Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China, is home to the majority of the country’s Uighur Muslim population and the center of the government’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” a project that seeks to connect China with Europe through trade routes and agreements. It’s also become an “Orwellian surveillance state,” according to Rushan Abbas, founder and director of the Campaign for Uighurs, who spoke at a panel discussion of the Uighur crisis at Princeton’s Maeder Hall Nov. 20.

Abbas, a former student activist at Xinjiang University, described the particulars of the mass detentions and human-rights abuses in Xinjiang, many of which were revealed last weekend in more than 400 pages of internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents that were leaked to and published by The New York Times. 


Using internment, indoctrination with CCP propaganda, forced labor, family separation, high-tech surveillance, and other invasive policies, China has been systematically eliminating the cultural presence of Uighur Muslims in the region since 2017. The CCP claims that these policies comprise an anti-terrorism strategy. 

“These blatant violations of human rights by the CCP is only one part of the rising tide of what’s happening around the world,” said Abbas. “China is getting away with genocide.” 

Adrian Zenz, senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, described the Chinese government’s atrocities against Uighurs as “soft genocide.” 

“This is not just a war on Islam; it is nothing less than an experiment for reproducing a totalitarian ideology through the micro-management of thought control and coercion,” Zenz said. “Beijing is using every technique of genocide except for extermination.” 

The actions in Xinjiang should serve as a reminder of China’s totalitarian ambitions, added Aaron Friedberg, a professor of politics and international relations at Princeton. 

Last week, a similar panel on China’s human-rights abuses was scheduled at Columbia University before being cancelled due to concerns about protests

Abbas was scheduled to be one of the speakers at the Columbia event, and she expressed her disappointment about the decision to cancel. 

“This is something that I would expect to happen at home [in Xinjiang] and in economically dependent countries,” she said. “But not in the United States.”