Why Don’t We Care About the Uyghurs as Much as the Ukrainians?

CommentaryThe revelation of Russian war crimes in Ukraine has received much coverage. Why doesn’t the Uyghur genocide in China receive the same treatment, and what can we do? The Russians have retreated from their positions, threatening the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which has revealed possible war crimes. Mass graves, bodies tortured and shot, and witness statements suggest this was mass murder. But there has been far more systematic abuse and torture against religious dissidents and minorities like the Uyghurs and even the Falun Gong. The disparate attention begs the question: why haven’t they received as much attention as the Ukrainian victims? The Uyghurs live in vast concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region—the largest detention of ethnic minorities since World War II. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) describes the camps as education and employment centers. The Uyghurs are closely monitored, and they have to obtain travel papers and go through layers of security to move from town-to-town. These towns are often restrictive, and the residents describe them as open-air prisons. The regime often forces Uyghurs to abandon cultural and religious practices. Survivors describe mass rape, forced sterilization, beatings, and torture. These internment camps often include forced labor for products like cotton, sugar, and clothing that touches every part of the supply chain. (So the next time an American corporation logs a domestic complaint, remember that they do so while selling products likely made by slave labor.) As I’ve explained, the West is almost pathological in its obsession with white guilt and race that communist officials in Beijing use these issues to deflect blame from their behavior. So the easy explanation that most Americans would easily adopt is that the Ukrainians are white and Christian victims and, therefore, the racist media focuses on it more. This explanation is simplistic and wrong but does connect to real issues. Ukraine is located in the West. Russia already borders several NATO countries that America is obligated by treaty to defend. Those countries, especially Poland, have received over 4 million Ukrainian refugees into their countries. Poland is a vital part of American strategy toward China. (By building a more long-term base with soldiers, it can send a signal to American allies around the world of our commitment.) In short, this war is taking place next to critical American and European interests, so it stands to reason that the people naturally care about it more. Unfortunately, the West has fewer of the same interests in Asia. Some nearby allies have a treaty and other commitments with America, such as South Korea hosting the military and Australia’s new alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom. For the Uyghurs, the concentration camps are in remote areas with tough access for most Chinese citizens, let alone the world. A perimeter fence around a labor camp in Xinjiang, China, on Sept. 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters) Moreover, the CCP aggressively pushes its counter-narrative. It relentlessly pushes its propaganda, including having an ethnic Uyghur athlete light the 2022 Olympic torch. Communist operatives undermine the credibility of eyewitnesses with character assassination and aggressively intimidate reporters, and the foreign ministry limits reporters’ access to news conferences denying the abuse. Moreover, China has an extensive social media presence, including on TikTok, which is a Chinese company. Western businesses are too afraid of losing the lucrative market. For example, Disney actually filmed in Xinjiang, and Apple lobbied against U.S. laws that would prohibit the use of forced labor in making its products. Showing its ability to co-opt and manipulate Western rhetoric, the CCP justifies its surveillance and limitations on civil liberties as part of its “war on terror.” With America mired in two different brush wars for the past 20 years, and elites of all political stripes questioning their own morality in those wars, it became difficult for Western elites and citizens to retain moral clarity and stop Beijing’s depredations against its own citizens. Sadly, the best or the worst answer is that America and the West often have selective vision and a short memory. For example, Muslim terrorists have been ravaging Christian areas of African countries for years with little Western comment. The media and population cared for about half a minute when a school filled with young girls was kidnapped but did little more than post a hashtag on Twitter before forgetting about it. But all is not lost. The average American can change this. The media often gives people what they want. So readers should seek out, read, share, and support media coverage that bravely and honestly covers the Uyghur genocide. Business leaders follow the money, so consumers should not support companies that source their products with slave labor. The people must contact t

Why Don’t We Care About the Uyghurs as Much as the Ukrainians?

Commentary

The revelation of Russian war crimes in Ukraine has received much coverage. Why doesn’t the Uyghur genocide in China receive the same treatment, and what can we do?

The Russians have retreated from their positions, threatening the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which has revealed possible war crimes. Mass graves, bodies tortured and shot, and witness statements suggest this was mass murder.

But there has been far more systematic abuse and torture against religious dissidents and minorities like the Uyghurs and even the Falun Gong. The disparate attention begs the question: why haven’t they received as much attention as the Ukrainian victims?

The Uyghurs live in vast concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region—the largest detention of ethnic minorities since World War II. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) describes the camps as education and employment centers.

The Uyghurs are closely monitored, and they have to obtain travel papers and go through layers of security to move from town-to-town. These towns are often restrictive, and the residents describe them as open-air prisons. The regime often forces Uyghurs to abandon cultural and religious practices.

Survivors describe mass rape, forced sterilization, beatings, and torture. These internment camps often include forced labor for products like cotton, sugar, and clothing that touches every part of the supply chain. (So the next time an American corporation logs a domestic complaint, remember that they do so while selling products likely made by slave labor.)

As I’ve explained, the West is almost pathological in its obsession with white guilt and race that communist officials in Beijing use these issues to deflect blame from their behavior. So the easy explanation that most Americans would easily adopt is that the Ukrainians are white and Christian victims and, therefore, the racist media focuses on it more. This explanation is simplistic and wrong but does connect to real issues.

Ukraine is located in the West. Russia already borders several NATO countries that America is obligated by treaty to defend. Those countries, especially Poland, have received over 4 million Ukrainian refugees into their countries. Poland is a vital part of American strategy toward China. (By building a more long-term base with soldiers, it can send a signal to American allies around the world of our commitment.) In short, this war is taking place next to critical American and European interests, so it stands to reason that the people naturally care about it more.

Unfortunately, the West has fewer of the same interests in Asia. Some nearby allies have a treaty and other commitments with America, such as South Korea hosting the military and Australia’s new alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom. For the Uyghurs, the concentration camps are in remote areas with tough access for most Chinese citizens, let alone the world.

labor camp
A perimeter fence around a labor camp in Xinjiang, China, on Sept. 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Moreover, the CCP aggressively pushes its counter-narrative. It relentlessly pushes its propaganda, including having an ethnic Uyghur athlete light the 2022 Olympic torch. Communist operatives undermine the credibility of eyewitnesses with character assassination and aggressively intimidate reporters, and the foreign ministry limits reporters’ access to news conferences denying the abuse.

Moreover, China has an extensive social media presence, including on TikTok, which is a Chinese company. Western businesses are too afraid of losing the lucrative market. For example, Disney actually filmed in Xinjiang, and Apple lobbied against U.S. laws that would prohibit the use of forced labor in making its products.

Showing its ability to co-opt and manipulate Western rhetoric, the CCP justifies its surveillance and limitations on civil liberties as part of its “war on terror.” With America mired in two different brush wars for the past 20 years, and elites of all political stripes questioning their own morality in those wars, it became difficult for Western elites and citizens to retain moral clarity and stop Beijing’s depredations against its own citizens.

Sadly, the best or the worst answer is that America and the West often have selective vision and a short memory. For example, Muslim terrorists have been ravaging Christian areas of African countries for years with little Western comment. The media and population cared for about half a minute when a school filled with young girls was kidnapped but did little more than post a hashtag on Twitter before forgetting about it.

But all is not lost. The average American can change this. The media often gives people what they want. So readers should seek out, read, share, and support media coverage that bravely and honestly covers the Uyghur genocide. Business leaders follow the money, so consumers should not support companies that source their products with slave labor. The people must contact their politicians and build a groundswell of support for action.

Even though Congress is often fractured, lawmakers acted with unity and rare speed when united against naked Russian aggression. They should support the refugees that have escaped and lived to tell their stories.

Life is unfair, and the Uyghur genocide deserves more coverage than it currently receives from the media. But the power of a free society is the freedom to speak our minds and share ideas that need to be said. That is the same freedom that led to the abolitionist movement and the same freedom that can be exercised for good.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.