How the UN report on Xinjiang will impact the cleantech industry


Since 2017, there have been numerous allegations of human rights abuses in what China calls the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, known to dissidents as East Turkestan. This disagreement over the region’s name stems from a long history of intermittent Chinese involvement and control of the region. Over the past two millennia, the region has experienced instability and ever-changing rules.

Much of this instability can be attributed to a human-caused environmental catastrophe that occurred 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. Like other endorheic basins around the world (such as the Great Salt Lake, the Aral Sea, and Guzman’s Well in Chihuahua and New Mexico), water flows into the region but does not flow not. When flows are good, endorheic basins often have saline lakes at their low points and extensive wetlands, grasslands, and other vegetation that keep soil from rising.

Unlike regions that dried up at the end of the last ice age, Xinjiang dried up the same way the Aral Sea dried up. Humans would not let water flow into salt lakes, instead diverting it for agriculture and drinking. When this went on long enough, the lakes and wetlands dried up, leaving a gigantic bowl of dust. Sandstorms buried abandoned cities and political instability reigned in deserts that were once much more hospitable to civilization.

Unfortunately, the region has been ruled by foreigners for much of the time since that disaster, including the Mongols under Genghis Khan and the Chinese on several occasions, including today. As you can probably imagine, at least some of the people who live there, once mostly Uyghurs, are unhappy with being under Chinese rule. Separatist groups who want the region to become independent and call themselves East Turkestan have fought with the Chinese government, including numerous terrorist attacks, major riots and other violent unrest.

Why the international community cares now

In the past, the international community has tended to side with Beijing on this issue. Not only were the Chinese waging a similar campaign against Muslims like George W. Bush and later Barack Obama in the War on Terror, but there were links between Uyghur fighters and Muslim fighters in other countries, including locals found fighting Western forces. places like Afghanistan and Syria. So, Western nations didn’t really care what China was doing, because there was a perceived common enemy.

But that has changed in recent years as measures to subjugate and pacify the region have become increasingly harsh. As dissidents who escaped the region tell their stories, the war on terror (at least compared to the past) draws to a close. So these stories didn’t fall on deaf ears as much as they used to.

The United Nations investigation into human rights allegations

More recently, the United Nations human rights office investigated and published a detailed report of its findings.

The Chinese government harshly cracked down on the region in 2014, destroying more than 1,500 groups engaging in violence, arresting tens of thousands and confiscating religious materials banned in China. The government claims to have succeeded in stopping terrorist attacks, but the recent UN report notes that it defines “terrorism” very broadly, including such vague things as “disruption of social order”.

Part of fighting “extremism” in the region is prosecuting people for things that are not related to violence at all. The government is officially investigating things like “rejecting or refusing radio or television”, being a young man with a beard, or quitting smoking and drinking. Using the wrong apps on your phone (which you should keep and take with you), using satellite or shortwave radio to watch foreign media, and many other things can land you a call from the authorities.

Those who come to the government’s attention don’t just get a friendly knock and a chat to see what’s going on and rule out terrorism. The government has broad power to detain, monitor, and restrain terrorist suspects, without due process or the ability to disprove the charge. If they decide you are a potential terrorist or extremist, they can put you in a “vocational education and training center”, which is actually a prison and re-education camp.

People who have stayed in both these “professional” establishments and the prisons have widely reported to the UN that they have been subjected to treatment internationally considered torture, including the denial of food, chaining for long periods of time and the forced memorization of Communist Party propaganda material. . Detainees also reported being prohibited from speaking their native language (to learn Mandarin) and from engaging in their normal religious and cultural practices.

Medical treatment was reportedly denied and detainees said they developed health problems that were not treated while in facilities. Beyond this mistreatment and cultural repression, women reported rape, enforced nudity, and sexual humiliation at the hands of guards.

Similar measures have been implemented across the province, but generally with less severity than in prisons and re-education camps. Religion and culture are heavily regulated and people know they can disappear if they engage in their normal religious and cultural practices. This leads to them being abandoned in many cases. Religious sites and facilities were also destroyed.

The report goes on to detail violations of privacy and freedom of movement, forced living with Han Chinese, forced birth control (which has led to declining births and population among Uyghurs in China) and a possible forced sterilization. They also detail allegations of forced labor and inability to choose employment.

The UN report concludes: “Serious human rights violations have occurred in XUAR in the context of the government’s implementation of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremist’ strategies. The implementation of these strategies and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities. “

In Part 2, I will explore how this UN report and the wider acceptance of these findings will affect clean technologies globally.

Featured image provided by Tesla.


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