China Policies to Cut Uyghur Numbers by One-Third, Report Says

Chinese national flags outside Urumqi Erdao Bridge Mosque in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, China. (Source: Bloomberg)

China Policies to Cut Uyghur Numbers by One-Third, Report Says

Chinese policies could reduce the growth of southern Xinjiang’s ethnic Uyghur population by one-third over the next two decades, according to a new report, data that could bolster arguments that the effort represents genocide.

Policies from birth control to forced labor transfers are on track to cut the Uyghur population in the region’s southern portion by 2.6 million to 4.5 million by 2040, according to the latest analysis by German researcher Adrian Zenz. That’s the equivalent of as much as one-third of the 13.1 million ethnic minority members that would be projected to live in that area without state intervention.

About 10 million Uyghurs inhabit Xinjiang, which is the size of the U.S. state of Alaska, and most live in the south. Zenz’s research found the share of China’s majority ethnic Han was expected to increase to about 25% from 8.4% now in the south as the Communist Party encourages them to move in.

The report, which is derived from official data and population projections, represents one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to assess the demographic impact of China’s campaign to reshape the once-restive frontier region. Allegations that Beijing is disproportionately reducing births among its Muslim minority is central to the debate over whether such policies constitute genocide, as the U.S. and other Western governments have alleged.

“We now have a much clearer idea of what the Chinese government is planning to do over the longer term,” Zenz said. “Now, it’s going to be much harder for states not to determine this a genocide.”

Zenz -- a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and an influential critic of Beijing’s Xinjiang policies -- will present his findings Monday to a panel of lawyers and human rights experts preparing a report on the issue in London. While the so-called Uyghur Tribunal has no state support, Beijing has denounced the hearings.

China has rejected the genocide claims as “nonsense” and described its policies in Xinjiang as an effort to fight extremism and reduce extreme poverty. Chinese officials have sought to discredit Zenz, accusing him of working with the U.S. government.

“We have repeatedly exposed Adrian Zenz making and spreading lies and rumors on Xinjiang and slinging mud at China, among other attempts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing Monday in Beijing. “The visionary people, media experts in the international community, all agree that Adrian Zenz’s research is as good as useless. It is full of bias and he is a pseudo-expert. His remarks are not credible.”

The population projections were first reported Monday by Reuters, which shared Zenz’s research and methodology with more than a dozen experts in population analysis, birth-prevention policies and international human rights law. The experts said the analysis appeared sound, although they cautioned that unforeseen factors can affect long-term demographic projections, Reuters reported.

Birth rates in Xinjiang dropped almost 49% between 2017 and 2019, official data show, which former residents and human rights groups say is the result of sterilization procedures, intrauterine devices, abortions and the separation of married couples. Zenz’s report includes previously unreported research produced by Chinese academics and officials on Beijing’s intent behind the birth-control policies in Xinjiang.

China Policies to Cut Uyghur Numbers by One-Third, Report Says

The question of whether China’s birth-control measures are targeted toward an ethnic group is relevant to whether its actions are in violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The treaty, which was passed in the aftermath of the atrocities of World War Two, lists birth prevention targeting an ethnic group as one act that could qualify as genocide.

Xinjiang’s birthrate began to slump in 2018, shortly after the start of policies that including mass internment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. There were 120,000 fewer births in 2018 than a year earlier and about two-thirds of the decline was due to “control of unscheduled births based on family planning policy,” according to Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang publicity official cited in the report.

Poverty alleviation, better working and living conditions, along with rapid urbanization and higher education level have changed people’s thinking so that they are less willing to have children, Xu told a press conference in January. “All ethnic groups choose to marry late and give births late of their own accord in order to have fewer and better births,” he said.

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