The Beijing government’s ruthless sterilization policy for Uyghur women



Malika Madi (*)

Determined to weaken the Muslim Uyghur community, the Chinese authorities are organising a forced sterilization policy for the women of this community.

Last June, a report by German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China, was published on the website of the Jamestown Foundation, an American research centre. It accuses China of carrying out forced sterilizations against Uyghur women.

Uyghurs live in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwest China, the ancient Silk Road that linked China to the Middle East. They are a Turkish-speaking people of Sunni Muslim faith. The population belonging to this ethnic group is estimated, according to sources, to be between 11 and 12 million people. The region of Xinjiang has been theirs for centuries and represents a challenge for China in terms of population control. The Uyghurs have their own rites, ways of life and traditions.

Since the 1950s, the Chinese regime (it has held the authority since the 19th century), worried about the separatist ambitions of a part of the Uyghurs, encouraged the population of the Han ethnic group, the majority throughout China, to settle in Xinjiang. Beijing’s objective? To sinicise (spread the Chinese civilisation) this region, so that the majority ethnic group in China, the Han (1/3 of the population today), also becomes the majority in this region.

Although the international opinion, thanks to social networks and new information technologies, is increasingly focusing on the fate of this Muslim population, the persecutions of the Chinese regime have in fact been going on for many years. The will of the Chinese regime is clear. It is to weaken this community by affecting it where it hurts the most: women and their fertility.

According to Adrian Zenz’s report, the horror is daily and the figures speak for themselves: between 2018 and 2019, the growth rate of the Uyghur population went from 11 per 1000 to only 1 per 1000. This considerable drop is due to a policy of sterilization of Uyghur women by the Chinese regime. It is imposed by forced practices, ranging from the insertion of IUDs to tubal ligation, and in some cases the separation of couples.

Adrien Zenz’s report also states that the majority of Uyghur women in prison would be imprisoned for violating the birth law. According to official documents, the aim of this would be to sterilise between 14 and 24% of women of childbearing age. However, on 29 October 2015, China had definitively abolished the one-child policy that had been in place 30 years earlier in all regions of China, including Xinjiang.

Last July, a journalist of Libération met a Uyghur teacher who has gone into exile in Europe, Qelbinur Sidik Beg. She spoke of her time in the “re-education” centres set up by the Chinese government, describing arrests, rapes, forced labour and torture…”. All women aged between 18 and 50 in my neighbourhood, in Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang), were summoned on 18 July 2017 for a compulsory “free examination”. At 8 o’clock, the queue was already very long in front of the hospital. When it was my turn, there was no gynaecological examination nor any interview. They made me lie down and spread my legs, and they inserted an IUD. It was terribly violent. I cried, I felt humiliated, sexually and mentally assaulted. But I was working in a camp, I knew what awaited me if I refused. There were very young girls there. I didn’t see a single Han (the majority ethnic group in China).” In another testimony, this time collected by the Belgian daily La Libre, a Uyghur woman exiled in Antwerp admits that it was a doctor in Belgium who told her that she had been sterilised in China.

In the two large prefectures of the region where Uyghurs are in the majority, the number of births has thus drastically dropped since 2016. Adrian Zenz, based on Chinese administrative documents and interviews with local women. Some of them say they have been forced to be sterilised, under threat of being sent to camps. The implantation of an IUD was allegedly imposed on others. The report concludes that China appears to be using coercive birth control in Xinjiang as part of a “broader strategy of ethno-racial domination”.

Of course, the Beijing authorities refute these accusations outright. Questioned about Zen’s report, a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Zhao Lijian, denied these assertions, assuring that they were “unfounded”. For him, Xinjiang is now “stable and harmonious”.

In 2014, after an attack on a railway station by a Uyghur separatist, President Xi Jinping carried out an abominable persecution against the Uyghurs in the name of the fight against terrorism. To give credit to this targeted persecution, Beijing does not hesitate to over-report acts of violence that it attributes to Uyghur groups.

The newspaper Libération does not hesitate to mention a “genocide” targeting the Uyghur minority. According to the United Nations Convention, the policy of birth control corresponds to one of the five criteria that define genocide.

Washington and several other Western capitals, as well as many human rights organisations, accuse China of having interned at least one million Muslims in the region in what it calls “political re-education camps”.

In France, Alain David, a socialist deputy from Gironde, proposed to dissuade European companies from selling China technologies that allow repression against the Uyghurs. For him, “it is also important that the 83 or so international companies that benefit [in China] from forced labour quickly move their factories”.

For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean Yves Le Drian, proposed that an international mission composed of independent observers, under the leadership of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, go to Xinjiang to investigate the situation of this Muslim minority.

Last 28 July, before the National Assembly, Jean Yves Le Drian denounced “unjustifiable practices that go against the principles […] the internment of Uyghurs in camps, mass detentions, forced labour, forced sterilisations, the destruction of the cultural heritage of the Uyghurs […] the generalised surveillance of the population, a global repressive system throughout the region”. And in the face of the Chinese regime’s total refutation of these crimes, he added: “Since they say that my remarks are unfounded, we propose that an international mission of independent observers, led by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Bachelet, should go to the region, see them and testify, since the Chinese authorities say that it does not exist, so we must go and testify on the spot”.

However, it is China, the cradle of wise philosophers since antiquity, which has bequeathed us this proverb: It is little to love oneself to hate someone, but it is to hate everyone to love only oneself!

* Belgian novelist and essayist, latest work published Maternité et Littérature, création et pro-création, Éditions du Cygne, Paris, 2017.