Here’s a summary of Uyghur-related news from around the world this week:
Elon Musk’s biography reveals that during a talk with journalist Bari Weiss, Musk, leading Twitter (now X), acknowledged that the platform would be cautious with China due to Tesla’s interests, stating that the Uyghur issue had “two sides.” Musk’s China ties have drawn criticism, including Tesla’s pledge of commitment to China’s socialist values, a Tesla store in Xinjiang, support for Taiwan-China reunification and refusal of satellite access to the Ukrainian military during the conflict with Russia. These events raise questions about Musk’s alignment with China and his international stance.
During a recent visit to Xinjiang by Agence France-Presse, homes of individuals who disappeared during China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim groups remain locked and abandoned, with locals wary of inquiries into the detainees’ fates. This crackdown reportedly resulted in more than a million Uyghurs being detained, with reports of widespread abuses. Despite China’s claims that all detainees “graduated” from what it calls reeducation camps in 2019, human rights groups and leaked government documents suggest otherwise.
While China asserts that the Xinjiang internment camps were voluntary centers aimed at providing vocational education and that they have subsequently closed as detainees “graduated” into stable employment, Agence France-Presse’s efforts to investigate these sites have been obstructed by roadblocks and limited access. These challenges have left significant uncertainties regarding the fate of the detainees and the current status of these facilities.
In an effort to reshape troubled Xinjiang into a tourist destination, China is promoting state-backed tourism, drawing domestic and foreign travelers to the region. This transformation includes presenting a state-approved version of Uyghur culture, despite past attempts to suppress Uyghur traditions. Tourists flock to old Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road city, where they engage in heavily commodified Uyghur experiences. Despite the push for tourism, signs of cultural and religious suppression still persist, such as the closure of mosques and prohibitions on Islamic practices. Additionally, the remnants of internment camps continue to exist on the outskirts of Kashgar, according to Agence France-Presse.
Ersin Erkinuly, a Kazakh man from Xinjiang, fled his homeland due to the threat of being sent to a Chinese “reeducation camp.” He embarked on a perilous journey through 13 countries to reach Europe, where he sought refuge. In Kazakhstan, he faced surveillance by Kazakh special services, prompting him to continue his journey to Poland. Despite facing challenges and being detained multiple times, Erkinuly is determined to avoid deportation to China, where he believes “death awaits him,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Chinese officials and academics convened in Urumqi to discuss the implementation of a national plan to “Sinicize” Islam in Xinjiang, where Islam itself is being engineered to align more closely with Confucianism, according to Radio Free Asia. This effort, part of a five-year work outline launched in 2018, aims to consolidate political power, pacify society and construct culture through religious transformation. The Chinese Communist Party is working to eliminate any public practice of Islam not under its direct supervision and aiming to exert greater control over Muslim populations, including the Uyghurs, as part of a broader campaign of Sinicization for major monotheistic religions in the country.
Quote of note
“There has been no letup in efforts to erase cultural autonomy of the Uyghur people.” — James Millward, historian of Xinjiang at Georgetown University in Washington, to Agence France-Presse.