Central Asia Theater
Amid the mass internment of ethnic Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang province, reaction within the greater region has been largely muted. Dolkun Isa, head of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, last month blasted the leaders of Muslim countries for being largely "silent" over the "ethnic cleansing" of the Uighurs, calling it the "shame of the Muslim world." Dolkun said his own mother died in one of the camps last May, and his family did not even find out about it until weeks later. Dolkun charged that some Muslim governments "even support the Chinese government policy." (France24, Dec. 19)
A leading US sportswear company this week announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. "These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories," according to Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing relatives who have left China. "Stories continue to come to me," he told the New York Times last month. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina.
With China accused of detaining hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims without trial in its western province of Xinjiang, a BBC investigation analyzed satellite data to determine that the detention camp system in the region is rapidly expanding. Reviewing images from the European Space Agency's Sentinel satellite service, the BBC finds at least 40 such facilities across Xinjiang, half built within last two years—with a big thrust of construction just in the past six months. Among the largest is a "massive, highly secure compound" still being built at Dabancheng, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital, Urumqi. It is enclosed within a two kilometer-long exterior wall punctuated by 16 guard towers.
Protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in New York as the General Assembly met on Oct 1, to demand an end to state-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan's cotton industry. The small but spirited protest came as Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived for his first visit to the United States in three years. Each year the government of Turkmenistan forces tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors to pick cotton during the harvest season or else pay a bribe to supervisors to hire a replacement worker, according to protest organizer Cotton Campaign. This takes place under threat of punishment, including public censure, loss of wages from regular jobs and termination of employment. The government treats refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage and "contempt of the homeland."
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A UN human rights committee this week raised the alarm about reports that China is holding up to a million Uighurs in what are being termed "counter-extremism centers" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region. Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised the claims at a two-day meeting on China held at the UN's Geneva headquarters. McDougall termed the centers "political camps for indoctrination,” and raised the prospect that Beijing has "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp." Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have submitted reports to the UN committee detailing claims of mass detention. The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees are held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans. (BBC News, Reuters)
In Episode 15 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reports on the 10-year commemoration of the 2008 Tibetan uprising held by Students for a Free Tibet in Astoria, Queens, New York City. A decade after the uprising was put down, struggles for land recovery and language preservation continue in Tibet, as well as among the Mongols, Uighurs and other indigenous peoples of the territory that constitutes the People's Republic of China. Weinberg provides an overview of these ongoing struggles, and draws parallels to related struggles in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and elsewhere in the Americas—including the movement against the Dakota Access pipeline. These parallels point to the urgent need for grassroots-to-grassroots international solidarity across superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Students for a Free Tibet held a 10-year commemoration of the 2008 Tibetan uprising at a hall n the Queens neighborhood of Astoria, New York City, on Aug. 4. The 2008 uprising, which began in Lhasa in March, continued for weeks and spread across the Tibetan plateau. It was put down at a cost of some 20 lives, by official Chinese figures. But Tibetan rights groups and the government-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, claim that hundreds were "disappeared" in a subsequent wave of repression, with some 200 presumed killed. Amid all this, the Beijing Olympics were held that summer. Students for a Free Tibet and allied groups held protests around the world to highlight the repression—including within China itself during the Games. Photos at the Astoria hall showed activists unfurling banners on the Great Wall and on Mount Everest in Tibet, as well as stateside sites like the Golden Gate bridge.