Arjae Red, a union activist and Workers World Party leader, traveled in May 2023 to The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far northwest as part of a WWP delegation along with Workers World contributing editor Sara Flounders, organized by the China – U.S. Solidarity Network
The movement in the U.S. supporting Palestinian national liberation has drawn truly massive numbers of people in action. On Jan. 13, for example, a reported 400,000 people marched on the White House, marking the largest pro-Palestine demonstration in U.S. history.
To counter this growing outpouring of support for Palestine in the center of world imperialism, Western propagandists are trying to misdirect the popular outrage towards People’s China. They are trying to revive the discredited “Uyghur genocide” narrative, making bogus comparisons between the Israeli settler regime’s treatment of Palestinians and the treatment of Uyghur people by the Chinese government and Communist Party. A closer look at each situation reveals enormous differences.
Who do we believe?
The intense propaganda charging “Uyghur genocide,” starting in 2016, saturated the U.S. corporate media, quoting statements by U.S.-funded NGOs and U.S. politicians. The statements aimed to slam through heavy sanctions against China.
Following a fact-finding trip to the region, however, a 2019 delegation from the Council of Foreign Ministers — a key decision-making body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — endorsed and commended China’s treatment of its Muslim citizens (hongkongfp.com, March 3, 2019). With 57 member states, the OIC is one of the largest intergovernmental bodies in the world.
A week after our trip to Xinjiang last year, a large delegation from the League of Arab States, including top official representatives from more than 16 Arab/Muslim countries, visited Xinjiang. In a June 2023 press statement, the delegation praised “the social harmony, economic development, people of all ethnic groups living in harmony in Xinjiang and accelerated progress.” They urged caution toward “international forces who smear and even demonize Xinjiang.”
No governments in majority-Muslim countries support the U.S. charge of “genocide” of a Muslim minority population in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, these governments publicly criticize U.S.-supported Israeli genocide in Gaza.
Multinational workers’ state vs. Zionist settler colony
Central to the comparison is a class analysis of the social foundation of the states of Israel and the People’s Republic of China. Like the United States, Israel was founded as a settler colony, built upon the slaughter and forced removal of Indigenous peoples, theft of their lands and the settlement of a majority European population.
U.S. strategists viewed the Israeli state on Palestine’s land mainly as a strategic staging ground for U.S. military and economic domination of West Asia, and thus as a major contributor to the profits of the world imperialist ruling class. They saw Palestinians as an obstacle in the way of their accumulation of these superprofits. To accomplish this conquest, the Israeli state has threatened to appropriate or erase every vestige of Palestinian culture, including Palestine’s history and food.
Israel as a state is thoroughly exploitative, extractive, and oppressive to the core. The state and the settler population, if it subscribes to Zionist ideology, serve the ends of the global imperialist ruling class.
The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, was founded as a multinational workers’ state, forged through the overthrow of feudal and capitalist ruling classes and by ousting parasitic forces, such as Japanese and British imperialism. The Chinese Revolution established a state based on the political rule of an alliance between the workers, peasants and other progressive classes, led by the Communist Party.
The Chinese People’s Republic inscribed into its political framework regional autonomy for formerly oppressed nationalities, like the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Historic Uyghur cities, such as Ürümqi, which had been renamed “Dihua” (meaning “to civilize”) following a 1755 Qing Dynasty invasion, regained their original Uyghur names.
Uyghur culture is widespread and celebrated in today’s China, which includes teaching the Uyghur language, as well as the languages of other ethnic populations in the region, in public schools. Before the Chinese Revolution, these languages were suppressed.
The People’s Republic is thoroughly multinational, based on the political rule of the working class and guided by the Communist Party. Its public goals involve developing a socialist economy and maintaining social harmony between ethnicities.
Israel destroys, China builds
Videos abound of the unmitigated destruction of Gaza by Israeli Occupation Forces. The IOF have bombed and bulldozed entire city blocks to dirt and rubble, razing homes, hospitals and schools.
Over decades, Israel has kept Gaza under a brutal blockade and crushed Palestinian businesses. Now the attacks have left the population without food, water, medicine and electricity.
Rather than destruction and extraction in Xinjiang, Beijing’s policies promote development. Major infrastructure projects have built housing, schools, hospitals and high-speed public transport. These projects outdo anything U.S. business or government projects have done on U.S. territory.
Uyghur and other ethnic minorities enjoy government grants and other affirmative action programs in education and job opportunities, which enable them to establish their own thriving businesses and fully participate in the vibrant Chinese economy. All of this has gradually reduced the wealth and development gap between the western Xinjiang region and the eastern coastal region of China, where, historically, all of the heavy industry was concentrated.
Xinjiang experiences no economic blockade except what U.S. policies impose. The Chinese government ensures that the basic needs of the people are met. During the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, Communist Party organizations delivered food and other supplies to Uyghur communities.
BDS against Israel vs. U.S. sanctions on Xinjiang
A global movement calling for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israeli businesses complicit in the genocide of Palestinians emerged as a way to pressure Israel to stop. The BDS movement appeals to progressives around the world to cease financial support for the Zionist colonial project.
Washington has appropriated some of the progressive rhetoric used by the BDS campaign and weaponized it against China. U.S. officials claim its sanctions against Xinjiang punish China for the alleged genocide of the Uyghur people.
Yet the U.S. sanctions are based on the false assumption that all products exported from Xinjiang may be made with slave labor. This means that businesses in Xinjiang need to jump through hoops to prove they aren’t using slave labor. Only then can they bypass the sanctions and access the international market. The U.S. sanctions thus harm Xinjiang’s local economy, of which a large portion is Uyghur-owned businesses and farms, many of them small family businesses.
BDS targets the oppressor nation’s corporations. U.S. sanctions harm the Uyghur people themselves, with a twofold intent:
- Disrupt the development of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI would integrate Xinjiang’s economy as a key region into the national and international market;
- Cause economic hardship for the local population, which would further exacerbate inequality, ethnic and cultural divisions, and create political instability and lack of trust in the Chinese government to effectively develop the region.
Palestinian self-determination vs U.S.-promoted Uyghur separatism
The Palestinian movement for self-determination is a mass movement with broad support from people within historic Palestine and from the diaspora, originating organically as a response to Israeli colonial occupation.
The Uyghur separatist movement, on the other hand, is primarily pushed by U.S.-based anti-China think tanks and NGOs, usually with millions of dollars of U.S. funding and full support from the State Department and corporate media.
There is no evidence that the Uyghur separatist forces, represented mostly in the diaspora and many based in Washington D.C., represent the views of the millions of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang. Only a small minority of Uyghur people in Xinjiang have fought for separatism. And this has often manifested as a reactionary religious sect that utilizes tactics such as bombings in crowded public places and machete attacks at bus stops, marketplaces and airports.
Anti-imperialist forces can be in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for sovereignty, while at the same time remaining skeptical of U.S. attempts to destabilize China with something that masquerades as a popular movement for self-determination. Anyone who still has questions, however, can compare the contrasting responses of the Israeli and Chinese governments to their respective situations.
Israel’s anti-popular response
In its announced efforts to destroy Hamas, Israel has made no attempt to differentiate between combatants and civilians. Every adult, every child in Gaza, is a target of Israel’s so-called “anti terror” massacres. Israel’s disregard for all Palestinian life is well known worldwide and deeply understood by Palestinians.
China’s approach to eliminating attacks by separatist forces that harm (mostly Uyghur) civilians has been different. It’s true that, during a period of time, increased police presence was necessary to prevent unpredictable public attacks. However, the government knows that people who have access to good education, job opportunities and have their basic needs met are less likely to commit crimes and less susceptible to being recruited by separatist extremist organizations.
Thus, the Chinese government took steps to create jobs, vocational training centers, and to develop the region through infrastructure projects and assistance for small businesses. Poverty alleviation is the number one method for solving violence in Xinjiang –– and it has worked. Over the last two decades, political and religious violence in Xinjiang has now been nearly eliminated, and Xinjiang is well on its way to being economically caught up with the rest of the country.
Drawing a line for the anti-imperialist movement
It is critical that organizers against imperialism and supporters of decolonial movements around the world have a clear and sober assessment of developments in each country and the forces behind them. We have a responsibility to engage with these struggles in a deeper way and not just take the narratives at face value.
The forces that accuse China of genocide against Uyghur people are the same that arm and fund Israel’s actual genocide of the Palestinian people, and who profit from it. We cannot separate this fact from reality, no matter how the corporate media and CIA/NED-funded “human rights” groups try to conflate the situations.
The U.S. empire, which, in its development, massacred and forcibly removed Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans, and currently arms the Israeli genocide of Palestine, has absolutely no credibility to charge China with human rights abuses against Uyghurs. Washington has never been on the right side of history in an anti-colonial struggle.
We must continue to say: Free Palestine from the river to the sea! U.S. hands off China!
(For the author’s June 9, 2023, article about the trip to Xinjiang, see: workers.org/2023/06/71505/)