President Xi Jinping of China claims his policies improve Chinese lives and support peaceful global economic growth. His government's treatment of Uighur citizens offers the latest proof of Xi's lie, and the Trump administration should say as much.
The tenor and scale of what Xi's China is doing to its Uighur citizens is morally outrageous.
As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, up to 1 million Uighurs, (a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in north west China) are now detained in "re-education" camps. There, they are taught to re-discover their fealty to the central committee in Beijing. But while Xi's minions defend his camps as vacation-style job training centers, those who have spent time inside them suggest otherwise. They describe arbitrary detention, gross mistreatment, and a demand for ideological purity. And their suffering is only one facet of China's broader crackdown on Uighur religious freedom, culture, and human rights.
So let's be clear, while it's true that China faces a growing counterterrorism challenge from elements within the Uighur community, its response is a far worse example of the U.S. internment policies which targeted Japanese-Americans during the early 1940s. In 2018 China, coercive power is being used not simply for a misguided security policy, but in order to pound individual identity into communist-authoritarian conformity.
What's more, Xi is actually expanding his Khmer Rouge-esque re-education program. Chinese security officials are now harassing Uighurs around the world from France to the United States.
That speaks to something broader about the Uighurs. America's challenge isn't simply about defending universal human rights, but about defending those rights in their alignment with the larger U.S.-China geopolitical struggle. Because what's happening to the Uighurs illuminates the stark divergence between Xi's efforts to make China master of global feudal order, and U.S. efforts to preserve an international order built on freedom and the rule of law. It is the defining challenge of our time.
America's closest allies and neutral actors alike are now confronted by Xi's offer of vast Chinese investments or immense Chinese pressure. And even Britain is tempted by Xi's economic kool-aid.
To confront this challenge to the American-led global order: that which has done more than any other order in human history to live people out of poverty and guarantee human freedom, the U.S. must show that the gap between the lives of those Uighurs in far away Xinjiang and the future lives of those in Brasilia, London, New Dehli, Paris, and Pretoria is not so short.
Ultimately that gap is not measured by geographic distance but by the reality of what Xi's vision ultimately entails. In China's "re-education" of its own citizens, after all, we are educated to China's ultimate regard for individual freedom and opportunity. With one hand China offers investments, with the other it steals vast tracts of ocean in order to extort policies from democracies. With one hand China talks of a new silk road that benefits all, and with the other it steals the intellectual property of others. With one hand China pledges its respect for others and with the other it commits its citizens to concentration camps.
We must not dance to Xi's music.
President Trump should direct Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to double down on their existing efforts to counter Chinese aggression, construct new alliances, and defend humanity's better human future.