The seventh population census of China in 2020 cited that the growth of the country’s ethnic minority population has been significantly higher than other ethnic groups over the past decade, claiming it as a consequence of the nation’s “all-around development.”
However, the reality, especially Uyghurs and Tibetans, seems further from the truth. China’s sly policies enforced through an iron fist by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reveal a dangerous change in the minority population. Communist China is witnessing a definite demographic inversion.
Uyghurs, an ethnic minority in China who are predominantly Muslims, are inhabitants of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR), established in 1955 after the military annexation of East Turkestan.
In 2017, the People’s Republic of China announced its intention to smash all “separatist activities and terrorists” in Xinjiang. What followed was unprecedented state crackdowns on the Uyghur population, a terror that caught global public attention.
Uyghurs Bear The Brunt Of Detention Camps
It has been reported that more than one million ethnic minorities, Uyghurs included, have been killed, arrested, and forced into detention camps or prisons, referred to in Beijing as “re-education camps”, like the one witnessed during the Cultural Revolution.
In reality, though, minority people are subjected to extreme humiliation, torture, and political indoctrination in these so-called camps to make them “de-radicalized.” China feels that the process is the only practical way of “tackling extremism,” whereby, once de-radicalized, these people would acquire skills to be employable and contribute to the economy.
Another impact of state-inflicted horrors is the demographic inversion in Xinjiang. Through strict Chinese law and policy for family planning, ethnic and religious minority women, such as the Uyghurs, were reported to be subjected to draconian coercive measures for population control by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This resulted in a massive drop in population growth since 2018.
Forced Sterilization, Abortions Skew Demography
These coercive measures included mass forced sterilization, forced abortion, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks conducted in detention camps, or as China calls it, ‘re-education’ camps.
Moreover, Uyghur parents, who were found to violate the government limit concerning the number of children a family is permitted, are found to be forcefully sent to these detention camps unless they paid exorbitant fines.
This sustained campaign is in line with the CCP’s history of decade-long practices of violating human rights in the country, depriving people of their rights and dignity through coercive measures.
While birth rates in other regions saw improvement due to the abolition of the one-child policy in 2016, birth rates continued to plunge, risking a drastic reduction of the minority population in Communist China soon.
Pertinently, between 2015 and 2018, the natural population growth of Uyghurs saw a drastic drop of 84 percent, which further declined in 2019. According to official Chinese statistics, there was a 48.7 percent decline in birth rates in ethnic minority areas of Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019.
China attributes this decline in birth rate to a cultural shift away from marriage and family.
UN Report Flags Human Rights Violations
A 2022 UN report accused China of ‘grave human rights violations’ in Xinjiang province and an apt case for consideration for international crimes, particularly crimes against humanity. In its response, however, China denied the UN’s accusations and maintained that the Uyghur population had enjoyed more relaxed family policies than the Han population.
According to the PRC’s State Council Information Office, in the seventh national census (2020), the population distribution of Xinjiang was 25.85 million in total, of which Han constitute about 10.92 million and ethnic minorities 14.93 million (Uyghurs about 11.62 million).
Moreover, since the XAR’s establishment, the region has seen a high population growth rate of the Uyghurs, a compound growth rate of 1.67 percent, which is much higher than other ethnic minority groups due to the implementation of autonomy in the region by the CCP.
The Chinese statistics are a mere CCP’s tool to refute the rightful accusations by the international community that its measures amount to a demographic genocide in the country.
Tibet Has Suffered From Demographic Meddling
Xinjiang is not the only case of the CCP’s attempt at demographic inversion, although one can call it to be its latest target. Since the 1951 Chinese annexation, especially after the controversial Seventeen-Point Agreement (1951), Tibet witnessed the gradual diminishing of Tibetan autonomy that paved the way for discontent and their uprising in 1959 and the subsequent fleeing of the 14th Dalai Lama and millions of Tibetans becoming exiled all over the world.
Therefore, demographic inversion in the Tibetan case started with the Chinese annexation seven decades ago. Concerning Tibet, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) actually, China claims the Tibetan population to be a little more than two million.
China’s vicious attempts at Han integration in the Tibetan region as part of its Sinicization policy earmarked a transition in the demographic dynamics. The consequences of this cultural assimilation are the imposition of Mandarin as the official language in schools and administrative offices, state interference in Tibetan Buddhism, and the Han population outnumbering the Tibetans in government posts in Tibet.
UN Rapporteurs Alarmed By Children Being The Target
The February 6 United Nations Special Rapporteurs’ report expressed being alarmed by Chinese efforts at forced cultural assimilation of roughly one million Tibetan children into the majoritarian Han culture.
Besides, children were also forced to separate from their families and taken to state-run educational facilities where children were seen as targets of political indoctrination at an early age to brainwash them to pledge obedience and loyalty to the CCP and the Communist government.
Besides its policy of cultural integration under the garb of its Sinicization policy, China, through its rapid infrastructural projects in Tibet and the subsequent opening up of Tibet in the name of modernization and development, is merely ensuing greater exploitation and control over the Tibetan land, resources, and population, to dilute any possible eruption of dissent in future.
It is, therefore, essential to analyze China’s policies in the Tibetan region as attempts to reach its most prominent goal — demographic inversion, which has only increased in recent years.
The CCP and the Xi Jinping government will likely continue to fudge data to show progress, development, and benevolence. As has been the norm thus far towards its minority population, the international community should be wary of Chinese misadventure and hold it accountable for its gross human rights violations, often highlighted at various Human Rights forums and conferences.
- NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached at ncbipindra (at) gmail.com
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