Gabriel Yiu: Why are Chinese Canadians divided on the Uyghur genocide?

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      The position of Canada and its western allies on the Uyghur genocide is clear. The European Union, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada have not only condemned China for their repression of Uyghur Muslims, but have also imposed active sanctions on China.

      In recent years, major media outlets in the western world have provided extensive coverage on the dire situation in Xinjiang. The reports have included testimonies from victims, their families and witnesses, evidence in the form of photos, satellite images, and the Chinese government’s internal documents, as well as analysis from scholars and experts, human rights groups, academic studies, and reports.

      Canada’s parliamentary subcommittee on international human rights had conducted studies in 2018 and in 2020 on the Xinjiang situation. The subcommittee concluded that:

      “The Subcommittee was profoundly disturbed by what it heard and is convinced of the need for a strong response. The Subcommittee heard that the Government of China has been employing various strategies to persecute Muslim groups living in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive state surveillance and population control. Witnesses were clear that the Government of China’s actions are a clear attempt to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion. Some witnesses stated that the Government of China’s actions meet the definition of genocide as set out in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).”

      The full statement can be read here.

      It is uncontroversial for the Canadian mainstream that China’s repression of Uyghur Muslims amounts to genocide, and many Chinese Canadian human-rights advocates are at the forefront of bringing this issue to global and Canadian attention. Nevertheless, the topic remains highly contestable in the Chinese Canadian community.

      Some members of the community have chosen to believe in and adopt the lies and party lines propagated by officials of the Chinese Communist Party. Further manipulated by the Chinese-language media outlets controlled by Chinese officials and influenced by the “mouthpieces” that the party has established in the community, some not only do not believe that China has committed severe human rights abuse against Uyghur Muslim people, they even believe in China’s propaganda to spin the Uyghur genocide as an issue that United States and its allies have made up in an effort to attack China.

      Bill Yee’s statements on Chinese language radio attacking Canadian parliamentarians who voted for the genocide motion are very much from the same script of the CCP message box. His comments, stating that the MPs have “never been to Xinjiang”, that they have “ulterior motives,” and “no evidence”, are the same lines being repeated by China’s officials and mouthpieces across the world.

      What Yee said is particularly intolerable, given that he is a former judge. Would a judge go to the crime scene in order to determine that a crime has been committed? Does a judge need to see a crime being committed in order to rule on a case? Such trivial excuses repeated by Yee to deny the Uyghur genocide is a betrayal of his legal knowledge, profession, and conscience.

      There are other reasons why Chinese Canadians would buy into the lies of CCP officials and their mouthpieces:

      Love of their home country

      Many people hold fond sentiments for their home country, and wishes for the country to do well. This is true even for those who had to leave China due to political persecution, and especially now as the country has become the world’s second-largest economy. They wish to take pride in the prosperity of a “worthy” China. This makes them reluctant or unable to see the dark side of a prosperity brought on by a totalitarian regime.

      Lack of understanding on the definition of genocide

      Many believe that genocide must equate to ethnic cleansing and massacre. According to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II:

      “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

      a. Killing members of the group;

      b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

      c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about;

      d. its physical destruction in whole or in part;

      e. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

      f. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

      The studies conducted by Canada’s parliamentary subcommittee on international human rights have concluded that China has violated all the above acts.

      Source of news and information

      It is no secret that all news and social media originating from China are under strict control and monitoring. Any news, facts or opinion unfavourable to the CCP are removed, whereas false information and fake news are packaged with regular news and spread across the globe.

      Even locally, many Chinese language media are increasingly subjected to the influences of the Chinese consulate. News and commentaries that are unfavourable or critical of China are being self-censored. It is no wonder then that those who are reliant on the above-mentioned Chinese language news sources receive a vastly different and distorted view of the world.

      Due in part to CCP mouthpieces like Yee, Chinese Canadian politicians are under immense pressure due to skepticism on the Uyghur genocide in some Chinese Canadian communities. In Toronto, four of the five Chinese Canadian MPs abstained to vote on the genocide motion, whereas in B.C., all three Chinese Canadians MPs have voted in favour.

      For those who wish to learn more about the grave human rights atrocities committed against Uyghur and the East Turkestan, the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Simon Fraser University’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies have jointly produced a very comprehensive resource website on the situation in Xinjiang. Here is the link to the Xinjiang Documentation Project.

      Gabriel Yiu is a longtime contributor to The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.