China 'Using Population Claims' to Mask Effect of Mass Incarceration in Xinjiang Camps

Recent statistics from Beijing showing fast population growth among ethnic minority groups have been falsified, rights activists say.
2021-05-12
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China 'Using Population Claims' to Mask Effect of Mass Incarceration in Xinjiang Camps Uyghur students in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are shown in a file photo.
Reuters

Official claims that China's ethnic minority populations are growing faster than the majority Han population are being used to justify genocidal policies in Xinjiang, commentators said.

"The growth rate of population of ethnic groups excluding Han is significantly higher than that of Han ethnic group over the last decade," the official English-language China Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Han Chinese currently account for 91.1 percent of the total population, with a population growth rate of around 4.9 percent compared with the 2021 census, it said.

"The growth rate of the population of people from other ethnic groups is about 10.3 percent," the paper cited the 2020 census figures as showing.

All newspapers allowed to operate in China undergo constant monitoring and direction from the propaganda department of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

But commentators said the claim in official media that the Han Chinese population is growing more slowly than other ethnic groups, including the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, are intended to justify the CCP's mass incarceration of Uyghurs, as well as the forced sterilization, organized rape, and forced marriage of Uyghur women, as reported by Uyghurs once incarcerated in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress exile group, said that birth-rates have fallen sharply among Uyghurs in the past two years, as the authorities in Xinjiang incarcerated as many as 1.8 million people in "re-education" camps, put their children in state-run orphanages, and sterilized large numbers of Uyghur women.

"The Chinese government is using its claim that ethnic minority groups are growing more quickly than the Han Chinese to mask its plans to eradicate the Uyghur ethnic group," Raxit said.

He cited earlier government figures as showing that Xinjiang saw a marked decline in population from 2017, when the "re-education" camps became widespread in the region.

The regional birth rate fell from 15.88 percent in 2017 to just 8.14 percent in 2019, Dilxat Raxit said.

"The natural population growth rate fell from 11.4 percent in 2017 to 3.69 percent in 2019, a slowdown of more than 67 percent," Dilxat Raxit said.

"The Chinese government has been planning and implementing population control measures for the Uyghur people, including forced sterilizations and abortions," he said.

Unfounded claims

Serikzhan Bilash, an ethnic Kazakh from China who founded the rights group Atajurt after moving to neighboring Kazakhstan, agreed.

"This claim that the birth rate of ethnic minority groups is twice as high as that of the Han Chinese is unfounded," he said.

"First, the CCP has always implemented strict family planning policies in Xinjiang, encouraging and forcing party members and civil servants to have only one birth or late marriage and late childbirth," he said.

"Second, there have been mass incarcerations of Kazakhs and Uyghurs in Xinjiang since 2017, and almost no children have been born in Xinjiang to Kazakhs and Uyghurs ... in the past five years," he said.

"We have evidence to show that many maternity hospitals and child healthcare centers have been turned into concentration camps," Serikzhan said.

In findings that support the assertion that China is suppressing Uyghur birthrates in Xinjiang, German researcher Adrian Zenz published a report in June 2020 showing a dramatic increase in forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the XUAR.

Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, drew from a sizable cache of official documents to show that population growth fell by 84 percent in the XUAR's two largest Uyghur prefectures from 2015 to 2018, and declined further in 2019.

He wrote that since the campaign of mass incarceration was launched in the region in April 2017, Uyghur women with three or more children were increasingly subjected to heavy fines, required to submit to pregnancy tests and examinations, and forced to implant intrauterine devices (IUDs) or undergo sterilization surgeries.

'Cooking the books'

Serikzhan accused the authorities in Xinjiang of deliberately falsifying people's ethnic identities to ensure this wasn't reflected in the official population statistics.

"They have allowed large numbers of Han Chinese to change their identities to Kazakhs and Uyghurs -- they did this deliberately so they could falsify [the figures]," he said.

Kazakh scholar Reis Khan said he regarded the figures with strong suspicion, too.

"The CCP cooks the books to meet its own needs," Khan said. "They want to use this census data as part of their wolf warrior diplomacy efforts [to change the narrative on] human rights abuses in Xinjiang."

"They want the rest of the world to believe that there aren't any human rights abuses or concentration camps in Xinjiang," he said.

Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, told a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday that he expects China's population to stay above 1.4 billion "for some time."

China's working-age population, or people aged between 16 and 59, stands at 880 million, with an average age of 38.8.

But he added: "Data shows that China's population has continued to maintain slow growth in the past decade."

Ning cited a fall in the number of women of childbearing age, couples choosing to delay having children, and the rising cost of childbirth and parenting.

Amid increasing scrutiny of China’s policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the U.S. government in January designated abuses in the region part of a campaign of genocide—a label that was similarly applied by the parliaments of Canada, The Netherlands, and the U.K.

China has dismissed the allegations and sought to undermine claims by former detainees by coercing their relatives to call them liars on camera.

Reported by Qiao Long and Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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