Should Congress Have Condemned China?

In 2017, China created “ Vocational Education and Training Centers” as a form of forced cultural assimilation directed toward Uighur Muslims. The camps entail prohibitions against religion, a ban on languages other than Chinese, and the enforcement of Chinese ideologies on residents. These camps were created exclusively for the Uighur Muslims as what China has claimed to be a move against terrorism. In September 2019, the US House of Representatives passed a 407-1 house vote against China, condemning their human rights violations.



In September 2019, the House passed an overwhelming 407-1 house vote against China, condemning their  “re-education camps” for Uighur Muslims and labeling the act a blatant breach of human rights. Although China attempts to justify these detention centers by claiming that they counteract terrorism, their argument is severely undermined by excessive cases of mental and physical abuse. Furthermore, condemning an entire religious minority for the extremist actions of a few is never justified. 

China was spurred to radical action toward Uighurs because Uighur separatists conducted a string of attacks in Kunming in 2014. Though China experienced its last terrorist attack in 2017, it has ascribed this decline to its crackdown on Uighur Muslims. Yet this decline is not a direct result of their detention camps –– correlation, not causation.

After examining the number of terrorist attacks on China by year, one can see that the detaining of Uighur Muslims began in 2017 after a massive drop in attacks in 2014. In 2014, China began the “People’s War on Terror,” and the program’s increased surveillance measures are a far more probable cause of the decrease in attacks. Furthermore, in 2017, China sent over 10,000 troops to decrease tensions in the region. Thus, it is the combination of a military presence and increased surveillance that prevented attacks since 2017, not the camps. 

Especially in today’s polarized political climate, the House of Representatives rarely votes as unanimously as it did for the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Moreover, they were willing to condemn China in the midst of dialectic discourse about improving trade relations between the United States and China. Taken together, these two facts highlight just how seriously we should regard the reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang.

However, the rest of the world has yet to follow suit. At first glance, it would appear odd that the leaders of the Muslim countries are not condemning China. In reality, though, they have a lot to gain by remaining silent. China is currently building a massive trillion-dollar Belt and Road Project based in Xinjiang, which borders the Islamic countries. Muslim countries would receive massive economic benefits by approving the actions of the Chinese, who are set to profit from this endeavor as well. 

China is such an economic power that many countries chose to give support regardless of its human rights violations. This is why all of the 22 nations that signed a joint letter of disapproval of China’s detention program in July 2019 have good economies, whereas the 37 countries that signed their approval of China are either poor or have human rights issues of their own to cover up. But while other nations may be hesitant to condemn China and risk personal losses, the US must continue to stand against these camps, even in the face of losing trade.

China has been committing discriminatory human rights violations under a veil of allegedly creating social stability. Yet their hidden economic incentives betray their facade, while their “results” are easily disproved. 

It is imperative that both the US as well as Islamic countries act immediately. We must first begin this transition by imposing economic sanctions, including putting additional tariffs on Chinese goods, such as meat, technology, agricultural products. America and other countries all over the globe must put aside their own aims to acknowledge this atrocity and bring justice to a regime that has been abusing an ethnic minority for far too long. 



Although the bipartisan agreement to condemn China has been celebrated, the congressional bill overlooks major details about China’s motives for the camps and constitutes blatant hypocrisy. 

The human rights violations in Xinjiang are indubitably horrendous. However, the motives that spurred these actions were not. The camps were engendered not by hatred or intolerance but by China’s desperation to maintain stability within the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Rather than acknowledging this crucial distinction, the US House of Representatives is taking the easy way out: generalizing that all internment camps must be run either by power-hungry communists or religiously intolerant xenophobes. 

Actions as severe as the camps would not have been taken without careful consideration and underlying desperation. Terrorist attacks and separatist movements pummeled Xinjiang throughout the late twentieth century. Since Xinjiang is located near the Middle East, Al-Qaeda developed a firm hold on Xinjiang in the 1980s. According to Shawn Patrick from the School of Advanced Military Studies of the US Army Command, over 10,000 Uighurs traveled to Pakistan to train with the Taliban. These trained soldiers then participated in a separatist movement, unleashing surprise attacks and suicide bombings on civilians and public infrastructure. There were over 200 terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s, resulting in a myriad of deaths and injuries. The Islamic State even pledged to attack China, urging Uighur separatists to help ISIS “shed blood like rivers.”

In the last several decades, with improved health care, the average lifespan of Xinjiang residents has risen from about 30 years in 1949 to 72.35 years at present, according to Xinhua News Agency, the state-run press agency of China. During that time period, the enrollment rate of school-age children went from less than 20 percent to 99.91 percent, also according to Xinhua. However, turmoil and instability from separatist insurrections had been stalling the economy and threatening to destroy the prosperous growth in Xinjiang –– much like they had done in Tibet, where separatist unrest from 1987 to 1989 caused social and economic distress. In fact, according to the University of Goettingen, Tibet’s GDP dropped per capita by 27 percent in the decades after this unrest.

The Chinese government naturally feared that the same thing would happen in Xinjiang, throwing its citizens back into poverty. Therefore, to protect the lives of their citizens, the Chinese government established these camps in 2017. Since 2017, no terror attack has happened thus far in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang’s newfound stability has ended the decline in economic growth and is projected to take the region to new heights. Unfortunately, the US congressional bill’s sanctions specifically target areas where these camps are — often Uighur majority areas. Not only will this bill undermine Xinjiang’s tremendous growth over the past decades, but will also systematically target those who it intends to protect.

Even more absurd than this bill’s aversion to nuance is its blind eye to our country’s own history. When faced with numerous difficult situations, the U.S. has set human rights aside in favor of alleged national security. We condemn the practices in China’s camps, yet since 9/11, we’ve brutally tortured hundreds of innocent men in Guantánamo Bay. We denounce China for discriminatively jailing their citizens, but during World War II, we sent 120,000 of our own citizens to internment camps. We attack China for waging a brutal war on terror, yet our own attempts to dismantle Al-Qaeda in the “War against Terror” resulted in over 335,000 deaths of innocent civilians as of November 2019, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University.

While the Chinese people were actually in constant danger from separatists’ attacks, neither our Japanese citizens, nor the innocent people we killed, actually threatened the daily lives of many Americans. 

More importantly, though, the camps in Xinjiang are an effort to stop terrorism and stabilize the region while paving a path for development. Congress must refrain from acting hastily, lest we disrupt the economy, healthcare, and education of Xinjiang, disrupting the region and the lives of all of its inhabitants.


A demonstration in Helsinki, Finland in May, 2011 where protestors demanded the Chinese government respect the human rights of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. The protests were organized by the Finnish chapter of Amnesty International and Finnish East Turkestan Association.