About the U.S. and China – It’s Complicated

by | Dec 23, 2019 |

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For the last few years, President Trump has been trying to bring about a trade deal with China – one that is fair to both countries. And it hasn’t been easy.  
Because China has been notorious for going back on its promises in the deals it has signed with the West, some of the trickiest problems in the negotiations relate to their unwillingness to give up the advantages they have gained by doing that. Because of China’s bad behavior, the trade relationship between the U.S. and China in the past has been tilted towards China in a big way.
Trump has wanted to do two things in this regard:  The first is to open the vast market opportunities between the two countries and the second has been to put a halt to China’s ongoing theft of American intellectual property and the forced transfer of proprietary technology by American companies that want to do business there. 
But China is spoiled and has gotten used to its ability to use the costly inventions of others at little cost to themselves, and reverse engineer other inventions to accomplish similar aims. The end result is that China has been able to compete in the international markets without investing the billions of dollars that American companies have had to spend to develop their technologies. China has simply stolen their technology and used it to manufacture products that can compete in the international markets with the American companies whose technology they stole. 
In spite of this, China’s economy has been doing poorly, and its population is facing starvation because of massive crop failures. China’s problems in Hong Kong have also not been getting better, and the tiny former British protectorate is still in the throes of revolution. On this side of the Pacific, American companies are still suffering from the loss of their intellectual property to the Chinese, who requires access to it as a condition of doing  business. 
But there is another problem, and it is frequently swept under the proverbial rug. China’s human rights record is abysmal, and among the most egregious accusations against China is its persecution of the ethnic minority Muslims known as Uighur (pronounced “we-gur”). 
It has been reported that China has built hundreds of “re-education camps” in which it has incarcerated at least a million – and possibly as many as three million ethnic – Uighur Muslims who live in the Xinjiang Province at the western edge of China. These camps are reported to be nothing short of concentration camps in which Muslims prisoners, who have been ripped from their homes for no other reason than their religion, are being brutally brainwashed and physically and psychologically tortured in what the Chinese euphemistically call “re-education camps” where programs are  designed to force them to abandon their religion and embrace China’s version of Communism, under penalty of torture or death.  
The Xinjiang Province, where most of the eleven million Uighurs in China live, is supposed to be an autonomous. In fact the official name of the region is Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. But it is not autonomous for the Uighurs, it seems. Not any more. 
Human Rights Watch says that although the area is home to eight million Uighurs out of a total population of nineteen million, it is the Uighurs in particular who are subject to the most intense surveillance, and who are most likely to end up in these camps, especially if they have relatives in 26 “sensitive” countries. Under those conditions, they are most likely to be rounded up, and sent to one of the camps, where they are made to learn Mandarin Chinese and are pressured to renounce their faith. But that is only the beginning.
The Chinese speak cryptically about the camps, and they use language that could be right out of an Orwellian novel. According to the Chinese, the camps serve two purposes: “theoretical studies taught in classrooms and actual skills practiced in workshops.” In reality, the two purposes that they serve are something quite different:  indoctrinating Muslims into worshipping dictator Xi Jinping and his authoritarian state, and using detainees as slaves and torture. 
According to official Chinese reports, all those in the camps have some ties to terrorism and no foreign citizens have ever been detained in the camp. Testimony from escaped prisoners contradicts this, and confirmation from the government of Australia has confirmed that some Australian citizens have been sent to these camps. China, of course, denies it all.
Testimony from prisoners who have been able to escape is horrifying. Stories of mass rape, followed by forced abortion and sterilization, and electric shock torture are, according to their testimonies, routine. Survivors have also testified that because the inmates are Muslims, they are force-fed pork and alcohol, both of which are forbidden to religious Muslims. And there is also evidence of the forced harvesting of organs that are sold on the black market. And their stories are all pretty much the same. And the surveillance of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region who are not in prison is universal.

The Chinese use facial recognition tracking, and all cell phones are loaded with required tracking software in order to monitor their every movement. No one is free from the Chinese government’s oversight.

China calls its actions a fight against religious extremism. It calls the camps “boarding schools” for job retraining or “re-education camps”. And China declares that, in any case, they are being phased out. But satellite imagery indicates that the opposite is true and that the number of camps is even growing. 
In 2017, a nine-page memo was distributed by Zhu Hailun, then deputy-secretary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party and the region’s top security official. The memo was directed to those who run the camps. Somewhere along the way, the document was leaked and dubbed “The China Cables”.  
The memo included instructions to the officials in charge of the camps, including instructions that make it clear that the camps are in fact high security prisons, with an emphasis on strict discipline, even stricter punishments, and no escapes. It also emphasized the priorities such as the importance of Mandarin studies and complete transformation from ethnic identity to loyalty to the state. It made clear the requirements for full video surveillance of dormitories and classrooms that are free of blind spots, and how each prisoner must have “a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed”. The memo also required the personnel to “Implement behavioral norms and discipline requirements for getting up, roll call, washing, going to the toilet, organizing and housekeeping, eating, studying, sleeping, closing the door, and so forth.” And it stated how detainees could only be released once they were able to demonstrate that they have transformed their behavior, beliefs, and language so that they “understand deeply the illegal, criminal, and dangerous nature of their past activity”.
This is classic brainwashing as the Soviets invented it, and the Chinese developed it. 
Other documents have come to light that include explicit directives to arrest Uighurs with foreign citizenship and to track Uighurs living abroad. They suggest that China’s embassies and consulates are involved in the global dragnet.
What is actually happening seems to be a regime that is attempting a huge cultural annihilation. An analysis of satellite imagery shows that thirty mosques have been completely destroyed, ancient cemeteries have been erased, and even turned into parking lots. And in some cities, the Muslim morning calls to prayer have been forbidden.
And China says that this is for the good of the people. Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming said about that “The region now enjoys social stability and unity among ethnic groups. People there are living a happy life with a much stronger sense of fulfilment and security.”
He blamed the countries in the West for attempting to interfere in China’s internal affairs, and disrupt what he called “China’s counter-terrorism efforts in Xinjiang”. And, in late July, China claimed to have released most detainees — yet experts as well as satellite imaging suggest that the detention camps not only persist, but are even expanding. The region of Xinjiang has been inflicted by the most restrictive and wide-ranging security restrictions by the state against its own people. Are the people perfect? Of course not. Is there criminal and violent behavior among them? Of course there is. But nothing justifies the bestial cruelty that is being carried out against them under the authority of the Chinese government. 
So what is the rest of the world doing?  
In general, the international community has condemned China’s actions. However softly. The United States Congress is even considering legislation to do so. 
And yet, this subject remains, to the best of our knowledge, off of the negotiating table and out of political conversation. China considers this to be an “internal” problem, and has no place in the trade discussions or in diplomacy. 
And what about the United Nations? Well, on October 31, fifty-four UN member countries released a statement defending China’s construction and maintenance of more than 1,000 camps in Xinjiang. Belarus, one of the signatories, delivered the statement on behalf of the signators. The statement justified it this way:
“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers . . . .The past three consecutive years has [sic] seen not a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang and people there enjoy a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment, and security.”
Given the fact – which is no secret – that the camps are used to imprison, indoctrinate, torture, rape, abort the potential products of rape, forced sterilization, and murder of Muslim prisoners, the idea that such camps could possibly be described as building a “stronger sense of happiness” throughout the country is positively obscene.

In October, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the Chinese for building concentration camps to imprison its Muslim Uighur population. The Chinese Foreign Minister expressed his rage that Pompeo should try to “separate the Chinese People and the Chinese Communist Party”. Instead, he insisted that the camps are necessary to “save the people.”

Pompeo’s message was strong, but his was a voice in the wilderness. Because the U.S. is caught in a serious contradiction that could have significant impact on our foreign and domestic policy. 
American politicians are, by and large, ignoring this situation in their discussions about our relationship with China. 
And as the President moves to finalize the first phase of the US-China Trade Agreement, his priorities are clear – to protect America’s technology companies, and our farmers, and for our factories, and to create a fair market for their products, as well as a balanced trade process for Chinese products to the U.S. 
But somewhere in the mix, there needs to be leverage to counteract the horrendous cruelty of the Chinese towards their Uighur population. Because that is what America stands for. And what we stand for needs to be built into what we do as a nation, and what we believe as well as what we know is good for our country. 
As I said, it’s complicated.

Ilana Freedman

Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst with more than thirty years in the field. She was trained in Israel, where she lived and worked for sixteen years. After returning to the U.S., she served as CEO of Gerard Group International in Massachusetts, providing major corporations and government agencies with intelligence-led support for their homeland security programs. Her global network of specialists and field assets has provided her with an ongoing resource of critical, real-time intelligence and domain expertise. Today, Ilana is an independent consultant and author of hundreds of articles on terrorism and the geopolitical landscape. She has written four books on Islamic terrorism, and is currently working on a comprehensive book on China - past, present, and future.

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