Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to repeated claims that China is committing genocide against its ethnic Uyghur minority by repeatedly chanting “China has no genocide,” a bizarre moment that does not appear in the official transcript of his regular press briefing.
The Global Times, a state-run propaganda outlet, nonetheless dedicated an article to the occasion.
China has faced years of genocide accusations in the wake of the Communist Party’s construction of concentration camps beginning in 2018, used to house millions of Uyghurs and other members of majority-Muslim ethnic minorities, primarily Kazakh and Kyrgyz people. Survivors of the camps say that rape, torture, slavery, communist indoctrination, and forced sterilizations are rampant there; the atrocities are believed to still be taking place in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The Chinese Communist Party has also faced accusations of enslaving camp survivors, shipping them to factories or cotton farms nationwide and forcing them to endure arduous labor with little to no pay.
China has responded to the accusations by claiming the concentration camps are “vocational training centers” meant to help uneducated Uyghurs develop job skills more in concert with the demands of the modern Chinese market. Those sent to engage in forced labor in factories outside of Xinjiang had “graduated,” officials claimed, from their training.
Attention returned to the human rights atrocities in Xinjiang after, as one of his final acts in office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the suffering of the Uyghur people as a “genocide.” Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s choice to replace Pompeo, has publicly agreed with that description.
“I think we’re very much in agreement,” Blinken said of Pompeo during the congressional hearing to approve his nomination as secretary of state. “The forcing of men, women, and children into concentration camps; trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
According to the Global Times, Zhao responded to a question about Blinken’s remarks this week by repeatedly stating, without providing any evidence, that China was not committing genocide.
“The most important thing should be repeated three times — China has no genocide; China has no genocide; China has no genocide, period,” the newspaper quoted Zhao as saying.
“No matter what malicious purposes those people have in sowing discord, they will not destroy the stability of Xinjiang, nor will they stop Xinjiang stepping into a better period,” he reportedly affirmed.
The repeated incantations did not make it into the official transcript of Zhao’s remarks.
“There’s never ever such thing as genocide in China. Period,” the transcript read.
“Pompeo and his likes have concocted lies of the century about Xinjiang and slung mud at China’s Xinjiang policy. We never accept that. We have repeatedly refuted those rumors and stated the facts,” Zhao is quoted as saying. The official transcript shows Zhao claimed Xinjiang citizens “live a happy life in a stable environment,” a common refrain from Chinese officials.
A firm verbal stance against genocide in Xinjiang is one of the few areas of foreign policy, the other being Venezuela, where the Biden administration has not deviated from the status quo under former President Donald Trump. The Trump administration took decisive action against the Chinese enslavement of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang by banning several products from the region from entering the United States, most prominently any Xinjiang cotton. China has marketed Xinjiang cotton — about 84 percent of the nation’s cotton is produced in Xinjiang — as a superior quality product, prompting international companies like Uniqlo to advertise that they use the slave-produced material.
Following Pompeo’s example, Blinken suggested during his confirmation hearing that the Biden administration would continue to outlaw importing slave-produced goods from Xinjiang as evidence mounted regarding which items were vulnerable to being made through such abuse.
“I think we should be looking at making sure that we are not importing products that are made with forced labor from Xinjiang,” Blinken suggested. “We need to make sure that we are also not exporting technologies and tools that could be used to further their repression. That’s one place to start.”
Experts have warned there is no way of guaranteeing that any product made in China was not compromised by slavery in the supply chain. A study published last year by the Australian Strategy Policy Institute (ASPI) identified over 83 multinational companies — including big-name brands such as BMW, Nike, Apple, and Nintendo — that used factories outside of Xinjiang that had filled employee gaps by buying Uyghur slaves from the government.
International legal norms define genocide as a limited series of acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Among the acts listed are killing individual members of the group, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” and “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” according to the U.N. Convention on Genocide.
Pompeo emphasized evidence of the latter in declaring China’s acts against the Uyghurs a genocide. Women who have survived the nation’s concentration camps have testified to forced sterilizations or forced abortions if they were pregnant at the time. Some mothers have stated camp administrators killed their infants. Uyghur doctors who have escaped Xinjiang have stated the government forced them to systematically sterilize women or kill their newborns, evidence of an attempt to eliminate the Uyghur community entirely.
China admits to many of these policies and has boasted that it has successfully liberated Uyghur women from being “baby-making machines.”