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China Direct: Damning UN report — Crimes against humanity — No fan of Gorbachev

By Stuart Lau

September 1, 2022

NOBODY WAS A REAL MAN’: Who would’ve thought China and Lithuania would see eye to eye, for once?

For very different reasons, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who died at the age of 91 on Tuesday, is hardly remembered with affection by Lithuanians (who cannot forgive his bloody crackdown on protesters in Vilnius) and China’s own communist leader.

For President Xi Jinping, a ‘princeling’ whose father helped establish communist rule in China, Gorbachev’s decision to dissolve the USSR was a catastrophic mistake, and his pro-West inclination ran contrary to how Xi intends to perpetuate Communist rule in China.

“Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered,” Xi said, according to a summary of his comments circulated among officials leaked to the New York Times in 2013. “Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone. In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”

NOW COMES THE STRONGMAN: Xi himself has bigger plans. Beijing announced this week that the five-yearly Communist Party congress will take place on October 16, earlier than expected. (Mark your calendar.) The most consequential party meeting in recent Chinese history will happen in less than seven weeks, where Xi, already in power for close to a decade, is all but certain to secure a norm-breaking third term in office.

WELCOME TO CHINA DIRECT! This is your host Stuart Lau, Europe-China Correspondent at POLITICO with your regular Thursday newsletter. Try not to contact me today, as I’ve been burning some midnight oil overnight thanks to this…


HITTING THE DEADLINE: The long-overdue U.N. report on Xinjiang was finally issued at 11.47 p.m. on Wednesday — just 13 minutes before Michelle Bachelet ended her tenure as high commissioner for human rights. The details and conclusions from the 48-page report explain why Beijing wanted it buried so badly.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: Not only does the U.N. detail evidence of what it calls “serious human rights violations” and “widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” it’s also come to this conclusion: “The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups, pursuant to law and policy, in context of restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”


DETENTION EVERYWHERE: China’s “vocational and education” facilities for Uyghurs amounted to detention, according to the UN report. “Not a single interviewee said they were able to exit the facility or go home for a visit. At the … facilities, all interviewees observed significant security presence and guards armed with guns and/or batons (including electric ones), and mostly wearing police uniforms.” These centers were everywhere, “intended and operated on a wide scale spanning the geographic entirety of the region.”

NO FOOD, NO PRAYING: A consistent theme, according to the U.N., was “description of constant hunger and, consequently, significant to severe weight loss during their periods in the facilities.” Interviewees also told the U.N. that people in the dorms or cells would have to take two-hour nightshifts so that they couldn’t pray.

‘PAINFUL’ FAMILY SEPARATION: “While some interviewees seemed to know or suspect that family members had been taken to a [vocational] facility or another form of detention, most remained unsure of the situation and, despite attempts at clarifying the whereabouts with the authorities, their fate remained unknown,” the report said. “This lack of knowledge and any contact has been particularly painful for families living at geographical distance abroad and requires immediate clarification by the authorities.”

SEX CRIMES: Some women told the U.N. they were “forced by guards to perform oral sex in the context of an interrogation and various forms of sexual humiliation, including forced nudity.” Several women recounted being subject to “invasive gynaecological examinations.” One woman said this took place in a group setting, which “made old women ashamed and young girls cry.”

FORCE-FEEDING UNKNOWN PILLS: According to the U.N. report, almost all interviewees described “either injections, pills or both” being administered regularly. They were also forced to have blood samples taken. “Interviewees were consistent in their descriptions of how the administered medicines made them feel drowsy.”

DIGITAL SURVEILLANCE: The U.N. report also sheds light on how China keeps track of individuals through electronic means, with “key elements of a consistent pattern of invasive electronic surveillance that can be, and are, directed at the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim populations.” Certain behaviors, such as downloading of Islamic religious materials or communicating with people abroad, can be “automatically monitored and flagged to law enforcement as possible signs of ‘extremism’ requiring police follow-up.

SHRINKING BIRTH RATE: Uyghur-populated regions have recorded what the U.N. calls “unusual and stark” declines in birth rate. “The birth rate in Xinjiang dropped approximately 48.7 percent, from 15.88 per thousand in 2017 to 8.14 per thousand in 2019. The average for all of China is 10.48 per thousand,” the report said. It stops short of naming forced sterilization, but said “coercive measures are likely to have accompanied the strict enforcement of family planning policies.”

LABOR COERCION: The report stops short of labeling China’s practice in Xinjiang as “forced labor”, saying only that “there are indications that labour and employment schemes … appear to be discriminatory in nature or effect and to involve elements of coercion, requiring transparent clarification by the government.”


LATE EDITING: The drama unfolded on Wednesday morning, when a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office said the report would be out within the day. That came as a bit of a surprise, as Bachelet herself said just a few days ago that she might not see the report through during her stint. Indeed, she had also resisted pressure on the office to publish the report over the last few months, citing her wish to travel to Xinjiang first, which she did in May — and found herself in the full glare of intense Chinese propaganda. Faced with a PR backlash, Bachelet took a defensive turn, and those preparing the report found themselves at greater liberty to reach out to Uyghurs for further interviews. Over the past week, Bachelet gave the report to China for a preview, and even on Wednesday the team was still busy rewriting part of it to accommodate some of Beijing’s version. According to one diplomat, the section on forced sterilization was watered down during the final hours. The topic is particularly sensitive as this could have given rise to claims of genocide, which Beijing has battled to dismiss.

CHINA’S SELF-DEFENSE: In parallel to the UN’s 48-page report, China published a 131-page response. It called the leaked Xinjiang police files, referenced in the U.N. report, a farce orchestrated by anti-China forces in the U.S. (even though the U.N. confirmed the authenticity of much of the document dump.) “This so-called ‘assessment’ runs counter to the mandate” of Bachelet’s office and “distorts China’s laws and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the Chinese permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said. You can read the full document (and see the UN redacting many of China’s propaganda pictures) here.

ACTIVISTS LET DOWN: Some activists are dissatisfied with the report’s refusal to use the term “genocide.” “In a final insult to Uyghur survivors, the report fails to mention the word genocide a single time,” said Rahima Mahmut, a U.K.-based Uyghur campaigner. “You have to wonder what the U.N. is for if it can’t admit what is staring them plainly in the face.”

PERHAPS BEIJING CAN PROBE? HMM… Luke de Pulford, coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, took a dig at the U.N. report’s recommendation for China to “promptly investigate” violations in the camps. “Starting to look silly, as if the [camp] abuses are somehow disconnected from the policy of central government,” he tweeted.

WHY THE LATE RELEASE? Emma Reilly, who was fired by the U.N. for revealing the U.N. human rights office’s dealings with Beijing, said the arrangement was to avoid embarrassment for the Bachelet’s successor, who has not been announced.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: “This U.N. report is extremely important. It paves the way for meaningful and tangible action by member states, U.N. bodies, and the business community,” said World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa. “Accountability starts now.”


IN PARLIAMENT TODAY: The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee yesterday made a last-minute addition to include Taiwan on the agenda today. “I decided to add Taiwan to the … agenda due to the worsening situation following China’s aggressive military manoeuvres,” said David McAllister, chair of the committee on foreign relations at the Parliament. “The EU opposes unilateral attempts to modify the status quo, and even less so by resorting to force.”

TRUSS SEES THREATS: Liz Truss, the frontrunner to become U.K. Prime Minister on Monday, is set to declare China a “threat” to national security for the first time, according to The Times. Citing her allies, the newspaper said China would thus be elevated to a similar status as Russia, which is defined as an “acute threat”. That would also put the British position close to that of the U.S. In May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Beijing the “biggest threat” to the international rules-based order. The EU, on the other hand, refers to China as a “systemic rival.”

Hawk in No. 10: Truss’ allies are keen to portray her as probably the toughest critic of China ever in No 10. “Liz has toughened the U.K.’s stance on Beijing since becoming foreign secretary and would continue to take a hawkish stance as PM,” The Times reported.

END OF AN ERA: Nicolas Chapuis ended his job as the EU’s ambassador to China. Here’s his farewell tweet. China Direct understands that the long-time Chinese speaking French diplomat will go into full retirement — and perhaps dedicate more of his time to reading his favorite Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu.

GERMAN WARSHIPS: Germany will expand its military presence in the Indo-Pacific by sending more warships and joining drills with allies amid an “enormous” build-up of China’s armed forces, the German defense chief Eberhard Zorn told Reuters.

Will you go … there? Reuters asked him whether German warships would sail through the Taiwan Strait, which the United States did last week. Zorn said it was a sensitive matter decided upon at the highest political level. (Does anyone think Chancellor Olaf Scholz would say yes?)


A CONGRESS LIKE NO OTHERS: We have a date! The October 16 party congress will be a pivotal moment for China’s next five years. Even though Xi will almost certainly get the top leadership role again, he will still be surrounded by some key new officials, especially those in charge of the economy and diplomacy.

Top diplomat: The current top diplomat in the 25-strong Politburo, Yang Jiechi, will likely be stepping down. Yang has played a leading role in U.S.-China relations and dealt personally with both the Trump and Biden administrations, but he has passed retirement age.

ALL EYES ON COVID: Internationally, foreign businesses will be eager to see whether China will loosen some of the strictest pandemic measures in the world after the congress. The prolonged restrictions have dampened business interests and occasionally disrupted supply chains, especially from the busy port of Shanghai.

Business fears: Pandemic restrictions are also putting a strain on China’s previously stellar economic growth. In July, the International Monetary Fund slashed China’s gross domestic product growth forecast for 2022 to 3.3 percent from 4.4 percent in April, while warning of a looming crisis engulfing the country’s real estate sector, a worry that prompted the chief of China’s central bank to visit one of the worst-hit provinces, Henan.


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