The Morning Dispatch: 'How Can One Still Stay Silent?'
New evidence emerges detailing China's ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs.
Happy Friday! We know some Republican senators want to punish Disney by limiting copyright protections for intellectual property, but recent events may encourage them to reconsider.
“Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey wrapped earlier this month, and the first stills show … a demonic Pooh and Piglet about to pounce on a scantily-clad young woman relaxing in a hot tub,” Variety reported Thursday, noting the beloved A.A. Milne characters lapsed into the public domain five months ago. “She’s having a good time and then Pooh and Piglet appear behind her, chloroform her, take her out of the jacuzzi and then kind of drive a car over her head.”
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
Texas Department of Public Safety officials substantially revised their account of Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School, telling reporters Thursday their initial assessment of the shooter engaging fire with a district security officer on his way into the school was incorrect, and that he actually walked in “unobstructed.” The officials’ updated timeline details the gunman standing outside the school for 12 minutes and walking inside at 11:40 a.m., but not being killed by police until more than an hour later.
Senators headed home for a 10-day recess on Thursday, but signaled early optimism that a deal could be reached on some narrow pieces of gun-safety legislation when they return. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said he’d be willing to accept a more incrementalist approach than he has previously, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he encouraged GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to spearhead bipartisan negotiations on legislation “directly related to the problem.” A bipartisan group of nine senators met in the Capitol on Thursday, and Murphy said he is now “perfectly willing to let the good prevail over the perfect.”
Abbott announced this week it had reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to release limited quantities of its special amino acid-based baby formula that had been on hold since the agency shut down the company’s manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, in February. Abbott plans to reopen the facility on June 4, and said it will prioritize specialty formulas for children with “urgent medical needs.”
The Justice Department announced Thursday that after a “careful re-review of evidence,” it will not criminally charge two former FBI agents accused of mishandling sexual-abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. “This does not in any way reflect a view that the investigation of Nassar was handled as it should have been, nor in any way reflects approval or disregard of the conduct of the former agents,” the agency said.
The latest COVID-19 surge may have peaked in recent days, with the average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States declining 8 percent over the past week. The average number of daily deaths attributed to COVID-19 continue to fall as well, down 15 percent over the same time period.
New Evidence of Uyghur Genocide
Ziba Murat hasn’t heard from her mother, Gulshan Abbas—a “kind hearted, soft spoken” retired doctor—since China detained the now almost 60-year-old Uyghur woman in 2018. When mugshot-style photos of 2,884 detainees in China’s Xinjiang province were released this week, Murat was terrified to look. “I am scared to find my own mother’s helpless eyes full of fear,” she wrote to The Dispatch.
There’s a photo of Rahile Omer, 15 when China detained her, and Anihan Hamit, 73. There’s 50-year-old Hawagul Tewekkul, her eyes full of tears. In Ilham Ismayil’s photo, a police officer visible behind him holds a baton. But Abbas isn’t in the pictures, and Murat isn’t sure exactly where she is or if she’s receiving treatment for chronic health issues. “I don’t even know how to describe how I feel,” Murat, a U.S. citizen and Virginia mom of a 4-year-old, said. “What kind of world are we living in, and how long do we have to suffer like this?”
The 2,884 photos are part of a collection of Chinese police files the D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) and a consortium of news outlets have vetted and released. They’re calling them the Xinjiang Police Files—thousands upon thousands of images and documents showing China’s mass detainments and systematic efforts to control and erase the religious and cultural identity of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
According to VOC, an anonymous hacker stole the files from Xinjiang police and turned them over. They include 450 spreadsheets of more than 20,000 detainees’ information, classified speeches by Chinese leaders laying out the motive and methods of detainment, and PowerPoints and photos showing police detainment drills. None of the files are dated after 2018—Xinjiang police were directed to update their encryption in 2019, which may have stymied the hacker.
Researcher Adrian Zenz—a senior fellow and director of China studies at VOC—and the news outlet consortium authenticated the files by looking for signs of manipulation, consulting family members of detainees, checking metadata and geolocating photos with satellite data, and finding phrases from the classified speeches in Chinese local media. Zenz concluded in a peer-reviewed analysis that in one county, China detained more than 12 percent of the adult population in camps and prisons in 2017 and 2018. At that rate, more than 1.2 million Uyghurs and other minorities would have been detained across Xinjiang at that time.
From the testimony of Murat and others like her—plus satellite evidence and previous leaks—human rights advocates have known for some time that China is detaining Uyghurs on a large scale, perpetrating sterilizations and forced labor. But these documents provide the most comprehensive evidence yet that the camps are not, as China claims, voluntary vocational education facilities. Police in the photos practice subduing chained and blindfolded people and look on as rows of detainees sing or chant in what appear to be indoctrination sessions. They use machine guns and sniper rifles in camp watchtowers and have orders to fire a warning shot and then shoot to kill would-be escapees, according to the documents.
The files show the extent of China’s crackdown on majority-Muslim Uyghurs’ culture and faith. Security footage stills show observation of prayers at a mosque. Photos of confiscated items include hijabs and a child’s school notebook with Uyghur language exercises, according to VOC. In a classified 2017 speech delivered during Ramadan included in the files, then-Xinjiang governor Chen Quanguo declared, “We must exercise firm control over mosques and other venues of religious activity,” according to a VOC translation. “On the one hand, we ensure their freedom of religious belief, but on the other hand, our party cadres, our force must have physical presence in all mosques, both to enforce regulations and strengthen monitoring activities.”
“They are seeking to control the expression of religion—which is another way of saying they are trying to eradicate the free expression of religion—and it was on full unfiltered display,” American Foreign Policy Council Indo-Pacific fellow Michael Sobolik told The Dispatch. “That’s not necessarily new, but it hits a little differently when you read it from someone who was the party secretary, and was the primary executor of this entire campaign. … The vast majority of those people are still inside of those camps today. Some of them have almost certainly died in those camps.”
In a 2018 speech from the files, Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi said he’d come to “implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s strategy for governing Xinjiang,” according to a VOC translation. Chen also touted Xi’s plan for Xinjiang.
“This has been one of the questions that scholars and outside investigators have been trying to pin down for years now,” Sobolik said. “Is [the oppression of Uyghurs] something that Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, is personally invested in? Is this part of his mandate, what he sees as his political imperative?” The documents suggest that, yes, China’s top leaders not only support the effort in Xinjiang, but have driven and directed it.
Human rights activists and Uyghurs want action from the West. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—which aims to ensure American companies don’t import products made with forced labor in Xinjiang—takes effect next month. “It is imperative that the administration vigorously enforce that law,” Andrew Bremberg, former U.S. representative to the United Nations and head of VOC, told The Dispatch. Sobolik went further: “[We] need to sanction all trade that runs in and out of Xinjiang, because it’s inextricably linked to the atrocities there. … The political will is not there today—in two or three years, though, maybe.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is currently visiting China, but consented to a trip with no freedom for independent investigation. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson shared a photo Monday of China’s foreign minister giving Bachelet a copy of a book by Xi Jinping on “Respecting and Protecting Human Rights.” State Department spokesman Ned Price described the trip as “a mistake,” and the U.N. later sought to clarify what it claimed were mischaracterizations of Bachelet’s remarks during the trip.
Bremberg called on Bachelet to quickly oppose any Chinese statements implying she approves of the country’s human rights record and on the U.S. and European countries to expand sanctions from local Xinjiang officials to include central Beijing leaders. “We either believe in human rights or we don’t,” Bremberg said. “The pattern of continuing to do mostly nothing suggests that we don’t actually believe in these things. … We now know without any kind of doubt what is happening in Xinjiang.”
The U.S. has yet to specify any new actions based on the document release. Secretary Antony Blinken did not mention the documents in a speech about the Biden administration’s China policy Thursday or announce new sanctions. “The United States calls on the [People’s Republic of China] to immediately release all arbitrarily detained people, abolish internment camps, and end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and use of forced labor,” a State Department spokesperson told The Dispatch. “We will continue to work with our partners and allies to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock argued for an investigation into the files’ allegations during a conversation with her Chinese counterpart Tuesday, her office said.
Murat wants the U.S. to push harder for the release of her mother and other detainees. “The cases of our loved ones need to be a priority when our government engages with the Chinese government,” Murat said. “How can one still stay silent after seeing those gut wrenching photos, kids with their heads shaved, mothers with eyes brimming with tears? It is time this burden is shouldered.”
The Biden Administration’s Approach to China
“Under President Xi [Jinping], the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home, and more aggressive abroad,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech Thursday, laying out the Biden administration’s China policy before an audience of diplomats and students at George Washington University. “We cannot rely on Beijing to change its trajectory. So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open, inclusive international system.”
There were no real shockers in the address. While the Biden administration has in some ways softened former President Donald Trump’s approach to our main geopolitical rival—Blinken made sure to emphasize that the U.S.’s quarrel is with China’s government, not its people—it has also largely kept Trump-era tariffs in place and acknowledged that bringing China into the global economy has not liberalized its government. The administration has tried to emphasize human rights in its foreign policy, declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs genocide and sanctioning some Xinjiang leaders.
“We do not seek to transform China’s political system,” Blinken said, after declaring the country a threat to the international rules-based order. “We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. … We don’t seek to block China from its role as a major power.”
So what does the administration seek? That’s where ‘shaping the strategic environment’ comes in. Since Beijing won’t change, Blinken argued, the U.S. must invest in its own technology and infrastructure, build a coalition of allies aligned in opposing China’s malign influence, and then out-compete China in every sector.
Sen. Mitt Romney attended the speech and praised Blinken’s outline. “I am encouraged by the principles that Secretary Blinken laid out,” the Republican told The Dispatch in a statement. “[I] urge him to craft a clear strategy in which we link arms with our friends and allies to encourage the Chinese Communist Party to play by the rules that the rest of the world follows.”
Blinken did list a few steps the U.S. has already taken. Congress passed an infrastructure bill last year—Blinken declared updated infrastructure essential to economic competition with China—and is working on legislation aimed at boosting semiconductor production in the U.S. Administration officials hope the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) unveiled this week will encourage diversified supply chains to reduce reliance on China and give countries strength in numbers to stand up to its coercive economic policies—though some analysts worry IPEF doesn’t provide smaller countries in the region enough incentives to pull away from China’s economic orbit.
The secretary emphasized that countries don’t have to oppose China to join these initiatives: “This is not about forcing countries to choose; it’s about giving them a choice.” There are several areas where a U.S.-led coalition must counter Chinese practices, Blinken said: theft of intellectual property, for example, and permissive climate and labor laws that allow Chinese companies to undercut U.S. companies.
Blinken spent comparatively little time on human rights—about one minute in a nearly hour-long speech to condemn China’s treatment of Tibet, Hong Kong, and Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. He also condemned its aggression toward Taiwan. “Beijing insists that these are somehow internal matters that others have no right to raise,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Alongside the condemnation and talk of competition, Blinken carved out room for cooperation. “Where our interests come together, we can’t let the disagreements that divide us stop us from moving forward,” he said. “That starts with climate.” It also extends, he said, to pandemic preparedness, global food security, international drug trafficking, and countering the nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran.
The speech laid out a bifurcated approach to China. “There is a certain degree of schizophrenia present in the Biden administration’s policy,” Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, told The Dispatch. “It seems as though there are warring factions [in the administration]—those that support greater engagement with China for purposes of [mitigating] climate change or otherwise, and those that are stronger in condemning human rights violations and recognizing some of the security threats emanating from China.
“That will continue to be a problem for the administration unless they can figure out exactly what it is they think,” she added, noting the administration is trying to treat China as both partner and rival. “At some point, they’re going to have to decide which one they view China as primarily, and then have policy stem from that.”
Worth Your Time
KENS 5 News in San Antonio spoke with one of the few survivors from the fourth grade class at Robb Elementary, who wanted to share what happened to his classmates. “We have a door in the middle, and he opened it and came in and crouched a little bit and said, ‘It’s time to die,’” the 10-year-old remembered. “When he shot, it was very loud and it hurt my ear. When I saw the bullets on the floor it was real. And when I heard the shooting through the door, I told my friend to hide under something so he wouldn’t find us. I was hiding hard and I was telling my friend not to talk because he was going to hear us. The cops said [shout] ‘help’ if you need help. And then one of the persons in my class said ‘help,’ and the guy overheard and he came in and shot her. And then the cops barged in into that classroom, and then the guy shot the cops and the cops just started shooting at him. … [Ms. Irma and Ms. Eva] were nice teachers, and they went in front of my classmates to help and save them. I would like to say for every kid and parent to be safe.”
As polarization worsens and the stakes rise, is the integrity of our governing institutions doomed to spiral the drain until it collapses entirely? “One of the greatest challenges for a republic is whether citizens, including elites and politicians, are willing to put institutional preservation over their immediate policy and political goals,” Northwestern Law School professor John McGinnis writes for Law & Liberty. “That willingness is always being tested, because people can rationalize that the institutional costs will be paid in the future while the policy and political gains may be enjoyed now. And institutional fidelity becomes particularly difficult in times of political polarization when many on each side of the aisle believe that the policies and politics of the other side are not only wrong, but evil. Why preserve institutional norms if you are confident that your opponents will soon eviscerate them? … It is always easier to undermine traditional norms than to restore them. But I believe that there are at least two ways to help in the rebuilding.”
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Toeing the Company Line
In this week’s edition of The Current, Klon pushes back against the Heritage Foundation’s approach to Ukrainian aid and foreign policy more generally. “Heritage was good to me and any success I enjoy was in part made possible by this organization,” he writes. “But we have a profound disagreement on an important topic and Heritage President Kevin Roberts has asked for a debate—so I’m going to take him up on his offer.”
In the wake of Buffalo and Uvalde, Jonah is joined on Thursday’s Remnant by Stephen Gutowski, the founder of The Reload and arguably the smartest person in national media on firearm policy. Should assault rifles be banned? What does the “media” get wrong every time something like this happens? And what, if anything, can be done to help prevent these events?
On today’s Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the role that lawyers play in compounding the injustice of sex abuse in religious institutions in light of this week’s Southern Baptist Convention report. Plus: An interesting insurrection election eligibility decision in the 4th Circuit, and more on red-flag laws.
On the site today, Josh Grundleger ponders whether repealing the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators, could help fix what’s wrong with the Senate. And Jonathan Schanzer looks at whether Israel and Saudi Arabia might join forces to help their common neighbor Jordan deal with security challenges presented by Iran.
Let Us Know
In your opinion, does the China strategy laid out above by Antony Blinken strike the right balance between attempting to contain Beijing’s bad behavior and avoiding more open hostility between superpowers?