The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
While the China-related headlines have focused on the novel coronavirus outbreak for the last month and a half, you may have missed other breaking news that reveals the continuing trend of China flexing its control inside and outside the country.
Swedish bookseller sentenced to 10 years
Chinese agents first kidnapped Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai in Thailand in 2015 for publishing and selling gossipy books about Chinese political leaders (one book explores President Xi Jinping’s supposed affairs). Authorities then held him in prison and forced him to make televised confessions. In 2017, they claimed to release him—although he remained under house arrest—and a few months later abducted him again while he was on a train with two Swedish diplomats.
Last week, authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas,” even though Gui had no access to any intelligence except his experience of treatment inside Chinese prisons.
Chinese authorities also claimed Gui renounced his Swedish citizenship and applied to regain his Chinese citizenship in 2018. Yet the Swedish Foreign Ministry received no notice about his renunciation. China has also barred Swedish consular officers from visiting him, making it impossible to verify the claims.
Gui’s daughter, Angela, wrote in an op-ed about Sweden and the European Union’s weak response to his sentencing: “It should be impossible to continue normal diplomatic relations with a state that claims ownership of anyone, regardless of nationality. Governments need to recognize that their relationship to China actively puts their citizens at risk of having all their rights and protections stripped at any moment.”
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong …
Police arrested three veteran pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong Feb. 28 for joining an unauthorized prayer walk protest last August. The most well-known of the trio is Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of the government and the owner of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The 71-year-old self-made millionaire also faces one count of intimidating a reporter from Oriental Daily on June 4, 2017.
Police also arrested 63-year-old Lee Cheuk-yan, the vice-chairman of the Labor Party, and 72-year-old Yeung Sum, the former chairman of the Democracy Party, for taking part in the same protest. Authorities released the trio on bail a few hours later. They will appear at Eastern Court on May 5.
Yeung noted that the Aug. 31 rally was peaceful: Participants sang hymns and chanted slogans. “Freedom of procession is a fundamental right, especially when we don’t have full democracy,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. “I thought the government should be focused on fighting the epidemic, but it seems it will not let go of what happened last year.”
In another sign of Beijing tightening the screws on Hong Kong, in February authorities appointed Xia Baolong, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, as the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Xia demolished thousands of crosses and shut down churches while party secretary of Zhejiang. He likely will take a hard line on dealing with Hong Kong, which has been embroiled in protests since June.
While the coronavirus outbreak has tamped down the pro-democracy protests, violent clashes returned Saturday as protesters marked the six-month anniversary of the police attack at Prince Edward Station. Molotov cocktails, fiery barricades, and tear gas again filled the streets of the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong as police arrested 115 people that night.
Uighur oppression continues
Lacoste gloves, Nike sneakers, and Apple iPhones all include components Uighurs manufactured—likely against their will—a new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found. As international condemnation against China’s detention of more than 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang re-education camps grew, Chinese authorities claimed many had “graduated” from what they claim were vocation training camps. The next phase of the government’s control of the ethnic minority apparently involves sending them to work in factories far from home while continuing their monitoring and ideological training.
Government officials transferred an estimated 80,000 Uighurs to factories around China between 2017 and 2019, according to the report, and 83 global brands depend on these factories to create their apparel, technological devices, and cars. The workers are unable to refuse their work assignments.
“For the Chinese state, the goal is to ‘sinicize’ the Uighurs; for local governments, private brokers and factories, they get a sum of money per head in these labor transfers,” Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post.
The Xinjiang government advertised Uighur workers for hire, claiming they had “semi-military-style management.” Watchtowers and barbed-wire fences surround a factory in Qingdao where hundreds of Uighurs make Nike shoes, according to the Post. After work they take classes in Mandarin and patriotic education. They can no longer practice Islam. The report also found government minders monitor the workers and limit their freedom of movement.