Note: This radio show deals with mature subject matter that may not be appropriate for young children.
Many of us may think that genocide is a thing of the past, and that atrocities like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and the Khmer Rouge are no longer taking place. But there are multiple modern genocides still taking place today, one in particular in the Xianjiang province of Western China.
According to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims.” Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is Policy Director for the ERLC’s Washington D.C. office, and she joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss the genocide of the Uyghur Muslim people.
“Since about four years ago, the Chinese Communist Party has systematically been carrying out a campaign of internment, forced labor, forced sterilization,” and even forced abortions, shares Sobolik. In an effort to crack down on religions that are not “Chinese in orientation,” the CCP has placed somewhere between one and three million Uyghurs in concentration camps, termed “re-education camps” by the government.
“There have been lots of detailed reports of rape and torture in the camps,” continues Sobolik. Families have been broken apart and may never be reunited, because “once the CCP has determined that a Uyghur has ‘graduated’ from one of these camps, they will be sent to work in forced labor factories.”
Thankfully, the U.S. recently labeled the CCP’s actions against the Uyghur people as “genocide,” which is no small act according to Sobolik, and the U.S., UK, EU, and Canada issued multilateral sanctions just a few weeks ago.
There are three things we as individual citizens can do to help, concludes Sobolik. First: pray. Pray for our fellow image bearers, for their safety, their freedom, and for change in the hearts of the Chinese government. Second: advocate. Call your elected officials and ask them to support legislation like the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Third: awareness. Follow the Uyghur genocide closely, and inform your friends and neighbors.
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Chelsea Patterson Sobolik discuss the modern day genocide of the Uyghur Muslim people.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. “Genocide” is a word that often conjures up images of past atrocities, including the Holocaust and Rwanda, but despite the illusion that genocide is a thing of the past, tragically, it is not. There’s one currently taking place in Western China. According to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims.”
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is Policy Director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Washington, D.C. office, and she’s been following the story closely. We are grateful to have her join us today.
Chelsea tell us what we know about the horrific treatment of China’s Uyghur population.
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me. And there is a lot to unpack here. Like you mentioned in your introduction, the Chinese Communist Party is waging what the U.S. has determined to be a genocide against this population. Zooming back out—kind of the 30,000 foot view—the Uyghur Muslim population lives in a providence in Western China called Xinjiang, which we’ll get into in a bit, but they are an ethnic and religious minority in China. Since about four years ago, the Chinese Communist Party has systematically been carrying out a campaign of internment, forced labor, forced sterilization, et cetera. The Chinese Communist Party has placed an estimated between one and three million Uyghurs into what they have called re-education camps, but for us they are concentration camps because they’re being forcibly removed from their homes and placed into these camps. They use these camps to break Uyghur families apart. In some cases where Uyghur husbands have been sent to the camp, China has sent ethnically Han men to live with the Uyghur wives and forcibly procreate with them. And in some cases where both the mother and father are detained, Uyghur children have been sent to government-run “boarding schools,” but they’re essentially orphanages where the children live.
There’ve been lots of, you know, detailed reports of rape and torture in the camp. And then once the CCP has determined that a Uyghur has “graduated” from one of these camps, they will be sent to work in forced labor factories. It’s important to note that China is the world’s largest cotton producer and the vast majority of cotton comes from Xinjiang where these Uyghurs are. So, they’re forced to labor with little or no pay.
And then China—as a woman, this one’s especially heartbreaking—but China is forcibly sterilizing women or subjecting them to forced IUDs, forced abortions. There’s an excellent report from Adrian Zenz, a German researcher; he did a great report. He found that between 2015 and 2018 Xinjiang placed more than eight times more IUDs per capita than the entire rest of the country. So again, there’s a lot going on.
Another thing to know, very briefly, is that even if Uyghurs haven’t been placed into the internment camp, Uyghurs—and really anyone in China—are subjected to the surveillance state. Their phones are monitored; their movements are monitored; there is no such thing as a private life, and Uyghurs especially are being closely watched and targeted in Xinjiang.
TRACI GRIGGS: Why is this population being targeted in this way, do we know?
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: We do. So Beijing will paint the Uyghurs as separatists and as terrorist threats; that’s going to be the initial reasoning they gave. In 2009, there were some clashes in Xinjiang. The Chinese government blamed Uyghurs. Uyghurs want their own state; the region is semi-autonomous, so there’s a lot of geopolitics going on. But it’s important to note that since 2017, President Xi Jinping issued an order saying that all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation. So China has cited what happened over a decade ago as why they’re specifically targeting Uyghurs. But the government approach to religion-at-large, whether it’s Uyghur or Christian, whatever religion someone is practicing in China, they are tightening and cracking down. Right now, it is the Uyghur culture and the Uyghur population.
Something else to note that’s very important about that particular region is China’s geopolitical economic plan called the “Belt and Road Initiative.” It’s essentially their modern version of the Silk Road and it flows right through Xinjiang. So, it’s this big decades-long economic initiative, and it flows right through Xinjiang. They need that region to be very tightly controlled. There’s multiple reasons why they’re targeting the Uyghur population right now, some economic, some trying to cynicize to make Chinese in character or form a religious belief. And, of course, they are persecuting Christians, Catholics, many other religious groups in China as well, but they have ratcheted up the persecution towards the Uyghurs.
TRACI GRIGGS: We may think that China is just “way over there,” and it doesn’t have a lot of effect on us, but what kinds of implications do you think what’s happening over there can have on Christians and people of faith in our country, and even across the world?
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: Several things. So referencing back to the Belt and Road Initiative…the Chinese government will give a lot of loans and financial incentives to some developing nations, but they have really sunk their economic teeth into countries. And so there are certain countries that are afraid to criticize the Chinese government. And China is exporting its view of human rights or lack thereof, its surveillance technology; it’s exporting its values to other nations, and nations that have strong economic ties to the Chinese government will be less quick to criticize, will be less quick to stand up to them. There’s a very real possibility that those governments, again, that human rights approach (tongue-in-cheek) will be exported to other countries. And then, many Uyghurs who live in the United States, or live in Western countries where they themselves are not in camps, they’re afraid to criticize and to speak up because they’re afraid of what the Chinese government will do to their families or friends back in China, where if they criticize, their families will be locked up.
I think there’s a lot of fear involved, and a lot of economic, financial strongholds that the Chinese government has been systematic in as well.
TRACI GRIGGS: There are a lot of businesses. You mentioned governments, but of course there are a lot of businesses in the U.S. who are hesitant to criticize China because of their ties to that country. So it does infiltrate even further. What kind of response, official response, has the U.S. had to the situation in China?
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: The United States has issued several rounds of sanctions. The U.S. has human rights sanctions called “Global Magnitsky” to apply to several top-ranking Chinese officials and Chinese government entities responsible for the human rights abuses and religious freedom violations. These sanctions are twofold: they are financial, and then there are visa restrictions for these officials being able to travel to the United States. The U.S. has issued several rounds of those. And then the Treasury Department, both during President Trump’s Administration and then under the current Administration, has issued several orders on imports from Xingjiang trying to counter them on the issue of forced labor and the products that we are bringing into our country. It is illegal to import products made with forced labor and so we’re trying to counter China on that aspect as well. And then on the last day of the Trump Administration, Secretary Mike Pompeo made the official determination of genocide and the U.S. was the first country to describe what the Chinese government is doing as a “genocide.” And, a determination like that is not made lightly or quickly. The U.S. has only made five or six—it’s quite small—genocide determinations since the term was first adopted. And then about two weeks ago, several countries issued multilateral sanctions. The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada have specifically issued joint, multilateral sanctions. And then several other countries are strongly condemning China’s actions as well. I think there’s a growing consensus among Western countries that we have to be in together and we have to be very bold in countering China.
TRACI GRIGGS: What can we as individual citizens, as Christians, as fellow human beings do to respond to this atrocity and come to the aid of the Uyghur people?
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: You know, the first thing I would say is to pray. Our prayers matter, and it’s one of the first things that we should do when we hear about anything like this, is bring this before the Lord and ask him to change the hearts of the Chinese government for these people to be free, because they are fellow image bearers. We ought to pray for persecuted people abroad and in China and for the Uyghur people; we should pray that they hear the good news of the Gospel and that they come to know Jesus as their personal savior. And then the next thing we can do is advocate. We can all pick up the phone or shoot an email to our local Representative or Senators and ask them to support certain pieces of legislation, such as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or prioritizing Uyghurs in our refugee program; they are fleeing genocide. Host meetings and invite a Uyghur to speak to a local group and share their personal experience. There are certainly Uyghurs that are fearful, and rightly so, but there are other Uyghurs who are very bold and wanting to share their story and wanting to tell others about what’s happening. So I think prayer, advocacy, and awareness are some excellent steps in the right direction towards helping our fellow image bearers.
TRACI GRIGGS: So where can our listeners go to follow this story and all your good work at the ERLC?
CHELSEA SOBOLIK: They can go to our website, erlc.com, and there they can sign-up for our newsletters, our podcasts, and read the articles that we put out about this issue and a number of others.
TRACI GRIGGS: Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, Policy Director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Washington D.C. office, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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