America's consumer paradise means hell on Earth for Chinese Muslims
Would you give up Cyber Monday to save the Uighurs?
You're in your bed and you wake up with a black bag over your head. When you can see again you have no idea where you are: exposed concrete room, very cold. You're forced to perform manual labor, to attend talks on patriotism, to learn a new language, to sing inane songs. You are beaten — for refusing to eat pork, for sending messages on a phone you don't have and wouldn't even know how to use, for refusing to confess to crimes you have not committed, for confessing to crimes you have not committed, for any offense at all or none. If you are under the age of 35, you are raped, often by more than one person at a time; if you are a woman and become pregnant you will be forced to have an abortion, perhaps more than once. Or you may have a contraceptive device inserted inside you against your will. No sleep, and you stink. Then there are the drugs that are supposed to protect you from the flu and AIDS; these weaken your cognitive faculties and lead to the end of menstruation and sterilization. If you are actually sick with a condition like diabetes you will receive no treatment. And it could be worse: You could be brought to the black room, where you will be be electrocuted and made to sit on a bed of nails and have your fingernails ripped out, even though the black room officially doesn't exist and talking about it is forbidden. All of this is carried out by a sinister body with administrative and military as well as economic authority over an entire region; it is known only as "The Corps."
This is not a summary of a dystopian novel or a pitch for a new Hulu original series. It is a description of the conditions under which perhaps as many as a million Uighur Muslims live in China in 2019. China, in case you had forgotten, is the United States' largest trading partner, the country whose achievements in everything from infrastructure to STEM education we are supposed to be fawning over, the country our president is an idiot for wanting to tangle with, and prominent sports figures are officially not allowed to criticize. In the last six or so years they have created hell on Earth for the country's largest Turkic ethnic minority group in the ostensibly autonomous Xinjiang region.
And no one particularly cares, least of all in the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized China's treatment of the Uighurs earlier this month, but it was in the context of a ludicrous comparison with Iran and Pakistan. There was no indication during a Cabinet meeting on Monday that President Trump or anyone else involved in the ongoing trade talks intends to do anything about the issue, which was not mentioned either by the president or by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary.
I cannot believe I am typing this about a man who eight years ago said he would be walking on Mars by now, but Newt Gingrich is absolutely right. Our leaders are not prepared to deal with China. Not only do they lack the cunning and the willpower — they lack the requisite bargaining tools. We are in too deep, and China knows it. Any concession we could possibly demand of them will require a corresponding one that we are unable to grant.
Besides, it is not clear to me that a substantial number of Americans particularly wants to see our relations with China change. We are happy to buy cheap water bottles and Halloween decorations and licensed cartoon merchandise and mobile phones. We want our movies shown in Chinese theaters and our sports leagues to have large Chinese fan bases. From our home in this consumer paradise hell looks impossibly remote.
"I will never forget the camp," says Sayragul Sauytbay, a former teacher in one of the Uighur camps now living in Sweden. "I cannot forget the eyes of the prisoners, expecting me to do something for them. They are innocent. I have to tell their story, to tell about the darkness they are in, about their suffering. The world must find a solution so that my people can live in peace. The democratic governments must do all they can to make China stop doing what it is doing in Xinjiang."
Indeed they must. But they will not if their citizens and leaders alike care more about stock prices and Cyber Monday deals than they do about torture, rape, and Mengelean experimentation on human bodies and brains.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.