On Sept. 4, the official Chinese government Twitter account denied accusations that Muslims and other minorities in China were the targets of a sterilization campaign. In June, the Associated Press reported that the campaign was backed up by detentions and hefty fines.
"Over the past 40 years, the #Uyghur population in #Xinjiang grew from 5.55 million to 12 million,” China’s tweet said. “From 2010 to 2018, the population of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang increased by 22%. Is there any kind of 'forced sterilization’?”
Likewise, the government-owned China Daily claimed recent research by Xinjiang Development Research Center showed that between 2010 and 2018, the Uighur population had the region’s highest birthrate at “about 12 newborns per 1,000 people.”
Both claims are misleading.
Leaked internal Chinese government documents, known as the “Karakax List,” showed the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party was targeting Uighurs. The Associated Press reported that of 484 people detained in camps in the Karakax county in Xinjiang, 149 were for exceeding official birth quotas, “the most common reason for holding them.”
The AP investigation came on the eve of a report by German scholar Adrian Zenz, an expert on China’s re-education camps for Muslims in Xinjiang. Writing in Foreign Policy in July, Zenz said the 2019 family planning budgets of two counties in Xinjiang, Hotan and Guma, had targets to sterilize “approximately 14 and 34 percent of women between 18 and 49—in a single year.”
Documents from Xinjiang’s Health Commission, Zenz wrote, indicated the counties were part of a wider project targeting all southern minority regions of Xinjiang’s in 2019 and 2020.
P]unishing birth control violations with internment has been just one of several strategies to suppress minority birth rates. The second approach was a mass deployment of IUDs, a widely used form of birth control around the world and the most commonly used form in China.
In 2018, a stunning 80 percent of all newly placed IUDs in China were fitted in Xinjiang, even though the region only makes up 1.8 percent of the country’s population. By 2019, Xinjiang planned to subject over 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to 'birth control measures with long-term effectiveness'.
The sterilization rate in Xinjiang was seven times the national average in 2018, Zenz wrote. The plan had the banal title “Free Technical Family Planning Services to Farmers and Pastoralists.”
"The evidence suggests that this campaign aims to sterilize some women with one or two children, and many or all women with three or more children. One Uighur county’s 2019 family planning policy explicitly stated that women with three or more children are to be sterilized. According to the 2010 national census, about 20 percent of all Uighur women across China had three or more children; in some predominantly Uighur prefectures, that share may be as high as 36.1 percent…"
Zenz is listed as a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, an educational organization in Washington, D.C., that says it is dedicated to both commemorating and “pursuing the freedom of those still living under totalitarian regimes.”
Experts estimate that the Chinese government began detaining Uighurs in reeducation camps in Xinjiang in 2014, around the same time China blamed Uighur separatist groups for a series of terrorist attacks in the country. In response to the attacks, authorities began a "year-long campaign against terrorism," increasing security and conducting more military drills in the Xinjiang region, as the BBC reported.
But in 2017, these efforts drastically expanded – around the same time evidence of such camps began to be reported internationally. As Polygraph.info previously wrote, The New York Times’ “Xinjiang Papers” and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ “China Cables” revealed China had an internal procedure for “dealing” with the Uighurs.
In the China Daily article, Mutalif Roz, the director of Xinjiang’s health commission, dismissed worries that local authorities were forcing women to undergo procedures to curb birthrates. “In Xinjiang, illegal medical practices like late pregnancy induced labor, compulsory birth control and forced pregnancy tests are banned,” he said.
But multiple news organizations reported interviews with Uighur women who’d been detained for re-education and said they were forced to have abortions or had contraceptive devices forcibly implanted. Some also said they received injections that either stopped menstruation or caused unusual bleeding, the BBC reported. Women beyond childbearing age were also targets, as Qelbinur Sidik, who had a forced sterilization at the age of 50, told the Guardian:
"In 2017, just because I was an official worker in a school, they gave me a wider choice to have this IUD or sterilization operation. But in 2019 they said there is an order from the government that every woman from 18 years to 59 years old has to be sterilized. So they said you have to do this now. … I said my body cannot take it, but they told me ‘You don’t want children, so you have no excuse not to have the sterilization operation.’ "
Sterilizations began to increase in Xinjiang in 2016 while dropping nationwide, Zenz reported. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of sterilizations in the region increased from 28.5 per 100,000 people to 243 per 100,000. That compares with a national rate of 32.8 in 2018.
Between 2017 and 2018, the birthrate of Uighurs in Xinjiang dropped from 15.9 per 1,000 people to 10.7, according to the Xinjiang Statistical Yearbooks, cited by AP.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby told a U.S. congressional committee in December 2018 that “since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000, and possibly more than 2 million, Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities in internment camps for indefinite periods of time.”
The Chinese government denies allegations of internment camps, claiming that it has established “vocational education and training centers in accordance with the law to prevent the breeding and spread of terrorism and religious extremism.”