Xi Jinping in his quest to become China’s tallest leader in history has seen his Presidency run into rough weather especially in the light of the failing Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and his government’s oppression of Uighur Muslims. Xi Jinping has had a highly embarrassing week which has undermined China’s power.
The past week saw a slew of events that embarrassed China on the world stage. It all started with the New York Times expose of the Communist Party’s brutal crackdown on the Uyghur Muslims with the 403 pages document leaked by a senior party source implicating Jinping of having a personal grudge against the Uyghur Muslims. Over the past three years, China has detained over a million ethnic Kazakh and Uyghur Muslims into what they claim are ‘internment camps’. In these detention camps, however, all the victims of China’s oppression are indoctrinated with the Communist ideology and loyalty to the party. They further ‘de-radicalize’ Muslims, irrespective of whether they were ever radicalized or not. The criteria for detention usually is the possession of the Quran, an over-the neckbeard, non-consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, etc. According to the Chinese state, if anyone acts in accordance to these conditions, he/she is a ‘radical’ and potential ‘Islamic terrorist’.
In the leaked documents, the key observations are:
- Firstly, the directives given to officials to ‘handle’ students who ask about the whereabouts of their missing family.
- Secondly, Xi Jinping’s direct role in this ruthless campaign to lock up Muslims. It further exposes how this campaign is a personal fantasy for the man.
- Thirdly, that among the Communist party itself, there is growing resentment against this clampdown and continued offensive in Xinjiang.
- Finally, global terrorist attacks and the reduction of American troops in Afghanistan laid the foundation of this brazen policy of China towards Muslims.
The most important aspect which these leaked documents throw light on is that this dictatorial forced detention of Uyghur Muslims is the brainchild of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. Among the 403 page-documents which have been leaked, approximately 96 pages are of Xi’s speeches given to his officials and party workers. Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, for the first and the last time.
The period of his visit was marred by violence and killings. The NYT has quoted sections of these speeches, such as, “We must be as harsh as them and show absolutely no mercy.” “None of these weapons(China’s previous anti-terrorism policy) is an answer for their (Uighur’) big machete blades, axe heads and cold steel weapons.” He also revealed his idea of waging a “people’s war” in the region. He further called upon his party to “unleash the tools of dictatorship to eradicate radical Islam in Xinjiang.” He then compared religious extremism to drugs, saying that it is addictive and makes people go crazy.
As of to rub salts into the wounds, Chinese citizens were successfully able to bypass China’s much-famed firewall to access the NYT article and also saluted an official who according to the documents went against the Communist Party’s orders. He was compared to Schindler by the Chinese citizens on Weibo, as he is said to have secretly released 7,000 Uyghur Muslims trapped in the Chinese detention centres. The leaks and tributes on social media platform Weibo offered a glimpse of dissent in an otherwise heavily oppressed environment. The party maintains strict control over the internet and by blocking foreign websites which are critical of the Chinese government and hence, The Times’ English-language website is among the dozens of foreign news sites banned in China.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the US Senate and House respectively passed bills to protect human rights and anti-China protesters in Hong Kong. It may be noted that violent demonstrations in Hong Kong rage on with no end in sight. This shows the US is firmly behind Hong Kong protesters in their fight against China. Beijing has repeatedly warned against foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs, saying it’s a sovereign issue, and the US lawmakers blatantly ignored that.
This move comes in the aftermath of the Mainland Chinese lending support to the Hong Kong people – letters and messages of support to the protesters in Hong Kong. A Twitter handle by the name of @midwaydude has emerged as the voice of the oppressed citizens of Mainland China as they anonymously show their support to the anti-government protests. The handle revealed a thread of notes it had received via Twitter direct messages from mainland Chinese, now numbering 34 notes. In the messages, many say the sieges brought to mind the democratic student movement that began in April 1989 and ended in bloodshed less than two months later. “Hong Kong people, please forgive that we cannot stand with you openly, but we hope you will understand that we are not your enemies. I wish you could get the freedom that some Chinese students failed to get 30 years ago. May the glory be with Hong Kong!” said one person identifying themselves as a mainland Chinese student overseas. Another user said, “I have never imagined that I will see June 4 2.0. You are fighting with the whole authoritarian regime, and the only thing I could do is to pray for you quietly”.
Finally, on Thursday, Tuvalu, a tiny South Pacific island, rejected China’s offers to build artificial islands to help save it from rising sea levels and refused to cut ties with Taiwan in favour of China.
Tuvalu’s refusal to cut ties with Taiwan in favour of Chinese money undermined the power of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has poured trillions of dollars in the BRI to build trade and infrastructure projects around the world. Chinese companies, likely backed by the state, had offered to support a $400 million government plan to build artificial islands to help locals cope with rising sea levels. Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe said, “It’s a no from us. We are hearing a lot of information about debt, China buying our islands and looking at setting up military bases in our part of the world. Those are things that are concerning to us.”
This has been an embarrassing week for China and its president Xi Jinping. There is an argument that it is unlikely to have any impact on China as the country is showing no signs of slowing down against the Uighurs with Jinping having no care for international coverage on Xinjiang. There is a huge question mark whether US President Trump will sign the bills by the House and Senate with a trade deal close to being cracked with China which will result in the end of the US-China trade war. China’s BRI expansion is progressing despite the setbacks. However, if the series of events continue, Xi Jinping will be staring at a precarious situation especially in the light of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The stakes are simply too high for Jinping and his Communist Party.