The New York Times has a fairly shocking story about the Chinese government’s horrific and systematic oppression of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim populations inside China. A 403-page document leak from inside the Chinese Communist Party reveals the vast, inhumane apparatus that the government has used to subjugate these groups in its Xinjiang region. Reporters Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley rightly call it “the country’s most far-reaching internment campaign since the Mao era.”
Over the past three years, the government has simply abducted as many as a million people (often entire families) and imprisoned them in camps and jails, where they are supposedly receiving “treatment” for their alleged radicalism. These are not people who have been charged with crimes; they’re merely Muslims.
Many of the documents detail how the authorities are to handle young Chinese who come home to find their families disappeared. One passage instructs authorities to explain things this way: “Family members, including you, must abide by the state’s laws and rules, and not believe or spread rumors. Only then can you add points for your family member, and after a period of assessment they can leave the school if they meet course completion standards.” In other words, it may be possible to buy your family’s eventual freedom with your silence.
This dystopian nightmare was dreamed up by President Xi Jinping, who in 2014 called for a “‘struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism’” using the “‘organs of dictatorship,’” and showing “‘absolutely no mercy.’” The documents received by the Times contain “references to plans to extend restrictions on Islam to other parts of China.”
One can recognize that Islamist terrorism is a serious threat to life and liberty the world over and also see that the imprisonment of a million innocent people is a monstrous act of Communist authoritarianism—a transgression that the United States should oppose with every tool at its disposal.
Sadly, this is only further evidence that American hopes for market-inspired freedom in China were misplaced. As I detail in the lead article of the December issue of COMMENTARY, U.S. efforts to make China and the former Soviet Union freer, better places via commercial investment didn’t have the effect we thought it would 30 years ago.
In reading about the enormity of the Chinese internment operation, I was reminded of something I quoted in my own article: “Without exception, rich countries are democracies (more or less) and stay that way. Some poor countries are also democracies, but most are not. And few of the poor democracies stay democratic over time. Although the progression isn’t always smooth, the historical pattern is clear: As countries get richer, they become more democratic. The Asian nations are no exception.” So said the Hoover Institution’s Henry S. Rowen in 1999. Well, China is now the second-largest economy in the world. That economy grew at more than 10 percent for two decades. But there’s no mistaking it for a democracy.