The latest abuse of human rights by China — concentration camps — requires the same moral outrage and diplomatic creativity that made the Soviet Jewry movement successful.
President Donald J. Trump has failed to counter the suppression of human rights in China.
Like President Barack Obama before him.
Like President George W. Bush before him.
Like President William Jefferson Clinton before him.
Like President George H. W. Bush before him.
Like . . . every American president since Richard M. Nixon opened diplomatic relations with China in 1972.
There has always been a reason why something else was more important in the US-China relationship than human rights — that is, when the subject of human rights exercised American presidents at all.
Coercion of abortion; murder of female children; suppression of religion; violence against demonstrators; punishment of dissenters; stifling of speech; “cultural revolution” — all this has proceeded in full view of American leaders with nary a significant objection or sanction, whether diplomatic, economic or military, anything. It is shameful.
It is no surprise, then, that China’s latest abuse of human begins has proceeded without any meaningful response from countries that profess to care about human rights. We refer to the concentration of ethnic Uighurs, a minority Muslim group in China. Yes, concentration.
We have the pictures of the camps, just like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had the pictures of Auschwitz. He did nothing, and while what happened at Auschwitz is qualitatively and quantitatively worse than what is happening in Shule country, near Kashgar, China, the do-nothing approach of the current American president mirrors the do-nothing response of previous American presidents.
The Wall Street Journal reports that up to one million people (!) are now held in these Chinese concentration camps, called by the Chinese “vocational training centers,” reminiscent of Nazi legedermain (“resettlement in the East”). No one knows enough about what is happening in these Chinese concentration camps, other than that some Uighurs outside China say that their relatives have died in them or shortly after their release. Recent satellite photos show a doubling in size of these concentration camps in the past four months alone.
The announced Chinese agenda at these camps is “re-education.” Anyone who thinks communism died with the collapse of the USSR should think again. Communism is alive and well in China, its economic boom notwithstanding. Re-education. If there is one single word that represents the diabolical methodology of totalitarian communism, it is re-education. It is the diametric opposite of the First Amendment to the US Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, of speech, of assembly. Re-education is brainwashing. Group think. The evisceration of the individual human personality.
There are 11 million Uighurs in China, a Turkic-speaking group that achieved statehood twice earlier in the 20th century, but not under China. Some Uighurs have launched terrorist attacks, but nothing commensurate to the dimensions of the Chinese effort, not to defeat terrorism, but to erase both Uighur and Islamic identity, including secular Islamic identity. One sign in these concentration camps, reports the Journal, reads:
“Sense the party’s thought, obey the party’s words, follow the party’s lead.”
Religion? Ethnicity? National identity? No, only “Party.” Alas, George Orwell rises again.
The Journal reports that the concentration camp inmates are awakened daily at 5 a.m., whereupon they must undertake a 45-minute run, shouting: “The Communist Party is good!” You can imagine what the rest of the day is like.
We are reminded of Theresienstadt, the Nazi concentration camp which the Nazis fixed up for a couple of days every time international monitors were scheduled to visit, demonstrating that reports of Nazi mass killings were mere anti-German propaganda. In a chilling echo of the Nazi visual and verbal sleight of hand, China’s foreign ministry says, “It is useless to create rumors and smears,” reports the Journal. Such is the totalitarian methodology and mentality.
Closer to the truth are the words of Dr. Murat Harri Uyghur, who said, after his parents were taken to and disappeared in the camps, “It’s like a black hole. People go in, but they don’t come out.”
In contexts like these, accurate numbers are hard to come by. Nonetheless, it remains worth nothing that once a totalitarian impulse like the current Chinese move against the Uighurs gets going, it expands exponentially. Pardon a further reference to the Holocaust, but the historical memory of large killing centers — Auschwitz, Chelmno, Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor, for example — actually clouds the fact that there were hundreds of smaller Nazi killing centers. Again, not to make a direct comparison to the Holocaust, but now that the large concentration camp near Kashgar, China has been photographed via satellite, it is important to pay heed to a German researcher, cited in the Journal, who estimates that there are now up to 1,300 “re-education” camps in China. Economic success has not curbed Chinese totalitarian lust for control.
When the USSR locked in its Jews by forbidding them to emigrate, the American Jewish community and the US Congress responded with the idea of “most favored nation” status, a rubric for advantageous trade relations with the US — which the US denied to the USSR. This denial — the stick whose removal would be the carrot — played a major role in changing the behavior of the Soviet communists, who eventually let their Jews emigrate to Israel, if they so chose. (Parenthetically, this massive aliyah played a major role in reversing the economically constrained Israel into “start up nation.”)
The Soviet Jewry movement was based on a little creative thinking and a lot of lobbying by American Jews, then by their allies in government on all levels. No one, from the local city councilperson to the president of the US, was not lobbied. As a result of nothing but tremendous moral determination and a single act of legislative creativity, one of the two largest human rights abusers in the world was brought to heel. The Soviet gates opened.
Now that President Trump is wielding trade sanctions against China, about whose economic worth we are not qualified to comment — but as long as he is doing it, human rights should be placed front and center in the equation.
For too many presidencies and too many decades, the US has failed to address human rights in China. The necessity is long overdue, and the model is to be found in the Soviet Jewry movement, if not in its details, certainly in its moral will and political commitment.
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