/ Uyghurs: Victims of mankind’s apathy?

Until the year 2018, most people in Europe or the United States had never heard of the Chinese Muslim minority group with the odd-sounding name of Uyghur. That disregard of the Uyghurs changed in 2018 when reports of over a million people being held in camps that look, for all the world, like prison camps. Though Beijing has claimed several times that they are just “vocational training camps” the fact remains that there are camps, and those inside don’t seem to be able to leave freely. As more reporters started to make their way to Xinjiang throughout 2018 and 2019 additional details became clearer. They told the sad story of an entire ethnicity placed under mass video surveillance. The stories of men and women forced to discard traditional clothing, hairstyles, and lifestyles. Saddest of all are the stories of children being separated from their parents and raised outside their religion and culture.

The initial reports led to calls for an additional inquiry and a few statements of disapproval from several governments, but little was done about the topic. Most countries outside of Europe, The U.S. and their allies, simply ignored it. That changed earlier this week when the U.S. Government blacklisted several of China’s top technology companies. The blacklisting limited several companies specializing in video equipment and AI technology from purchasing components from the U.S. without the express approval of the U.S. Government. The question is, does blacklisting these companies really change anything for the Uighurs?

This is the question explored below with the belief that one of the three following scenarios is most likely to play out.

Old advertising saying states that “any press is good press” in that sense this blacklisting is a good thing for the Uighurs. Anytime a pro-human rights government takes notice of an oppressed minority it can give that minority hope of outside assistance. However, the timing of the announcement of the blacklisting, just as the U.S. and China prepare to resume trade negotiations could indicate that the oppression of the Uyghurs has become just one more U.S. talking point in the trade negotiations. A point, that like all others can be negotiated.

Europe, in general, has tried to avoid the U.S. vs China trade war, but it could easily be argued that blacklisting these companies has nothing to do with a trade war. It is a human-rights matter plain and simple. This could signal a new opportunity for human rights supporting countries all over the world to join in supporting the Uyghurs. Many countries in the E.U. and Australasia alike could join in blacklisting companies that produce the means of oppressing the Uyghur people. This would not be a trade war, it would be simple support of human rights. However, it could send a powerful message to Beijing. The message that major violations of human rights are not tolerated.

Alternatively, the U.S. blacklisting a handful of Chinese companies could easily become just one more blip in the daily news cycle, along with fresh news of the Uyghurs. The Chinese oppression the Uyghurs could simply run its course in the news until people lose interest. Creating a result of the Uyghurs, like the Tibetans, become the victims of mankind’s apathy. With a few die-hard activists will remain trying to call attention to them by placing a random “free Tibet” or “Save the Uyghurs” sticker on a sign on a high traffic street for people to laugh at and say to themselves “do people really still care about that stuff? I forgot all about it. Now, what do I need to pick up at the store again?”

The above three scenarios seem to me to be the most likely long-term results of the U.S. blacklisting a selection of companies. While I don’t believe that the Uyghurs will suffer the same fate as the Tibetans it remains a possibility. The extensive international support for the Uyghurs seems to indicate that human rights are still important in international relations. U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence has expressed strong support for the Uyghurs as have other U.S. leaders. Many European leaders have also expressed their support. If the Uyghurs are lucky then these statements will eventually translate to the actions required to help limit, or even end, Beijing’s oppressions.





  • The BBC, China, Where are my Children?, By John Sudworth, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07g2zrr
  • The Economist, Chinese actions in Xinjiang become a matter of international dispute, Print Edition-China, https://www.economist.com/china/2019/07/27/chinese-actions-in-xinjiang-become-a-matter-of-international-dispute
  • Foreign Affairs, Reeducation Returns to China, By Adrian Zenz, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-06-20/reeducation-returns-china?fa_anthology=1124328
  • The Guardian, Trade War Worries Weigh on Markets, By Graeme Wearden, https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2019/oct/09/trade-war-us-china-tensions-stock-markets-fed-business-live
  • U.S. Expands Blacklist to Include China’s Top AI Startups Ahead of Trade Talks, By Reuters, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2019/10/09/business/09reuters-usa-trade-china-exclusive.html?searchResultPosition=2
Cody WattersonJunior Researcher at the NSR programme, LIIA