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International

“Genocide” is the wrong word for China’s persecution of Uyghurs

To confront evil, the first step is to describe it accurately.

According to “The Economist”, when Ronald Reagan cried “tear down this wall”, everyone knew what he meant. There was a wall. It imprisoned East Germans. It had to come down. One day, it did.

In the struggle between democracy and dictatorship, it is crucial that democracies tell the truth in plain language. Dictatorships will always lie and obfuscate to conceal their true nature. Democracies can tell it like it is. Bear this in mind when deciding what to call China’s persecution of the Uyghurs.

On his last full day in office, Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, called it “genocide”. Although Joe Biden did not use that word this week in his first talk with Xi Jinping, China’s president, his administration has repeated it and lawmakers in Britain are mulling it. But is it accurate?

By the common understanding of the word, it is not. Just as “homicide” means killing a person and “suicide” means killing yourself, “genocide” means killing a people. China’s persecution of the Uyghurs is horrific: it has locked up perhaps 1 million of them in prison camps, which it naturally mislabels “vocational training centers”. It has forcibly sterilized some Uyghur women. But it is not slaughtering them.

Having branded China with committing the most heinous of crimes, the Biden administration is confronting diplomats and multinational firms with a vexing question: how do you compartmentalize genocide?

The term was first applied by Mike Pompeo, the outgoing secretary of state, in his last full day on the job. The Biden administration has declined to rescind it. Thus the question is likely to haunt Olympic sponsors and athletes too, as next year’s winter games in Beijing draw closer.

The administration contends it can work alongside China on matters like climate change while excoriating it as genocidal because of its abuses of the Uyghur minority in the northwest province of Xinjiang.

But human-rights advocates are watching to see if the administration will stick by the accusation and follow it up with severe penalties—or, by failing to do so, diminish the power of an accusation of genocide to shock the world’s conscience.

Courtesy: The Economist

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