Why Is No One Talking About China's Mass Atrocities?

Australia is turning its back to the Uyghur crisis as China this week ferociously denies claims that it has detained and indoctrinated millions in political camps.

What you need to know
  • Numerous human rights advocates have flagged concerns that China is holding a million Uyghur people in political indoctrination camps
  • The Uyghurs are a persecuted minority in China, and have previously been the subject of torture investigations by the UN
  • China this week fervently denied the allegations saying they are 'completely untrue'
  • The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination continues to hear testimony on the claims

Why is it so easy to turn our back to the systematic violation of human rights when the ‘cultural cleansing’ is committed by our biggest trade partner and a global economic powerhouse?

Last week the United Nations expressed concern over “numerous and credible reports” by human rights activists that China has been holding an estimated one million Uyghurs, a Muslim Turkic minority mainly from Xianjing, in huge political indoctrination camps.

This week China ferociously denied claims that it has detained and indoctrinated millions in camps, saying the allegations were 'completely untrue', but with the Uyghurs having been victims of the nation’s communist regime for 60 years, the allegations make sense.

The Uyghurs are persecuted in China because the Han Chinese see their minority religion as a threat, resulting in decades of xenophobia against them, so these recent claims of human rights violations are not a first.

The Uyghur's have been persecuted by China for decades.

In fact, the UN has previously expressed concern about cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearance of Uyghurs, and yet now, as the atrocities resurrect themselves, Australia turns its back.

Despite having the most push power, Australia has deflected the issue to the UN as so often happens in the wake of human rights violations. But there’s a compelling argument for Australia to sanction China for these abuses -- because not only does Australia have the most leverage as China’s biggest trade partner, but around 5,000 Uyghurs call Australia home.

A demonstrator attends a protest denouncing the treatment of Uyghurs.

So why the inaction?

Well, it’s easy to turn our backs to human rights violations when these atrocities are committed in a country not only in which censorship is institutionalised but where 14 percent of the world’s GDP economic power is held and on which your economy so heavily relies.

This comes as no coincidence, with the Turnbull Government recently admitting that the Australia-China relationship needs a reset. Earlier this year Turnbull admitted there is “a degree of tension in the relationship".

The Government's Foreign Interference Laws and bans on political donations have further spurred on these growing tensions, making a firm humanitarian stance the last thing the Turnbull Government seems willing to do if it wants to save face 'diplomatically'.

Although Australia has appeared to take on a more strategically firm stance against China's growing influence, arguably, the Government is too scared of China jumping ship if it were to introduce sanctions or to take other staunch measures to discourage China's xenophobia. China would be likely to see such action as political overreach.

But there is hope. According to the Australia-China Relations Institute, there has been a substantial tilt in rhetoric by Australia -- a toughening on China's rising influence.

On June 2, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared to confirm that Australian government policy towards China is veering towards a harder line in the face of China’s rise, the Institute says.

According to the Institute, Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University (ANU), in an analysis of the speech said "no regional leader has ever gone this far before".

We must then ask, if our nation is willing to go 'this far' in the face of rising political power, why then can we not go at least that far in the wake of human rights violations? It is a fundamental question that goes to the very heart of our humanity's priorities.

While China has outright refuted claims that it has detained and indoctrinated millions in camps as ‘completely untrue’, in a nation where censorship is rife, we can’t turn our backs to a brush off of such horrendous allegations.

But why is it Australia’s responsibility, when the UN is involved, you may ask.

As victims of systematic state suppression and gross violations of fundamental human rights, Australia, the country with the biggest push-power, is the only one who can truly condemn the nation’s xenophobia and compel the nation to come forward with evidence against these alleged violations on fundamental human rights.

Putting all of this aside, if there's anything we've learnt from history, it's that inaction in the face of atrocities itself amounts to acquiescence.