In the land where the Olympic auspices now regularly give cover to the destruction of peoples, the Asian Games commenced in Hangzhou on September 23 with a selective block on Taiwan media, territory disputes played out through athlete visa applications and a handshake between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, two of the 21st century’s worst human rights abusers.
Cumulatively accused of war crimes, chemical attacks, industrial scale torture and executions, mass internments and genocides, the two jovial dictators announced a new strategic partnership between their respective countries, bringing to mind the talks between Xi and Russia President Vladimir Putin at the Winter Olympics in Beijing 2022, which preceded the invasion of Ukraine. Per Associated Press, China has already shielded the Syrian government from United Nations resolutions on eight occasions and is now offering it a path from its status as an international pariah.
Assad ought to have washed his hands thoroughly following the interaction as doing so is one simple protective measure against monkeypox, which is currently surging in China. Predictably, the crisis has been worsened by stigmatization of people who are attracted to others of the same sex and August crackdowns on communication channels that cater to them, which complicates getting the right information to the right people and encourages those who may have caught monkeypox during sex to hide instead of coming forward.
True to form, the full scale of the outbreak has almost certainly been obscured for a long time by the Chinese Communist Party’s insistence on playing out the dangerous fiction that Taiwan is its territory at the World Health Organization and its general determination to minimize any evidence that it is not in full control of everything. As reported by The Guardian, risks are also heightened by the non-availability of vaccines that are used internationally, despite China not yet having a domestic version. It prefers to approach monkeypox with its traditional disease-defense masterplan that includes restrictions on gatherings, local lockdowns and warnings against touching foreigners.
Vaccines remain an extremely sensitive subject domestically, epitomized by the alleged disappearance of a woman named Tan Hua (譚華), who has suffered 10 years of ill health following administration of a shot for rabies. Relayed to a global audience by the popular X account @whyyoutouzhele, the woman’s mother, Hua Xiuzhen (華秀珍), explained that contact had been lost with Tan on September 11, after she had demanded Ningbo University to reinstate her mother’s pension. The pension had been forfeited when Hua was jailed in 2018 for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in relation to her quest for justice over Tan’s condition.
September’s disappearance is neither the first time that Tan has been held incommunicado nor particularly unusual in terms of the authorities’ methods. Even though China has acknowledged for many years that defective vaccines were widespread in the country, it has nonetheless been persecuting victims parallel to claiming system reforms. By doing so, it both discourages future activism and puts itself in position to rewrite history by silencing those parts of the story where the government looks like anything but the hero.
Similar machinations may be afoot with the trial of Sophia Huang Xueqin (黃雪琴), a journalist and focal point of China’s #MeToo movement, who was put on trial for subversion on September 22 alongside rights defender Wang Jianbing (王建兵). Huang had fearlessly published accounts of sexual harassment and was subsequently arrested on her way to the airport to study in the U.K., thereby ensuring that any future information she might publish was cut off before reaching the wider world. She has already lost two years of her life to detention since then, even as China supposes itself in communication with the United Nations to have “adopted all measures necessary to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.”
Whatever additional punishment Huang unjustly receives, it is likely to be less extreme than the life sentence handed down for the so-called crime of splittism to respected Uyghur folklorist Rahile Dawut, which was revealed on September 21 by the Dui Hua Foundation, six years after her initial detention. Citing an inside contact with the Chinese government, Dui Hua also informed that Dawut’s appeal against the life term had been declined. The hefty sanction of yet another intellectual with expansive knowledge of Uyghur traditions, which might have been acquired by the next generation if she was still free, forms yet more evidence that China is seeking to break the Uyghur minority’s cultural continuance.
News of the lifelong incarceration at a still-undisclosed location was accompanied by reports of an Uyghur businessperson, Abdulhabir Muhammad, receiving a 15-year sentence for offenses that are totally unknown. The cases are noteworthy not only for their cruelty and opacity in terms of evidence, but also because both Dawut and Muhammad seem to have been accustomed to working with the Chinese Communist Party, rather than antagonistic to it. Dawut, who reportedly had links with Cambridge, Cornell and Harvard universities, among others, was even a party member. Incidentally, none of the main Facebook, X and news pages for the aforementioned academic institutions appeared to contain any mention of Dawut’s sentence at the time of writing.
Space for such gluttonous punishments is far wider when the international community averts its gaze, which accounts for China’s early autumn activities from New York to Astana, Kazakhstan. With the latter, it has established a new agreement that grants the Chinese government an extraterritorial veto on applications for Kazakhstani citizenship as well as the option to repatriate whoever it chooses from its neighbor. This is almost certainly aimed at creating a capture zone for anybody who escapes persecution across the border in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), the Uyghur homeland, which Beijing presently colonizes.
In New York, meanwhile, the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations attempted to smother an Atlantic Council-hosted forum on September 19 that was held on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Featuring Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, the event was organized to discuss the ongoing abuse of Kazakhs, Uyghurs and others in East Turkestan.
In order to insert itself between the mouths of participants and the ears of their audience, China’s mission circulated a letter beforehand that expressed its “resolute opposition” to the forum, which it characterized as pedaling lies. With upper case emphasis entirely Beijing’s own, the letter recommended representatives from other countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event.”
Irrespective of the pushback, the Atlantic Council went ahead anyway, and The China Project reported signups from Canada, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands and New Zealand, who listened to experts describe how Uyghurs are being transferred to the regular penal system from their previous accommodation in internment camps, which China claims, contrary to evidence, to have closed.
The pressure on China is evidently rising, and, when the sun went down, all United Nations General Assembly delegations, including those that did not attend the forum, were treated by the non-profit network Students of a Free Tibet to a New York skyline customized with a 15-floor, mulicolored message about China Vice President Han Zheng to take home to their respective capitals.
The message alleged genocide, reminded of one million Tibetan children separated from their families and compelled a ratcheting up of U.N. action against these grave misdeeds. Then, just a few days later, a press release from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner expressed the grave concerns of its special rapporteurs for minority rights, education and cultural rights that non-Han children in East Turkestan are being falsely treated as orphans, institutionalized in boarding schools and forced to assimilate into Han culture on a massive scale. The United States determined that genocide was still continuing there in 2022, too, and added three more entities to its sanctions list as a result, bringing the total to 27.
Thus, Beijing needs all the friends it can muster to bury both the discussion and evidence of its crimes at the international level. Demanding letters will not cut it alone. Step forward, Assad and Astana.