Solving the unsolvable: Biden administration and Xinjiang's human rights crisis


China, to many people's surprise, is a multiethnic state. 56 ethnic minority groups are living in different parts of China, each with its own unique culture and customs. Among them are Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group in Xingjiang that is predominantly Muslim. With drastically different cultures and religions from the ruling Han majority, many Uyghurs wanted Xingjiang's independence; this led to the creation of a separatist movement called the East Turkestan independence movement. The campaign led to numerous terrorist attacks against Han Chinese that caused hundreds of death and thousands of injuries. To fight against the separatist movement and further its control of the province, the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) initiated a campaign in 2017 called "people's war on terror." The campaign led to the creation of "reeducation camps" that aims to eradicate "extremism, separatism, and terrorism." The camps do so by forcing Uyghurs to denounce their religion and adopt Han Chinese culture. The goal is to silence the separatist movement by making the Uyghur culture obsolete. Over one million Uyghurs were since forced into these internment camps while others lived under heavy state surveillance. On the last day of Mike Pompeo's career as the U.S. Secretary of State, he declared the CCP is committing genocide against Uyghurs in Xingjiang. The international community had always been critical of China's human rights violations and forceful sinicization, yet, this is the first time a prominent western leader accused China of committing genocide. Although no policy followed his statement, the impact was still profound. His denunciation put the incoming Biden administration in a difficult position. Upholding Pompeo's statement would stifle any attempt from the Biden administration to repatch the already fractured Sino-American relations. It will also prevent the Biden administration from reaching agreements with China to fight climate change and solve trade disputes. Not upholding Pompeo's statement would allow Republicans to criticize the Biden administration for being soft on China. It would also be seen by allies as turning a blind eye towards an international human rights crisis; inaction would greatly damage America's prestige. The Biden administration eventually chose to go along with Pompeo's statement which further complicated Sino-American relations.


China's human rights violation in Xinjiang is a critical issue that deserves attention, however, I do not believe confronting China would solve this crisis. Empirically, confrontations against China's human rights violation had not yielded positive results. After the United States imposed sanctions and condemned China for quashing democratic protests and arresting protesters in Hong Kong, China not only did not back down but furthered its oppression. This is due to the Chinese Communist Party stirring up nationalism by claiming that the United States is violating Chinese sovereignty and encouraging secession. The claim resonated with many Chinese by reminding them of the century of humiliation, where China became a semi-colonies and ceded parts of its territories to western powers. After Pompeo's statement, the Chinese Communist Party adopted a similar tactic by claiming this is yet another act of American imperialism. Nationalism aroused from the anti-western sentiment would allow the Chinese Communist Party to continue, if not further, its human rights violations in Xinjiang. Rather than confrontation, I believe the Biden administration should prioritize negotiating with China on other issues like fighting climate change and solving trade disputes. Through further cooperation and repatching Sino- American relationship, China could end its human rights violation in Xinjiang to demonstrate "a sign of goodwill." Though it is a rather passive approach and the result is debatable, I had not yet seen other viable options to solve this pressing crisis.