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Xi Jinping Visit Gives France’s Macron Chance to Raise China’s Uyghur ‘Genocide’

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Xi Jinping Visit Gives France’s Macron Chance to Raise China’s Uyghur ‘Genocide’

A leading Uyghur diaspora activist says that Paris should adopt robust sanctions such as those adopted in the United States in recent years.

Xi Jinping Visit Gives France’s Macron Chance to Raise China’s Uyghur ‘Genocide’

Uyghur human rights activists participate in a demonstration against the Chinese government’s policies in the Xinjiang region, in Strasbourg, France, July 11, 2015.

Credit: Photo 56549660 © Ifeelstock |

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to France on May 6 and May 7 gives Emmanuel Macron an opportunity to raise the plight of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, northwest China.

The Chinese government has detained more than a million of the country’s estimated 11 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps since 2017. Those not detained have been subject to religious restrictions, forced labor and forced sterilization, organizations such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have reported.

France’s National Assembly in 2022 passed a resolution saying that abuses against the Uyghurs constitute crimes against humanity and genocide. The resolution had 169 votes for and only one against, and was supported by ruling party parliamentarians. The United States likewise in 2021 determined that the atrocities amount to genocide.

China argues that separatists in Xinjiang are terrorists and that Uyghurs are equal members of the Chinese nation. Criticism of its human rights record there, it says, constitutes interference in its internal affairs. The government strongly rejected the OHCHR findings.

Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is China’s largest region and accounts for about a sixth of the country’s territory. The region has the right to self-determination and should be called East Turkistan, Salih Hudayar, the U.S.-based shadow foreign minister in the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), said in an interview.

The region, which has a population of about 26 million, was annexed by China in 1949. The core reason for the onslaught against the Uyghurs, Hudayar said, is not religion, but “Chinese colonialism.”

Hudayar was born in Xinjiang in 1993 and is Uyghur. When he was a small child, his uncle was seen reading a banned political book for which he was thrown into jail for 10 years. He was two years old when his father, a textile merchant, fled the country.

The father went first to Sweden and the United Kingdom before securing asylum in the U.S. in 1998. Hudayar, his mother, and his siblings came to the U.S. to join him in Oklahoma in 2000. Dozens of Hudayar’s relatives back home have been arrested in the years since he left. At least four of them have died in Chinese prisons and concentration camps, he says.

Today, Hudayar lives in Fairfax, Virginia with his wife and two children. He was the ETGE’s prime minister from 2019 to 2023, when he was replaced by Canada-based Abdulahat Nur.

“We hope that France won’t be deceived by the Chinese government’s false promises,” he said. “China is manipulating the world and buying itself time. France must support the Uyghur right to self-determination” which is “the only thing that can save us.”

France, he argues, should adopt the kinds of legislation that have been passed in the U.S. to try to support the Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities in Xinjiang. U.S. legislation in 2020 imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The 2022 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act prohibits imports into the U.S. which result from forced labor in the region.

The Uyghur Policy Act of 2023, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February this year, would create a Special Coordinator for Uyghur Issues position within the Department of State. “We hope that France will initiate the same kinds of bills,” Hudayar said.

Macron’s office has said that discussions with Xi Jinping will focus mainly on Ukraine and the Middle East. Hudayar sees the fact that Macron on April 30 met with Tibetan leader Sikyong Penpa Tsering as “a positive sign.” Macron, says Hudayar, should engage with the ETGE’s Paris-based deputy Prime Minister Mirqedir Mirzat and the French Uyghur association.

The Xinjiang region, which borders 10 countries, has strategic importance for Beijing. The area is rich in coal, gas, oil, lithium, zinc, lead and cotton. China has been able to supply the world with cheap goods, Hudayar argues, by drawing on forced labor in the region. “Essentially it’s slavery.”

More than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019 alone, according to research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in 2020. The workers, the ASPI found, live in segregated dormitories and are under constant surveillance. The research identified  82 foreign and Chinese companies that were potentially benefiting from the use of forced Uyghur labor outside Xinjiang.

The global Uyghur diaspora, Hudayar estimates, stands at around 1 million, with about 75 percent in countries in Central Asia. The composition of the government in exile, he says, is democratically chosen by the remaining proportion who live in free countries.

The diaspora outside Central Asia is divided, with groups such as the World Uyghur Congress, based in Munich, Germany, preferring to focus on human rights rather than a claim to national self-determination for East Turkistan. Claims that the ETGE is a terrorist organization, Hudayar said, are the result of a Chinese strategy to divide the diaspora and co-opt some of its members into making false allegations.