Monday, April 15, 2024

Survivors Speak Out: Uyghurs and North Korean Escapee Share Insights on China’s Atrocities

Washington DC – Uyghurs and a North Korean Escapee came together to address the ongoing issue of forced labor in China. In addition to forced labor, the panel discussed issues of trafficking of women and children and religious persecution in China and North Korea. Global Strat View organized the event in partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP). 

Message to the Korean Government and Companies 

The event started with Omer Kanat’s message to the Korean government and Korean companies operating in China, highlighting the critical suggestions for both bodies when dealing with China. He urged the Korean government to consider China’s treatment of Uyghurs in diplomatic relations while urging Korean companies in China to evaluate whether they are involved in utilizing Uyghur forced labor.

Kanat’s message comes when Korean companies are increasingly exiting from China for economic and political reasons. Korean companies have been under severe pressure in the past by the Chinese government, namely for the implementation of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea. Anti-China sentiments have been on a sharp rise in South Korea, especially among Millennials and Gen Zers, which contributed significantly to the electoral win of current South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yol, who promised stronger US-ROK ties, unlike the previous Pro-CCP Moon administration.

Testimony of Timothy Cho and the Situation of North Korean Escapees in China

Timothy Cho spoke on behalf of the UK All Parliamentarian Group on North Korea. Cho, a North Korean Escapee imprisoned four times in North Korea and China, shared his personal story of escape from his native homeland and explained the plight of the North Korean people. His testimony included his time in China, where he witnessed and experienced the brutality of the Chinese authorities toward North Korean escapees. Cho later explained that he faced torture when the Chinese authorities deported him back to North Korea. Cho eventually made another escape to China after being held in a North Korean prison for some time. 

While being held in China again, facing yet another deportation, an international campaign was being held to aid North Korean refugees. Under pressure, Chinese authorities later deported Cho to the Philippines, where he was able to make his way to South Korea and eventually settled in the United Kingdom.

Cho noted that, like him, North Korean escapees are often subjected to imprisonment and deportation back to North Korea by Chinese authorities without any consideration for their safety. When addressing the issue of forced labor, Cho also noted that North Korean laborers often face slave-like working conditions imposed by both North Korean and Chinese regimes.

Trafficking of Women and Children

(Right) Julie Millsap, Government Relations Manager at UHRP, explains the importance of unity among rights groups.

After Cho’s testimony, UHRP Government Relations Manager Julie Millsap explained a common plight of both Uyghurs and North Koreans: The trafficking of women and children. 

Millsap explained that Uyghur women are often subjected to several government-backed atrocities, ranging from forced marriages with Han Chinese men to facing rape and torture in concentration camps. Mass sterilization and forced abortions are just a few examples of what Uyghur women often face at the hands of the Chinese authorities, Millsap mentioned. 

She explained that the gender imbalance in China, primarily caused by China’s One Child Policy, has resulted in women of Uyghur, North Korean, and even Pakistani origin being trafficked to be forcefully married to Han Chinese men to solve the crisis. 

Millsap emphasized that although there is comprehensive knowledge regarding the trafficking of women and children in China, there is not much action toward a solution. By and large, Millsap mentioned no concrete diplomatic action is being taken to address the situation of women and children in China. 

Millsap went on to another critical point: despite the challenges, various human rights groups are coming together as the growing international recognition of CCP’s threat is widely recognized. She emphasized that such unity provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the narrative further that the CCP is indeed a global threat, especially as more testimonials of CCP’s victims are further highlighted on the international stage. 

According to a recent report by Radio Free Asia Korea Service:

“About 150,000 to 200,000 North Koreans live in China in areas close to the North Korean border and as many as 70% to 80% could be victims of human trafficking, a report released in March by the Dutch law firm Global Rights Compliance said.

The report said North Korean women are sold for hundreds of US dollars, and the criminal organizations selling them collectively earn more than $100 million each year.

North Korean refugees who have fled to China without formal immigration status are especially vulnerable to trafficking, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report said.  

“Traffickers lure, drug, detain, or kidnap some North Korean women upon their arrival in the PRC and compel them into commercial sex in brothels and bars, through internet sex sites, or in relation to forced marriage,” it said.”

In another article by Foreign Policy:

(Uyghur and other Turkic groups) Women have found themselves the targets of some of Beijing’s cruelest tactics. Last year, researcher Adrian Zenz found the region poured $37 million into programs—featuring forced sterilizations and IUD implantations—meant to slash birth rates, which dropped 24 percent in 2019 in Xinjiang compared with 4.2 percent nationwide.”

Testimony of Kalbinur Gheni and the Uyghur Situation

(Right) Kalbinur Gheni shares the plight of her sister, Renagul Gheni, and her personal experience with the Chinese authorities.

Kalbinur Gheni shared her testimony on her family’s situation and her personal experience dealing with Chinese authorities in the US. Gheni shared that she grew up in Xinjiang (a.k .a, East Turkistan) and then worked in Beijing for twelve years before moving to Malaysia to study and work. While in Malaysia, Gheni received a phone call one day from her family telling her not to return to China. This was when the Chinese authorities started to harass, threaten, and eventually send her family members to concentration camps. 

At the time, Gheni said, the authorities claimed that her sister Renagul Gheni, a teacher at a government school, was sent to a so-called “re-education camp” to learn Mandarin and other skills. This came as a surprise as becoming a teacher in China requires one to be fluent in Mandarin. 

Gheni eventually made her way to the United States, as her status in Malaysia was becoming insecure, especially as her passport was about to expire. Even after arriving in the US, Gheni was subjected to constant harassment by Chinese authorities. She mentioned that since her first public appearance and sharing of her sister’s situation, the Chinese authorities have made multiple threats and deals to silence her from her activities. At one point, Gheni mentioned that the authorities played a recording of her sister’s voice, which urged her to stop her actions and obey and respect the Chinese Communist Party. Another instance also involved authorities taking her mother and brother to the police station and calling her to urge her to stop all activities involving her in-person and online public appearances. Gheni, however, did not stop speaking out for her sister and all Uyghurs detained under the Chinese authorities. 

Gheni mentioned that her sister was recently moved from a concentration camp to a prison, where forced labor and other forms of crime are prevalent. Gheni had learned that her sister, Renagul Gheni, was sentenced to seventeen years for praying during their father’s funeral and keeping a Quran in her drawer. 

Religion Persecution

When asked about another common issue that the CCP subjects to both communities, all panelists agreed that religious persecution was among the top issues. 

Kanat pointed out that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has not only kept silent on the Uyghur persecution but also praised China for its policies in Xinjiang (aka East Turkistan). Kanat mentioned that this is a more significant pain for the Uyghurs as virtually all Muslim-majority nations have turned their backs on their fellow Muslims suffering at the hands of the Chinese government.  

In 2019, the OIC stated that it “Welcomes the outcomes of the visit conducted by the General Secretariat’s delegation upon invitation from the People’s Republic of China; commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens; and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.” The cases like those of Renagul Gheni, however, proves to be a direct contrast to the so-called, “efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens.” However, as Millsap commented earlier, despite the lack of progress in the diplomatic sphere, rights groups are increasingly uniting to address issues as mutual solidarity increases internationally. 

Cho, a devout Christian, emphasized that this is a time for all persecuted religious groups to unite. He mentioned that North Korean escapees are often subjected to constant persecution for their predominantly Christian beliefs, which could result in execution once deported to North Korea. China, Cho said, is fully aware that North Korean escapees face such horrific treatment and death once deported back to North Korea. Cho also emphasized that Muslims, Christians, and all persecuted religious groups must unite to address religious persecution in places worldwide, like China and North Korea. 


Author profile
Se Hoon Kim
Assignment Editor/Senior Correspondent, East and South Asia

Se Hoon Kim is the Assignment Editor and Senior Correspondent, East and South Asia at Global Strat View. He is also a columnist for the Sunday Guardian.

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