WASHINGTON — Despite the inclement weather, Uyghur protesters gathered in front of the U.S. State Department Thursday, calling on the Biden administration to “recognize East Turkistan” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with officials from the Chinese government.
Protesters affiliated with the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement and the East Turkistan Government in Exile gathered in front of the Harry S. Truman Building, home to the State Department. The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement describes itself as an “international movement striving for the restoration of East Turkistan’s independence as an open, pluralistic Republic guaranteeing Human Rights and Freedoms for all.”
What the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement refers to as East Turkistan is officially recognized by the rest of the world as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Uyghurs are a group of Muslim religious minorities residing in Xinjiang, a region which those affiliated with the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement argue China has been occupying since 1949.
In recent years, a spotlight has been cast on China's so-called “training education centers” that Uyghurs have been subject to, which the U.S. government has characterized as “concentration camps.”
Shortly before former President Donald Trump left office in January, his administration designated China’s treatment of Uyghurs as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The Chinese government firmly rejects allegations of wrongdoing.
Protesters chanted several phrases at the State Department headquarters, including “boycott China,” “sanction China,” “boycott the 2022 Olympics,” “Nazi China,” “terrorist China,” “act now America,” “act now to end the genocide in East Turkistan,” “act now to free East Turkistan,” “bring East Turkistan to the agenda of the U.N. Security Council,” and “grant refuge to Uyghurs.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the Washington, D.C.-based East Turkistan Government in Exile, explained the reasoning behind the protests: “We’re out here in front of the U.S. State Department today to call on the U.S. government to act upon its genocide designation by taking strong … meaningful action, statements of … displeasure or concern are not enough.”
He also called on the U.S. government to “bring the East Turkistan issue to the agenda at the U.N. Security Council, to urge the U.N. to implement its Genocide Convention and its commitment toward the responsibility to protect,” to “boycott the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympics, which we call the Genocide Olympics, and “grant refugee status to our population across the globe.”
According to Hudayar, the Chinese government's actions against the Uyghurs constitute a “holocaust.”
Hudayar added that he was “deeply outraged” by President Joe Biden’s suggestion that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is the result of different “norms.” However, he praised Blinken, asserting that he has “continued (former) Secretary (Mike) Pompeo’s stance” by “reiterating that the U.S. … sees this as a genocide and that there would be … strong actions against it.”
“The Chinese government is not going to stop the genocide of Uyghurs and the Turkic peoples in East Turkistan until there is some strong action by the international community. And when I mean strong actions … raising the concerns and then saying, ‘Oh yeah, we want to cooperate with you on climate change’ is not going to pressure China or saying, ‘you’re committing a genocide’ is not enough. There needs to be an increase on tariffs, there needs to be more sanctions,” he continued.
“Ideally, what we want is the U.S. government to ban all goods that are made in East Turkistan because, more than likely, those goods are being made with slave labor. We want western companies to pull out of East Turkistan because China’s engaged in genocide there. And therefore, these western companies would be paying taxes to the Chinese government. … The funds from that would be used to engage in the genocide in East Turkistan, so there has to be economic and political costs on China.”
Hudayar contended that by buying Chinese goods, “we are essentially paying … the Chinese government to further engage in its genocide and other atrocities against the Uyghurs.
"So we must stop that, we must buy things that are made in America because everything that we buy from China, it only empowers China, even if it’s like 1% of that goes to the Chinese government, they’re going to spend a portion of that for their military and they’re going to spend a portion of that for their security forces engaging in these atrocities.”
After his interview with The Christian Post, Hudayar addressed the small crowd of protesters and journalists gathered in front of the Truman building, where he referred to China as an “evil empire.”
Amannissa Mukhlis, the Women and Family Director of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, spoke to the crowd about the atrocities experienced by Uyghur women and children at the hands of the Chinese government.
Both Hudayar and Mukhlis repeatedly used the word “genocide” to describe China’s actions against the Uyghurs. “For decades, China has been forcibly aborting Uyghurs and other Turkic babies in (an) attempt to prevent the growth of our population and eradicate the future of our nation,” she said.
“Over the course of the last 40 years, the Chinese government, according to their statistics, aborted over 4 million babies in East Turkistan under the pretext of family planning,” Mukhlis added. “In recent years, the Chinese government has forcibly sterilized hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic women across East Turkistan, resulting in a decline of our population as women can no longer give birth.”
“The Chinese government is forcing tens of thousands of young Uyghur and other Turkic women who have not been sterilized to marry Chinese in a bid to assimilate and eradicate us,” she continued. “Furthermore, Uyghur and other Turkic women are being subject to systematic state-sponsored sexual abuse and rape inside the concentration camps and prisons.”
“Over 850,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic children have been forcibly separated from their families and sent to state-run orphanages and boarding schools to be assimilated and raised as loyal Chinese citizens. Children from Pre-K to (grade) 12 are brainwashed to denounce their own identity, to denounce their own existence as Uyghurs and embrace Chinese identity, culture and language.”
Mukhlis reported that “Children who even dare to speak in their native tongue are beaten into submissions. Our language, our culture, our history and our very physical existence is being eroded by the Chinese government.”
As her speech concluded, she urged people across the world “to boycott Chinese goods and services, to spread awareness on the issue and to call on their governments to act now.”
As Hudayar told CP, the Chinese government also uses religious minorities for slave labor. According to a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 80,000 Uyghurs have been transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. The study also found that more than 80 multinational companies, including Apple, Nike, Adidas, Google, Microsoft and Tommy Hilfiger are “directly or indirectly benefitting” from the forced labor of Uyghurs.
While many additional companies such as Amazon, Dell, Gap, General Electric and Victoria’s Secret continue “directly or indirectly benefitting” from Uyghur labor, the report noted that “a small number of brands including Abercrombie & Fitch advised they have instructed their vendors to terminate their relationships with these suppliers in 2020.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has introduced the Slave-Free Business Certification Act, which would require businesses with worldwide receipts of more than $500 million to investigate the “presence or use of forced labor” by “direct suppliers, secondary suppliers, and on-site service providers.” Hudayar expressed support for the legislation during his interview with CP.