The only way of reducing the number of Chinese refugees in the West is changing the regime in China.
by Marco Respinti*
* A paper presented at the webinar “Il velo di Maya sull’immigrazione” (The Maya Veil on Immigration), hosted on November 24, 2022, by Cooperativa sociale Helios in collaboration with Centro Studi Koinè Europe, Associazione Italiana Genitori Direzione Provinciale Terni, Criminalità e giustizia, and Associazione Mediatori Penali Italiani ed Esperti di Giustizia Riparativa.
Immigration and the influx of asylum seekers are international concerns. European countries mostly face immigration from Northern Africa and the Middle East. Yet, there is another form of immigration, one the public opinion and even politicians are sometimes less aware of. It is the immigration from the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC).
Even if there are economic migrants from China, in other cases Chinese immigration is just a possible immigration or even a would-be immigration. In fact, it would actually take place only if people could physically leave China. Often, they cannot. Escaping from dangers in one’s home country is always painful and is never easy, but those who wish to flee from China encounter many more problems than others. China is in fact one of those places where national boundaries serve mostly not to stop unwelcome foreigners to get in, but to prevent citizens from getting out.
Take for example the Uyghurs and other Turkic people who live in Xinjiang, which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkistan. Many left the country to escape persecution and harassment. Recently, a bipartisan proposal by the Canadian parliament suggested that the Canadian government should give asylum to 10,000 of them.
These Uyghurs, Kazakhs, or Kyrgyz leave China because in China they suffer a genocide. Genocide is a heavy world, with serious legal implications. It is not only a synonym of massacre. It is a devised and implemented systematic slaughter against a specific group of human beings, identifiable in terms of ethnicity, religion, and culture. We call it a genocide when the intention of the perpetrators is genocidal, wishing to wipe entirely out a distinctive human group, whether or not the perpetrators actually succeed in their intent.
All this corresponds to the criteria set by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959) when he coined the term “genocide” in 1943–1944 and initiated the Genocide Convention. Today, scholars are debating the possibility of enlarging those criteria to include also cultural genocide. A cultural genocide is of course the destruction of the cultural identity of a human group. It differs from the concept of genocide originally devised by Lemkin because it usually proceeds at a slower pace, often without a huge carnage of victims occurring within a comparatively short time. Nonetheless, it is a genocide, some scholars argue, because it similarly aims at a final solution against a human group. Destruction of this group is achieved through the destruction of its culture.
This is a worthy discussion and makes for an interesting debate. It sheds light on the subtle ways through which criminal political powers perform their crimes against humanity. But let me play the devil’s advocate, and ask whether the whole concept of a cultural genocide may serve only as a fig leaf. Perhaps the use of the adjective “cultural” just downplays the impact of the word “genocide.”
I am sure that the best minds working on this topic have no intention to downplay any genocide. However, others could argue that, while being an awful thing, a cultural genocide is less bloody than a “traditional” genocide and does not kill thousands or millions of people.
All should be properly and accurately discussed, and needs much more than an article or a lecture. As an element for this discussion, I propose to consider the fact that among the tools of all cultural genocides there are the sterilization of women of the targeted human group, compulsory abortion to prevent future births within that group, the seriously reduced or totally canceled ability of these women to reproduce because of a systematic policy of rape, which unites humiliation to physical damage, as well as other such horrors. All these tools aim at replacing life with the denial of life, or death.
Is it then still possibly to ultimately distinguish between a bloody genocide and a cultural genocide, which also has its casualties? In many cases, the answer is no. Surely not in the cases of Uyghurs and Tibetans, whose women are targeted by the anti-reproductive and anti-natalist, as well as racist, policies that the Chinese regime practices against non-Han people within the boundaries of the PRC.
A few more thoughts on refugees from China. Many more would escape from China if they could, not Uyghurs or Tibetans only but also Christians, including members of heavily persecuted Christian new religious movements such as The Church of Almighty God, practitioners of Falun Gong, other religionists, pro-democracy activists, and many others. The 10,000 Uyghurs that the Canadian parliament is trying to welcome have already left China, but in the countries that they have reached they are threatened with forced repatriation. This adds an important detail to the general topic of immigration from China. Refugees escaping from China do not feel safe in most of the countries they re-settle in.
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project is documenting the attempt of the Chinese regime to hit Uyghurs even abroad through a series of important reports, calling the attention of the US authorities, especially on the fate of Uyghurs. The US even issued a law-enforcement bulletin to protect refugees from threats and upholding freedom of speech. “Bitter Winter” produced a documentary on the topic.
The Chinese police have stations in many foreign countries. All come within the framework of a collaboration between the other countries’ police, so what is happening is legal. However, obviously one thing is the collaboration between the police forces of two democratic countries, and a totally, unbearably different thing is the collaboration of a sovereign democratic state with the police of a totalitarian country like the PRC, which systematically violates human rights and persecutes its own citizens. The dimension and deepness of the presence of the Chinese police in foreign countries has not been fully clarified but for sure this adds terror to terror for the refugees that left China to escape persecutions.
Add also that Art. 38 of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, passed by the puppet Hong Kong government on June 30, 2020, gives the state (in Hong Kong yes, but what is the difference nowadays between Hong Kong and China?) the possibility to arrest abroad even foreign nationals whom the Chinese regime accuses of anti-Chinese activites.
Yes, immigration and the influx of refugees are serious concerns for many countries. They could become even more serious if escaping China would become easier. Then people should not leave China—not because they ought to be handed over to their butchers but because their butchers should not run China.