Taiwan: Between Hong Kong and Xinjiang

Taiwan needs a louder voice on Xinjiang and Hong Kong, because the CCP is trialing methods in those places it hopes to impose on Taiwan

Michael Turton
Aug 6, 2018 · 5 min read
Possibility the largest re-education in Dabancheng, Urumqi, Xingjiang (Image from the research of Shawn Zhang)

Concentration camps. Crematoria. Organ harvesting. The news out of Xinjiang is grim. No one really knows how many Uyghurs have been detained, or even what “detention” might mean, since Uyghurs, especially males, revolve in and out of camps. NCHRD estimates:

Our findings show that, in the villages of Southern Xinjiang, about 660,000 rural residents of ethnic Uyghur background may have been taken away from their homes and detained in re-education camps, while another up to 1.3 million may have been forced to attend mandatory day or evening re-education sessions in locations in their villages or town centers, amounting to a total of about 2 million South Xinjiang villagers in these two types of “re-education” programs. The total number for Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR or Xinjiang) as a whole, including other ethnic minorities and city residents, is certainly higher.

Ethan Gutmann, who has provided testimony and briefings to the United States Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency, the European Parliament, the United Nations, and the parliaments in Ottawa, Canberra, Dublin, Jerusalem, Prague, Edinburgh, and London (Image: The Epoch Times)

Ethan Gutman, one of a small group of determined researchers who have laid bare the systematic organ harvesting from political prisoners, has said in recent talks that not only has almost the entire Uyghur population been blood typed, but that the government is erecting crematoria in Xinjiang, obviously to burn bodies from which organs have been removed. Chinese authorities have also gone after manifestations of Uyghur identity and religion in everything from store and street signs to clothing and customs.

Agnes Chow (center) founded Demosisto with fellow umbrella movement leaders including Joshua Wong and Nathan Law in 2016. (Photograph: Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the situation for democracy and rule of law in Hong Kong is becoming increasingly precarious. Pro-democracy candidates have been banned from elections. Universal suffrage and elected executive and legislative officials, goals defined at the handover of Hong Kong to China, have been defeated by Beijing. Beijing has famously kidnapped booksellers and pro-China politicians have called for sterner punishments for “subversion” — advocating democracy for Hong Kong. The famed “One Country, Two Systems” solution for Hong Kong is widely considered dead.

At first glance, these two situations seem connected only by the distant link of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) authoritarianism. But in reality, they are twin sides of the same coin: the CCP is trialing a variety of methods of occupation that it one day hopes to impose on Taiwan.

Consider: Taiwan combines both the problems of Hong Kong — an established order of democracy and rule of law backed by a long history of dealing with colonial power — and Xinjiang: an isolated population with its own identity and a long history of independent cultural development. In Taiwan this double whammy of problems for the occupation is the hallmark of the young, whose independent Taiwan identity has robustly incorporated the idea of democracy.

Fans sing “Island’s Sunrise” (written for the Sunflower Movement) at a concert in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung by the popular rock band Fire EX (Photo: Kensaku Ihara)

To date, there has been much discussion of how Hong Kong is a warning for Taiwan. For example, a commentary in the Taipei Times observed of Taiwan that “…the nation should take Hong Kong’s governance crisis as a warning sign.” The “One Country, Two Systems” solution has been decisively rejected in Taiwan since reliable polling began in the 1990s, and the situation in Hong Kong is often treated as vindication of Taiwan’s repudiation of this policy for Taiwan. Both in public and in private, Hong Kongers regularly remark on how they want to move to Taiwan.

The link between Hong Kong and Taiwan is easy to see and often made, but the link to Xinjiang is not so readily apparent. Yet, the “Xinjiang solution” has already been applied to Taiwan, by the KMT in the authoritarian era. In those days travel in and out of Taiwan was carefully controlled. Many elderly academics from Taiwan have told me how when they left for the US for their degree, their houses were searched for suspect literature. Visitors were constantly followed and monitored, as were those who contacted outsiders. Every male spent two years in a concentration camp, known as a military base, where they were bombarded with KMT propaganda — a process called “being in the military”. In the schools students were tightly monitored by military personnel, who taught courses meant to indoctrinate students in KMT ideology.

Portraits of victims at the National 228 Memorial Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. (Sam Yeh/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

In those days too, as in Hong Kong today, the ruling Chinese colonial government imposed a hollow and meaningless democracy that enabled control of the island by its own people and those serving it. Thus, in Taiwan, the KMT has already piloted, with more primitive technologies but in a unified way, the methods that the CCP is now trialing in Xinjiiang and Hong Kong.

In Xinjiang and Hong Kong lie the future that Beijing has planned for Taiwan and its vibrant, deeply internalized democratic politics. Taiwan’s leaders need to speak up loudly and often on the fate of Xinjiang, and Taiwan’s media needs to place that front and center in its reports on China. The DPP as a party needs to start pointing this out. The US must also get involved, and Taiwan should give it some gentle pushing. Hong Kong receives more publicity, but Taiwan must help ensure that the CCP’s behavior in Xinjiang should be made the moral test of a generation.

Because Xinjiang is the once and future Taiwan.

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Michael Turton

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Michael Turton is a longtime expat in Taiwan, who operates the well known blog The View from Taiwan on Taiwan politics, history, and culture.

American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States