Barbed wire enclosures at agricultural campuses should be only for livestock, not Muslim political prisoners in China’s reeducation camps, the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom says.
“I was in vocational agriculture, and the barbed wire was used to keep the cattle in, not people,” Ambassador Sam Brownback said Friday during a Heritage Foundation panel discussion commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Mr. Brownback called the camps for China’s minority Uighur Muslims an “Orwellian blueprint of oppression in Xinjiang,” the communist country’s northwestern province.
Other panelists demanded an increase in international pressure on Beijing for detaining 1 million Uighurs in its “adult learning centers,” which are among some of the world’s largest prisons. There was also some discussion about the U.S. offering asylum to Uighurs.
“In taking on China diplomatically, the U.S. government should also include helping the Uighur student asylum seekers,” said Nury Turkel, chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington.
Mr. Turkel noted how senior officials in the George H.W. Bush administration and Congress providing blanket immigration status to Chinese in the U.S. in the aftermath of riots and a government crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Pro-democracy activists, many of them students, had held weeks of demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square when the communist regime declared martial law and ordered troops to break up the protests and open fire on the activists on June 4, 1989. Hundreds of protesters are believed to have been killed in the crackdown.
Mr. Turkel said several thousand Uighur students now are “struggling to pay tuition, and some students are running out of status.”
Independent researcher Adrian Zenz presented a 3D image, constructed from eyewitness photographs and satellite images, of walled compounds in Xinjiang reminiscent of “concentration camps,” a term he cautioned against using because of its historical associations with the Holocaust.
“This is the disadvantage of a term like ‘concentration camp,’” Mr. Zenz said. “It’s also a very historically charged term, and the Chinese government can refute it. … We need to be very precise in our terminology.”
Olivia Enos, an Asian studies analyst for The Heritage Foundation, noted that persecution often becomes a low-level concern for most Americans in discussing human rights. She suggested recasting the Uighurs’ plight as a national security issue.
“China views Xinjiang as a core issue,” said Ms. Enos, “The U.S. should prioritize it as well.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March demanded that Beijing release all Uighur prisoners. But the Chinese Community Party says the Uighurs present a terrorist threat and its camps deradicalize a dangerous population.
“Reeducation camps are really a brutal fight over the human heart,” said Mr. Zenz, comparing China’s claims of success to Christianity’s “salvation narratives.”
Mr. Zenz said he translated a Chinese phrase used in promotional materials about the camps to be “born again.”
“There is a lot of copycatting going on between religion, and, of course, communism seeks to replace religion,” he said.