U.S. President Should Use His Trip to Beijing to Press China on Human Rights Violations

On October 16th the White House announced that President Trump’s first trip to Asia will demonstrate the United States’ commitment to its alliances and continued leadership in “promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

The U.S. commitment to human rights is an important part of this leadership. The President’s stop in Beijing is an opportunity to reaffirm the United State’s commitment to human rights and push China to adhere to international rights norms.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on the President and his administration to prioritize human rights when engaging China and to raise severe human rights abuses in East Turkestan.

China is currently doubling down on repressive policies, such as tightening restrictions on the internet and enforcing ideological conformity in the media and academia. There are increasing restrictions on freedom of religion and association, and cracking down on lawyers and activists working to push the government to respect its own laws.

The preoccupation with control and fear of its own citizens is acutely evident in East Turkestan. The government has been suspicious of Uyghurs as potential separatists for decades and has repressed traditional expressions of Uyghur identity such as language and religion.  The human rights situation has markedly deteriorated in the past several years, particularly since Chen Quanguo came into office as the regional Party Secretary in 2016.

This year has seen large numbers of of Uyghurs being sent to reeducation camps, where they are indefinitely detained and some are later sentenced to prison without trial.  Uyghur students studying abroad have been pressured to return home through threats to their families in China. Upon their return, their political attitudes are assessed. Some are sent to prison or to re-education camps. East Turkestan has been transformed into a high-tech police state through a massive expansion of the security forces and the latest technology allowing extensive surveillance in the region’s cities.

The case of Professor Ilham Tohti demonstrates that the Chinese government allows no room for even mild criticism that is an attempt to help improve human rights conditions in East Turkestan. His case should be raised as a particularly egregious example of the Chinese government’s repression of freedom of speech and minority rights. U.S. government officials should push for his release from his disproportionately harsh sentence of life in prison.

The situation in East Turkestan has disturbing implications for human rights worldwide as it turns into a testing ground for a modern security state and China seeks to increase its influence in Central and South Asia and beyond.

UHRP urges the U.S. administration to:

1) Prioritize human rights in the United States’ China policy. Develop a coordinated strategy across different agencies to ensure a place for human rights as they engage with China.

2) Make the situation in East Turkestan a priority in dialogues with China, push for U.S. embassy officials to be granted the ability to travel there to monitor the situation on the ground.

3) Ensure that in any security and counterterrorism engagement with China, legitimate and peaceful political and religious practices are not conflated with extremism and terrorism.

4) Raise the case of Ilham Tothi, and continue to have the State Department and other U.S. government officials raise his case in both private meetings with their Chinese counterparts and publicly.

Uyghur Human Rights Project,November 6, 2017

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