Hudson Institute

Remarks by Senator Tom Cotton on the Xinjiang Emergency

There’s perhaps no greater threat to freedom today than the communist regime in Beijing

United States Senator, Arkansas

Hudson Institute
Washington, D.C.
February 6, 2019

SENATOR COTTON: Good morning and thank you to John Walters for that kind introduction. And thanks to the Hudson Institute for inviting me to speak about China’s brutality in Xinjiang Province. It’s good to be back with you. Hudson continues to host some of the most important discussions on topics of great concern to America and the world. This event is no exception.

That’s because there’s perhaps no greater threat to freedom today than the communist regime in Beijing. One observer described Chinese communism as a system where the average Chinese subject “lives from birth to death under the eye of [the state]. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent . . . He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever.” Actually, that’s how George Orwell described life in Oceania in his dystopian novel 1984. But it could just as easily describe life in China today.

No one suffers the oppressive weight of Chinese communism more than the predominantly Muslim minorities of far western China—especially the Uighurs. At least 800,000 and possibly several million Uighurs are currently detained in a modern-day gulag archipelago—run by a different communist power but no less wicked, atheist, and materialist. Xinjiang Province is home to just 1.5 percent of China’s total population, but 21 percent of China’s arrests. It would be as if one in five arrests in America happened in South Carolina. By some estimates one-in-ten Uighurs is currently detained. Detention quotas for some provinces are higher still, at around 40 percent of the total population.

Residents who’ve so far been spared these concentration camps are nonetheless subjected to Orwellian security and assaults on their privacy, religious faith, and way of life. The Chinese government is spending tens of billions on facial recognition, electronic spying, and coercive DNA collection, to create a database capable of tracking a person’s every move. This is the definition of a totalitarian system—one that exercises total control of your person, down to the very strands of your DNA.

I’m a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a body charged with monitoring political and human-rights conditions in that country. In the course of that work, the Commission often hears the stories of men and women persecuted by the Chinese state.

Last November the Commission heard the testimony of a brave Uighur woman and mother of triplets, Mihrigul Tursun. After living abroad for some years, Mihrigul returned to Xinjiang with her three infant children in 2015. What awaited her was a nightmare. Almost immediately Mihrigul was separated from her children and detained, seemingly for no reason. When she asked what crime she’d committed, she received a telling reply: “You being a Uighur is a crime.”

Mihrigul described the horrendous conditions she and her fellow Uighurs were subjected to in the re-education camps. By her account, nine of her 68 cellmates died within a span of three months. They were starved, confined in tight spaces, injected with unknown drugs, and electrocuted—and all the while forced to sing patriotic Chinese songs and repeat slogans like “Long live Xi Jinping”—not unlike the Ministry of Love’s indoctrination of Big Brother. In other words, they were being brainwashed—a term, I’ll note, that originated with the Chinese Communists during the Korean War.

Eventually Mihirigul was released from captivity, after filming a videotaped oath where she was forced to lie that the police never interrogated her, tortured her, or even detained her. Her captors sent her imprisonment and torture down the memory hole.

Mihrigul survived her treatment at the hands of the Chinese government, but her children were not so lucky. One died. The others suffer health problems to this day. What was left of the Tursun family fled to America, where the Chinese government continues to harass them—here, on sovereign American soil—just as it harasses other Uighurs who have defected to the Free World.

Beijing’s crimes against a tiny minority in a remote land may seem excessive. But Xinjiang holds great cultural, strategic, and ideological significance to the Chinese Communist Party. It’s critical to understand the regime’s motives and plans to see why it matters to us.

Han-dominated China has always felt deep insecurity and even fear about its western hinterlands, Tibet and Xinjiang. Indeed, the word “Xinjiang” in Mandarin actually means “new dominion.” And that’s precisely how China sees it: As a new land to be dominated. China sees its giant western provinces as a crucial buffer against rival powers. China also uses these provinces as a staging ground to project military and economic power into the heart of Eurasia.

So ever since Mao took over the country in 1949, the regime has done everything it can to bring these territories to heel—not least by overwhelming and erasing native minorities through population transfer. The regime has relocated millions of Han Chinese to Xinjiang and Tibet. Much like China’s campaign of artificial island building in the South China Sea, its demographic transformation of the west is a way to create facts on the ground. Today, the population of Xinjiang is about evenly split between Han Chinese and native minorities. It may not remain that way for long.

Of course, the plight of the Tibetan people has been well publicized for decades. It has become a cause célèbre in Washington and Hollywood. Political leaders like Nancy Pelosi have met with the Dalai Lama, the face of Tibetan resistance. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford have even been banned from China for their outspoken criticism. I commend Speaker Pelosi and these movie stars for speaking out against Chinese oppression in Tibet. Now it’s time to shine the spotlight on Xinjiang, which is directly to Tibet’s north—and is being persecuted for many of the same reasons.

The most important reasons for China’s clampdown are strategic. Xinjiang is the largest province in China, and also the richest in energy: One-fourth to one-third of China’s petroleum deposits lie in Xinjiang, as well as an abundance of natural gas and coal. As important, Xinjiang is located strategically at the crossroads of Asia, giving China access to Central Asia and the Middle East, including Afghanistan. China has been aggressively courting all of the countries along its western border as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Already China’s railways and energy pipelines are snaking across Central Asia. Xinjiang is the gateway to the Eurasian empire that China hopes to build.

Paradoxically, western regions like Xinjiang are also important to China’s aspirations on its eastern shores. China seeks total control over its own western territory so that it can project power and create a sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific region. This is another reason we must care about the fate of Xinjiang: China’s repression at home enables aggression abroad against America and our allies.

Nor will China’s totalitarian methods stay neatly in distant provinces in Central Asia. To the contrary, China views its so-called “smart cities” and re-education camps as models for export. Already there have been reports of U.S. lawful permanent residents detained in Xinjiang internment camps. Police task forces from Hong Kong have visited Xinjiang to study its methods of social control. And despots around the world, from Vladimir Putin to the ayatollahs, are surely watching the experiment in Xinjiang with great interest. What started in the remote steppes of Central Asia may come soon to the coast, and eventually to a city near you.

The strategic and cultural significance of Xinjiang gives us an idea of why China is turning the province into a police state, and why it demands America’s full attention. As for the particular methods China is using, there is a strong ideological component at play. Since the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, it has been obsessed with “ideological security” against so-called “false trends” like democracy. It’s also fiercely concerned with what it calls “splittism”—separatist movements that arise within cultural and ethnic groups such as the majority-Muslim Uighurs.

The Chinese Communist Party believes the way to guard against such threats is to purge them ruthlessly from the minds of its subjects. And that’s precisely what we’re observing in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is steamrolling any sign of cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity and attempting to replace it with the deadening uniformity of communism. Thoughtcrime must be purged.

Xi Jinping believes he has the world to gain from the “New Silk Road” he’s building across Eurasia, but he fears China won’t be able to control its empire if its minorities hold to their religious beliefs and traditional cultures. So Xi has decided to take no chances by eradicating those inconvenient artifacts of humanity. Not only for the Uighurs, but also for our own security, China must face consequences for its crimes in Xinjiang.

We ought to use the Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on Communist Party officials who are orchestrating these crimes, especially Chen Quanguo, the Politburo slave master of Tibet and Xinjiang.

We also ought to sanction companies that are manufacturing China’s instruments of repressionn, such as the state-controlled surveillance-camera companies Hikvision and Dahua Technologies. Just like their more famous telecom cousins, Huawei and ZTE, these companies are puppets of the People’s Liberation Army and we ought to deny them access to Western markets.

Additionally, we must stop our own companies from helping China build this new Evil Empire. Companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific, which sells the DNA sequencers China uses to build genetic dossiers on its ethnic minorities. This is the twenty-first century rope that capitalists will sell to hang themselves. And it ought to be a lesson to companies like Google, which is performing cutting-edge AI research in China and contemplating even greater investment in that country.

Many of these measures are recommended in a bill I’m sponsoring, the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Congress ought to pass this bill. And we all should raise our voices and ensure the civilized world knows what China is doing in Xinjiang, where the ugly truth of communism is once again laid bare for all to see. That’s why I’m pleased this event is taking place. If any country is equipped to speak out about China’s totalitarian crimes, it’s this one: The Land of the Free. So we must speak out, often and loud.

Today the Chinese government is purging every vestige of its subjects’ freedoms at home to pave the way for its economic, military, and political expansion abroad. China has a plan for the world, and it’s as concrete as the prison cells where it keeps dissenters.

Make no mistake: The brutal police tactics in Xinjiang are not just an assault on that province’s native people, although they’re surely that. They’re also an assault on the American-led world order, and a disturbing premonition of an alternative world order—one controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and one that ends in Room 101.

1984 may be 35 years in the past now, but for China, 1984 is still the future.