China News

The Truth About Uighurs: Has China Really Committed Genocide?

China denies accusations that it represses the Uighur people. The country’s demographic statistics, however, paint a picture that suggests possible genocide.

Vector illustration of uyghur map and barb wire. © Jaiz Anuar /

April 21, 2024 02:00 EDT

Lu Shaye, the Chinese ambassador to France, recently appeared on French television. He described China’s repression against Uighurs — a Turkic ethnic group — as “storytelling,” “lies” and “bullshit.” What he denied, however, are official Chinese data. Has the country been betrayed by its own bureaucracy?

As a matter of fact, bureaucracy is often the Achilles heel of totalitarian systems. Analysis of certain Chinese data may suggest foul play; it is more eloquent on the situation in the Xinjiang region than Lu. That is unsurprising, as the ambassador is best known for his diatribes in defense of China, and he vigorously rejects everything that harms Beijing’s interests.

Official statistics suggest Uighur genocide

China is responsible for the mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, which the country legitimizes by the needs of a firm and repressive anti-terrorist policy. In May 2022, Lu had already stood out by drastically downplaying the attacks on this population’s rights in prisons or detention centers. He called them “interns” in “educational and professional training centers.”

Beyond this, China is accused of torture and forced sterilizations against these populations. Committing these atrocities would act directly on the demographics of a particular ethnic group. As stated in Article II of the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Murder of group members; (b) Serious attacks on the physical or mental integrity of members of the group; (c) Intentional subjection of the group to conditions of existence intended to bring about its total or partial physical destruction; (d) Measures aimed at hindering births within the group; (e) Forced transfer of children from the group to another group.”

The last two acts listed are likely to worry China, knowing that there is no need for murder or mass extermination to define a genocidal policy. The country has vehemently rejected these accusations for years. But to Lu and China’s chagrin, the most compelling evidence of their misconduct comes from China itself. The National Bureau of Statistics of China tells us, for example, that the natural increase rate — the difference between the birth rate and the death rate — in the province of Xinjiang increased from 11.08 per 1,000 in 2016 to 11.40 in 2017, and suddenly dropped to 6.13 in 2018, then finally fell to 3.69 in 2019.

As China rightly maintains, Xinjiang’s overall population continues to grow, but more slowly than before. The rate of natural growth of a region with 25 million inhabitants was reduced by roughly two-thirds in just two years. With the mortality rate barely changing, this decline is largely due to the drop in the birth rate between 2017 and 2019, falling from 15.88 per 1,000 in 2017 to 8.14 in 2019, a reduction of 47% in two years. The birth rate would have fallen below six per 1,000 in 2020, but this figure is difficult to confirm; China stopped detailing its statistics after 2020. The 2021 edition no longer provides birth rates by region, instead listing only the national rate for the entirety of China.

China’s unsourced explanation

China has an explanation for the decline: This drop of almost 50% would be the consequence of women’s minds being “emancipated” as “gender equality and reproductive health [have] been promoted.” This assertion is based on a single source: a 2021 report on Xinjiang. Special researcher Li Xiaoxia produced this report at the Xinjiang Development Research Center. General media owned by the Chinese state published it, not a peer-reviewed publication. The report provides no data or sources, simply stating, for example: “fertile women accept tubal ligation and IUD operation spontaneously.” It goes on to add: “In 2018, both fertility rate and natural growth rate of ethnic minority population (the [Uighur] population in particular) in Xinjiang decreased significantly. All of these can be attributed to the strict implementation of the family planning policy.” The terms “spontaneously” and “strict implementation” should be clearly and concretely explained.

Beijing’s line of defense can be summed up thus: China has succeeded in achieving an “accelerated demographic transition” in Xinjiang. Except that, normally, this type of phenomenon takes at least a few generations. One would hardly find a demographer that has witnessed such a major birth rate drop elsewhere in the world over such a short period. Not even Iraq in the 2000s, Syria since 2011, Yemen currently or Germany after 1944 compare.

There is currently no satisfactory, legitimate explanation for such a massive drop in the Uighur birth rate. This opens the door to accusations of genocide about which China is already beginning to erase its statistical traces. The country’s real intentions make this situation distressing. The birth rate risks becoming the Chinese power’s main problem for decades to come. Such repression of births of a particular ethnic group is a subject of international interest on which Chinese denials are now bordering on negationism.

[Lee Thompson-Kolar edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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