Since the 1970s, when President Nixon and Chairman Mao tore down the Bamboo Curtain that had isolated China from the rest of the world, there has been a gradual movement toward individual freedom and away from the dogmatic discipline inherent in Mao’s Little Red Book.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, has been gradually reversing the reforms of his predecessors – reforms that were bringing the Middle Kingdom out of the dark ages of Communism. His return to brutal dogmatic authoritarianism is having its effects on the world order and on China’s internal stability.
We are already seeing the result of Xi’s attempts to tighten the grip on Hong Kong. The months of unrest in the island province has pushed back against the Xi regime. Initially, it was over a plan to allow dissidents to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China – where they could be dealt with more severely.
Though no one will say it out loud, the demonstrations have morphed into an independence movement. This was evident in the number of American flags being displayed by the protesters – and calls on President Trump to support their effort. The separatist movement now taking place in Hong Kong will undoubtedly revitalize the independence movement in Taiwan. These are both the unintended consequences of Xi’s iron-fist policies.
Beijing would like to be able to round up the dissidents and send them off to the newly empowered re-education camps – concentration campaigns by any other name. Though dissidence in China has always been greeted by incarceration and “re-education” facilities, the scope and harshness of those methods have diminished over the years since Nixon walked the Great Wall, the practice was never ended.
It was, however, sufficiently curtailed so that the average Chinese citizen did not live in fear – even those who spoke against government policies. But concern is on the rise again.
As an “old China Hand” – as they say — I have spoken to many Chinese over the course of the past 20 years – many during my frequent visits to the Middle Kingdom and others via Skype and other social platforms. They do not speak as freely as they once did – and they have dropped virtually all criticism of the Chinese Government. Many express the desire to leave China. This is evident in the long lines at the U.S. visa offices in China – and the growing number of those who permanently “overstay” their visas or seek political asylum.
But leaving China may not be the answer. Beijing monitors and threatens Chinese nationals all around the world – even expatriates who are now American citizens. They speak of fear of retaliation against family members back home if they express anti-Beijing sentiments or engage in activism.
It is certainly not like the days of Chairman Mao, when millions of Chinese were starved or murdered in cultural revolutions. Modern control and intimidation are made possible by technology. Chinese leads the world in creating social IDs of its citizens using facial recognition. The Chinese government tracks the chats and postings on the Internet. It is virtually impossible to function in China without the use of traceable personal devices.
So, what happens to people who do not fall in line with the dogma of the day? That is where the re-education camps come in. One would expect that the civilized and enlightened world community would push back against resurrecting those policies. Certainly, the UN should be leading the opposition.
Led by the United States, 23 UN nations have condemned the Chinese government’s use of re-education camps – primarily against the Muslim minority. The idea is to forcefully convert them to secular atheism – the official religion of the Communist regime. Beijing moves against other religions, but with greater subtlety.
In addition to the United States, the nations among those condemning China were Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia. In their released statement, they said the purpose of their resolution is to “uphold its national and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights.”
We have seen the images of scores of blindfolded prisoners with cuffed hands and feet. We have heard the testimony of witnesses who suffered torture in those camps – and of the reports of those who never returned.
With all of this, 54 … yes, 54 … UN nations have expressed support for the Chinese regime’s use of these concentration and indoctrination facilities. This split on China’s brutal policy is yet another example of the uselessness of the UN as an international body effectively promoting peace and human rights.
The support for China was led by Russia’s own puppet government in Belarus. For the most part, the nations supporting what they referred to as China’s “counter terrorism” efforts had poor records on human rights. It included Russia, Bolivia, Egypt and Serbia – and a number of central African nations notorious for brutality in dealing with dissent. Surprisingly, such Muslim-majority nations as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have sided with China on human rights.
But things could be worse. Xi still wants to be a world leader and has no desire to take China back behind the Bamboo Curtain – as if that was even possible. It is the reason he has not brought the hammer down on the prolonged pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Regardless, the expansion of the internment camp program and the increased monitoring of Chinese citizens is not a good sign.
So, there ‘tis.