It was still hours before dawn when a BBC camera crew landed in China at an airport in the far northwest. After months of monitoring satellite images and hearing a handful of horrifying testimonies from the inside, British reporters came to see for themselves if the rumors of an underground network of forced labor camps was true. What they found defied their imaginations -- and the world's.
Their visit, they discovered quickly, wasn't a surprise. From the moment the team arrived, they were followed by a fleet of police cars, government officials, and plain-clothes surveillance. "As we drive up the wide approach road, we know that sooner or later the convoy behind is going to try to stop us. While still a few hundred meters away, we see something unexpected. The wide expanse of dusty ground, shown on the satellite image to the east of the site, is empty no more... a huge extension project is taking shape."
Cameras rolling, the crew tried to capture the extent of the construction -- dark grey buildings, cranes, and high fences emerging from nowhere. Just as they were getting closer, the police intervened. "We [were] told to turn off the cameras and leave." But not before the crew found what they'd been looking for: evidence of China's brutal new compounds, where faith is sent to die.
With people disappearing off the streets and more camps caught on satellite, Chinese officials have stopped denying the camps' existence and started a "full-on propaganda drive" instead. On Chinese television, the state photos of the inside make it look like a cheerful school setting -- "full of clean classrooms and grateful students." But the truth is much more sinister. Outlets like the Washington Post, who've heard the stories of so many Uighurs (the Muslim minority who makes up the biggest percentage of prisoners), know better.
"They are forced to renounce the Muslim religion and Uighur language, and memorize and recite Chinese characters and propaganda songs. The 'vocational training' is actually forced labor. Torture and deaths are common. Thousands of children have been separated from their parents and placed in a separate network of orphanages. 'Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins," concluded a state news commentary cited by the [New York] Times. It's hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent."
Uighurs, who are being swept up into China's nets by the thousands at various checkpoints around the country, are scared to even leave the house. Other non-Muslims are being thrown behind the high walls of these prisons for nothing more than having a photo of a woman with a headscarf on their phone -- or reciting something religious at a funeral. "Yet thanks to China's growing power," the editors of the Washington Post point out, "global reaction has been muted."
The Trump administration, which hasn't been silent at all on religious persecution, has a unique opportunity to speak into the crisis and make a difference for the 1.1 million innocent people trapped behind the country's tall watchtowers. American representatives, who are currently on the ground in Beijing for trade talks until late Wednesday, have more than enough time to make China's commitment to human rights a condition of any deal. For more than 20 years, our State Department has listed China as a country of particular concern, but the designation has meant little in our diplomatic and trade relationships. It's time for America to put its mouth where its money is and put this regime on notice: we will not give favored status to a country that brutalizes and persecutes its own.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.