This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Washington has condemned Beijing for a since-removed tweet that sought to justify repressive family planning policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) by suggesting they make Uyghur women more independent, prompting calls to shutter China’s embassy and ban its Twitter account.
Last week, the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. posted a tweet referencing a report in the official China Daily about a “study” by the state-affiliated Xinjiang Development Research Center that found “extremism had incited people to resist family planning” and that its eradication had given Uyghur women “more autonomy when deciding whether to have children.”
According to the study, decreases in the birthrate and natural population growth rate in the XUAR in 2018 “were not caused by ‘forced sterilization’ of the Uyghur population” as documented in a June 2020 report by German researcher Adrian Zenz linking the two and concluding that such measures amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
When Zenz’s study came out, official Chinese media vilified him and said Beijing is “considering suing” him for libel, while the foreign ministry denounced him.
“Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines,” the Jan. 7 Chinese Embassy tweet read. “They are more confident and independent.”
Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017. Reports suggest that women who flout family planning policies are regularly placed in detention.
Twitter removed the tweet over the weekend, saying it had “violated” the site’s rules, without providing details.
However, the post drew plenty of condemnation before it was taken down, including from U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who said in a tweet that the Chinese Communist Party’s “chauvinism and racism towards Uyghurs knows no limit.”
“Let’s call this what it is– cultural eradication through forced abortion, forced sterilization, unjust imprisonment, and torture,” she added.
Nury Turkel, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent U.S. federal government body, called China’s attempt to justify its policies in the XUAR “utterly appalling and shameful.”
“I call on the international community to join USCIRF in condemning #CCP in the strongest terms,” a tweet by the commission quoted him as saying.
‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomats
The embassy tweet follows a recent pattern of pugnacious online diplomacy by China’s envoys. Named after a 2017 blockbuster movie that brimmed with jingoism and set box-office records in China, “Wolf Warrior” diplomats use Twitter to troll critics, insult their host countries, and threaten governments that criticize China.
The birth control claims also drew condemnation from China watchers who called for tougher measures against Beijing for attempting to defend its rights abuses in the XUAR.
CJ Werleman, an Australia-based author and columnist for Inside Arabia, welcomed Twitter’s removal of the tweet but suggested more punitive steps should be taken.
“Hey, @Twitter, while you’re at it – how about slapping a permanent ban on Chinese embassy for bragging about genocide,” he tweeted.
Columnist and China critic Gordon Chang told RFA’s Uyghur Service Monday that Beijing is committing “crimes against humanity” and its embassy is “openly bragging about them.”
“That facility has no place with the United States,” he said.
Forced abortions and birth control
In August, sources told RFA that hospitals in the XUAR were forced to abort and kill babies born in excess of family planning limits or who were in utero less than three years after the mother’s previous birth.
According to a June 8 report published on the official Xinjiang Web news site, an average of 8 million “extra” pregnancies are aborted in China each year. The report said that nearly 10 percent of women undergo a second such operation in their lifetimes, while almost three percent of women who are unable to have a second child have had such an abortion performed on them.
RFA has been documenting the use of forced abortions in the XUAR—and particularly how Uyghur women are rarely given any other choice by the state—since at least 2005, when a family-planning cadre in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture described the way family-planning officials would take women directly to government offices and hospitals to perform the procedures.
Over the past several decades, Uyghurs’ reports about family-planning policy implementation in the region have suggested that many instances of Uyghur discontent that were often portrayed by the state as “splittism,” and later as religious extremism and separatism, stemmed from frustrations with family planning.
Even women who do not violate limitations on children under family-planning policies in the XUAR are routinely forced to undergo birth control procedures that include implantation of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and tubal ligation surgeries.
Several have described in recent interviews painful procedures that left them both physically and emotionally scarred and suggested such measures are part of a bid by the government to eradicate their ethnic group.