The subheading of this WSJ piece puts it best: “China outsources human rights abuses to its neighbors.”
Last week the Malaysian government deprived 11 Chinese citizens of their right to seek refugee status and deported them back to China. That Kuala Lumpur failed to honor its obligations to respect refugee rights is no surprise: The men were Uighurs, an ethnic minority who had fled the restive territory of Xinjiang to escape political persecution.
Over the last several years, East Asian and Central Asian countries have bowed to Beijing’s pressure and returned Uighurs to China with no questions asked. Once there, they disappear into the prison system where they are often tortured and can face execution.
The trend seems to be accelerating. Earlier this month Thailand deported a Uighur man, Nur Muhammed, and Pakistan sent back five Uighurs, including a mother and two small children. Vietnam, Laos, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have also repatriated Uighurs in recent years.
In 2009, Cambodian officials assured the U.S. ambassador that they would not repatriate a group of Uighur asylum-seekers, only days before the police took 20 of them at gun-point and put them on a “VIP plane” to China. China pledged the legal proceedings against them would be transparent but reneged on that promise. Two days later, it granted Cambodia $1.2 billion in aid, more than the cumulative total in the previous 17 years.
China is using its diplomatic and economic clout to outsource its human rights abuses against Uighurs to its neighbors’ territories. But even as it extends the reach of its secret police, it is also giving those neighbors an education in the ruthlessness of its methods. It’s no wonder that they are increasingly worried by China’s rise.
It’s really time for them to take collective action, because the alternative is to be bullied one by one. Perhaps none of them care enough about the plight of Uighur refugees to take a stand, but countries dealing with the “U-shaped line,” for example, have an interest in protecting each other.