Muslim world has started fasting and praying. But unfortunately the Uyghur Muslims under China’s draconian rule can neither fast nor pray during this Ramadan,” said Ilshat Hassan, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association.

“It is not just Uyghurs’ Islamic faith that is under Chinese attack but also their very existence as a unique indigenous people,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“The international community needs to take action for China locking up millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps. And the Muslim world, especially OIC, should hold China accountable for its anti-Islamic policy and crimes against humanity,” added Hassan.

“While the Muslims around the world are enjoying their religious freedom and peacefully celebrating Ramadan, the Uyghur Muslims of East Turkestan have been denied by China their legitimate right to celebrate, pray and fast,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.

“This is the third consecutive year that Uyghur people, who accepted Islam as a state religion more than a thousand year ago, have not been able to celebrate Ramadan because of Chinese government’s anti-Islamic and anti-Uyghur policies,” he said, and echoed Hassan’s calls for international pressure on China to ease its policies.

In response to reports on the fasting ban, the deputy chief of mission in the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, Zhao Lijian, tweeted that “Muslims are free to fast in Xinjiang.”

“Restrictions are with Communist Party members, who are atheists; government officials, who shall discharge their duties; students who are with compulsory education & hard learning tasks,” the diplomat wrote.

‘Concentration camps’ term angers China

Criticism of tightening controls on Ramadan activities came as China bristled at the use of the term “concentration camps” by a senior Pentagon official in a news conference on May 3 in Washington.

“Our concerns are significant when it comes to the ongoing repression in China,” said Randall Schriver, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” said.

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Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, in a speech last week, indicated there is little acceptance in Washington for China’s explanation for the camps. RFA

Challenged by a reporter on the use of a word that calls to mind Nazi Germany’s mass internment of Jews in the 1930s, Schriver defended the term as “appropriate.”

“Given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million, so a very significant portion of the population, what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday that Schriver’s comments were “totally inconsistent with the facts.”

“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition,” he said. “We also once again urge the relevant parties in the U.S. to… stop interfering with China’s internal affairs through the Xinjiang issue.”

“At present, Xinjiang is politically stable, its economy is developing, and the society there is harmonious,” added Geng. “The people live and work in peace.”

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism.

China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”

China has also fought to muffle criticism of its policies at international gathering, including a recent incident at the UN Human Rights Council, where Chinese diplomats tried to stop activist Hillel Neuer from raising the Xinjiang camps.

“When I spoke out @UN_HRC for 1 million Muslim Uighurs being detained by China, they freaked out and tried to stop me. They failed,” tweeted Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations 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.

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.

Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, said in March that people “haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s” and called the internment of more than a million Uyghurs “one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today.”

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday that Schriver’s comments were “totally inconsistent with the facts.” VOA

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.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, in a speech last week, indicated there is little acceptance in Washington for China’s explanation for the camps.

Also Read: Sell Charcoal to Buy Food: North Korean Children on Street To Support Themselves

“China has concentrated over one million Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in what they call ‘vocational schools’ or ‘reeducation camps, but what we would recognize as prison camps,” said Rubio, co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“What Xi Jinping calls the ‘Chinese Dream,’ has for millions of people, become a brutal and unending nightmare,” he said, referring to China’s president and his signature slogan. (RFA)

Next Story

Amid Intensifying US China Trade Dispute, Indian Exporters Eye Gains

Orient Craft’s new unit in Jharkhand, one of India’s least developed states, will employ about eight thousand workers

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Orient Craft, one of India's largest apparel exporters, says it could benefit from increased business as the US-China trade war intensifies. This building in Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi houses its office and one of its garment units. VOA

As work on establishing a massive garment-manufacturing unit by one of India’s leading apparel exporters enters the final stages, the company is optimistic about keeping the machines humming. Slated to begin production in August, Orient Craft’s new unit in Jharkhand, one of India’s least developed states, will employ about eight thousand workers.

Inquiries from buyers in the United States, its biggest market, have increased in recent months as a trade dispute with China intensifies, according to A.K. Jain, who heads the Commercial department at Orient Craft. That is why he is upbeat about generating new business. “This is an unbelievable blessing in disguise,” he says. “It will give us an edge.”

Exporters in India are reaping the benefits of the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies as business with both countries jumps, according to Ajai Sahai, who heads the Federation of Indian Export Organizations.

“While overall exports have gone up by nine percent, exports to the U.S. have gone up by 13 percent and to China by 32 percent,” he says. And as the confrontation escalated last week after the two countries failed to reach a deal, his optimism increased. “Since the tariff hike is now substantial from 10 to 25 percent we feel we will have more advantage in market access.”

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A slowdown in the Indian economy is being attributed to a drop in consumption by an affluent middle class. VOA

India is among a handful of countries set to benefit from the U.S.-China trade dispute, a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development stated in February. “The saying ‘it’s good to fish in troubled waters’ could apply to some bystander nations,” the report said, pointing out that most of the Chinese exports subject to U.S. tariffs will be captured by firms in third countries.

While China has opened its doors wider to a range of agricultural products from India such as rice and sugar, exports to the United States have increased in areas such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, jewelry, auto components and apparel.

“In various products we were losing out to China with a very narrow margin. With the hike, we are able to offset that,” says Sahai. “That is why the tariff war has presented us an opportunity to enter markets in the U.S. in some areas we were hardly penetrating.”

But even as Indian exports benefit, trade experts warn that clouds are also gathering over New Delhi’s trade relationship with Washington. In recent months, U.S. President Donald Trump has slammed Indian duties on some U.S. goods, saying that India is not providing “equitable and reasonable access” to its markets.

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Economists also warn that an eventual slowdown in global trade due to the U.S.-China trade spat will hit all countries including India, which is already staring at an economic slowdown

Growth in the world’s fastest growing major economy flagged to 6.6 percent in the last quarter of 2018 – it’s lowest in more than a year. It is not expected to fare much better this year.

The slump is blamed on slackening domestic consumption, which powers the Indian economy. Unlike East Asian countries, which have raced ahead on the back of exports, growth momentum in India is largely based on an affluent middle class snapping up goods such as cars, refrigerators, air conditioners and other consumer goods.

But there are concerns as automobile sales, the barometer of consumption, plunged to the lowest in nearly eight years in recent months.

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Like other carmakers, the Hyundai showroom in Gurgaon has witnessed a decline in sales of cars in recent months. VOA

At the Hyundai car showroom in the upscale business hub of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a range of swanky models beckon customers, but there are few to be seen. This is in marked contrast to the last three years when buoyant automobile sales helped India overtake Germany to become the world’s fourth largest automobile market. That prompted car makers such as Hyundai, Honda and Toyota to expand their presence in the country.

“In recent years, March and April used to be good months. But now 20 to 30 percent drop is there in these months also,” says Gagan Arora, business head at the Hyundai showroom. “There is a slowdown in the whole industry. New buyers are not being added so frequently.”

Economists say while rising exports to the United States and China present a silver lining, the first challenge facing India’s new government due to take office after vote counting in elections is completed this week, will be how to restore overall momentum to the economy and see why consumers are not so willing to open their wallets. (VOA)