China’s so-called ‘paramount leader' has secured an historic third term as leader; Uyghurs set to continue to suffer appalling abuse
By Shaheer Choudhury
October 23, 2022
The Chinese Communist Party’s 20th congress ended yesterday. Among the key takeaways from the week-long meeting was the cemented position that 69-year-old leader Xi Jinping has placed himself in, by securing a recently unprecedented third term (since Mao Zedong’s rule from 1949 to 1976) as the country’s most powerful political figure. 
In power since November 2012, Xi continues to be at the helm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as its general secretary, in addition to holding the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC) – China’s foremost military body.
He is also widely expected to continue as president of China; contrary to common belief, the role of president is one that is generally a ceremonial position with limited powers. Indeed, it is only since 1993 that the dual holder of the general secretaryship of the CCP and chairmanship of the CMC has been granted the further title of ‘president of China’.
Xi, the increasingly isolated leader
Since his ascent to the top job, Xi has been responsible for both economic success as well as downturns. Concerning GDP, there has been a general decline since 2010 and although a spike was felt in 2021, 2022 has been a difficult year. Of course, these trends are skewed by the coronavirus pandemic of 2019, but Xi’s increasingly authoritarian one-man-rule mantra has been causing foreign investors and the wider world to proceed with caution. 
The fact that the unwritten retirement code of Chinese politics at 68 (commonly referred to as qi-shang, ba-xia) has been thrown out of the window with Xi’s third five-year term secured at the age of 69 has likely spooked a number of the party’s top brass as Xi continues to pave his own path… Or as he terms it, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’.
The qi-shang, ba-xia rule, which literally translates to “seven up, eight down” was introduced following Mao’s lengthy rule in which one-man governance was the way that China operated; the rule was enacted to prevent such cases from reoccurring. Referring to the ages of 67 and 68, those of the former age are allowed to enter the party’s standing committee. However, those who are a year older cannot. With the exception of the last five years or so, anyone who reaches the age of 68 while a member of the standing committee has almost always retired. 
Shortly after entering into power, Xi sought to stamp out opposition forces by initiating a so-called anti-corruption campaign.
While former politicians and opponents have often been targeted by previous leaders, since 2013, many further hundreds of thousands of CCP members have been disciplined by party inspectors. A sharp rise has been seen on charts covering the period from 2001 to 2021. In 2019 alone, there were approximately 600,000 CCP members who were impacted by the anti-corruption drive, with some being expelled, while others were censured, imprisoned, or even killed. 
With the conclusion of the 20th CCP congress on Saturday, the new seven-member standing committee has bolstered Xi’s grip on power.
Members include Li Qiang, who the BBC has highlighted as being the person responsible for “the debacle when Shanghai was locked down and they couldn’t feed tens of millions of people.” The outlet also suggests that Li’s appointment is an indication that loyalty is more important than competency to Xi. 
Others on the standing committee include Zhao Leji, who is the head of the anti-corruption agency CDDI; Li Xi, the CCP party secretary of Guangdong; Wang Huning, first secretary of the Secretariat; and Ding Xuexiang, director of the General Office of the CCP. All members are staunch Xi loyalists. 
Uyghur genocide ever prolonged as Xi continues premiership
A long overdue UN Human Rights Council report released in September confirmed what we all know to be the case – China has been engaged in “crimes against humanity” against the Uyghur Muslims, according to “credible evidence” collated by then UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet.   
In one of her last acts as UN rights commissioner, Bachelet released a damning report with only eleven minutes to spare before her term ended. 
She stated in the 45-page document,
“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.” 
The plight of the Uyghurs of East Turkestan (or “Xinjiang” as the Chinese government likes to refer to it) has been documented for years. However, with Xi’s prominent position within the CCP, the CMC, and as the lead thinker within the central government since 2012-13, he has been instrumental in the rapid advancement of Uyghur torture facilities that are conveniently called “Vocational Education and Training Centres.”
Horrific abuses have been widely reported against the Uyghurs, and this is soundly backed up by a barrage of firsthand testimony from survivors of the concentration camps in which the Chinese government claims that it is deradicalising people of terrorist tendencies.
Gang rape and forced sterilisation by state authorities including the police, medical professionals, and others; the separation of Muslim husbands and wives and the imprisonment of what is believed to be more than a million Uyghurs has barely made an imprint in world news. Much more needs to be done to apply pressure on China to cease its unconscionable level of oppression of the Turkic Muslims in East Turkestan.
The Uyghur Tribunal of 2021 was a groundbreaking event that brought together experts on human rights and heard from multiple victims of what many openly refer to as the Uyghur genocide. One piece of testimony came from Qelbinur Sidik, an Uzbek teacher from Urumqi who had 28 years’ experience under her belt when she was forcibly seconded to teach at a detention facility.
Sidik shared how she had witnessed people being moved to and from classrooms and cells whilst shackled by the hands and feet. She also gave a harrowing account of a conversation with an imprisoned Muslim woman:
“…we asked if they have been raped, most of them started crying. ‘How do they rape? I guess you guys know a lot more than I do’ I asked. ‘You really don’t want to know’ she replied. ‘I do actually, I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and really want to confirm it with you to see if everything they’ve been saying is true or not’ I asked.” 
The imprisoned woman opened up to Sidik,
“What’s not to believe these rumors? There is a reason male police officers would beg to come to this camp since there’re more pretty girls here. They take girls into the investigation rooms where there’s no camera, and 4-5 police officers rape one girl one after another. After raping, they take electric rods and stick it into their vagina and rectum to torture, and rape again after.” 
While the Uyghur Tribunal was a powerful turning point in the cries for Uyghurs to be given the freedom to practise their religion and for the immediate end to their oppressed state of affairs, protests such as those led by Islam21c have further amplified the Uyghur cause.
However, with top politicians and diplomats including the Chinese ambassador to the UK claiming that “the Vocational Education and Training Centres in Xinjiang are absolutely not ‘concentration camps’, but preventative and de-radicalisation measures”, it is challenging to refute such statements. After all, China is particularly skilled at shutting down criticism and claiming that people need to stop interfering in the country’s “internal affairs”.
Perhaps China should stop interfering in the internal affairs of the Uyghurs and let them live their lives as they desire – with Islam as their religion and the prophet Muhammad ﷺ as their guide.