Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope

post by willbobaggins · 2020-11-01T21:01:07.494Z · LW · GW · 21 comments

If you could stop a genocide-would you? 

In western China, right now, more than a million men, women, and children sit in reeducation camps. Mothers separated from children, forced marriages, forced sterilizations-Margaret Atwood’s fiction made a reality. 

What’s to be done? Have we learned nothing? From Rwanda, from the Holocaust, from the Holodomor? The cat’s out of the bag, and the End of history is over. Finally, we can acknowledge that the future is not just greyed out liberal democracy, 2% a year GDP growth, easing ourselves into decadence. In reality, our dark 20th century never really left us after all. 

Modernity and the belief in bad people are incompatible.  The enlightenment has swept conflict under the rug and right out the Overton window. Hobbes, banished from the lexicon. To even conceive a world with people who are themselves, bad, is a heretical assumption. To understand the aspects of human nature that are deeply problematic is to understand the true nature of reality. American culture lulled to sleep by narcotics and video games, our senses dulled by ultra-palatable foods and 2-hour delivery. In some sense, things are better than they ever have been before; in another sense, they’re much worse. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Americans are depressed, fat, and lead lives bereft of meaning. We are reduced to larping real revolutionary change on the streets, with bats, shields, and batons. A simulacra of revolution, a cry for meaning in a world gone mad. 

I recall a cool October night in 2018. Joe Biden spoke softly to a crowd I was a part of. Bathed in dim light, he rambled. He wove soft, slow, soliloquies on American Greatness. He remarked on the magnificence of our landmass. That we are surrounded by vast oceans, blessed by great mineral reserves, possessing unrivalled food production capability, the mightiest navy the world has ever seen. The Zeihan-Esque supposition? Geography is destiny. Our geopolitical rivals? Nothing to worry about. China-why worry about China…                                    “c’mon man.” 

This theory is seductive because it is easy. It’s a denial of agency-the idea that nothing can be done to challenge us. This makes our position precarious. You can’t fix problems you can’t see. If, like Biden says-we’re the greatest country in the world, why can’t we stop Uighur persecution in Xinjiang? The reason, I posit here, is that for all our technical capability, we lack the will and imagination to see it through. 

In the farthest reaches of eastern North Carolina sits a massive dune of sand. Jockey’s Ridge rises out of the warm waters of the Pamlico Sound. Here, a century ago, two men from Ohio made history with the first powered flight.  Wilbur and Orville Wright were bicycle mechanics-yet they were the first to fly. Imagine the expectations for a bicycle mechanic today. Produce a plane-are you kidding me? That’s for the experts, the technocrats. The institutionalization of science, of technology, of politics, has eroded our capability to achieve the American greatness we, as a people, are destined for. Science, once  a process of obtaining truth-has become a bloated bureaucratic institution, a tool for politicians. . When our ruling class says “trust science” they don’t mean “trust the process of inquiry”, they mean “trust our experts.” Somehow, we have gone from a culture that encourages bicycle mechanics to invent an airplane to American institutions that can no longer prevent planes many times more advanced from diving straight into the ground. (Really like this bit.)

The belief, the conceit, is that only experts can manipulate reality. But while experts have gotten us into this mess, they won’t get us out. This is not to denigrate experts, but the bureaucracies in which they work have become sick-sick enough that our planes fall out of the sky, and our factories that produce life-saving PPE have been shipped off our continent long ago. Their bureaucracies and their selection mechanisms have become corrupt, and sclerotic. What is to be done?

Stopping a genocide. 

American military might is now too far behind to stop the genocide. Our carriers can be shot out of the water, with advanced surface to surface Chinese missiles. Tariffs won’t work either-just look at North Korea. but with a little imagination-a plan from me, a 26-year-old technologist emerges. 

First, we need to visualize the problem as a chessboard. Each player has strategic pieces-some are stronger than others. Here, we want to understand how to incentivize the PRC to close the camps and allow Xinjiang a level of autonomy it rightly deserves. Bludgeoning them into submission won’t work. Attacking the PRC, whether rhetorically or physically will get us nowhere. The only way for us to avert a genocide is to alter the incentive structure, in such a way that it is easy and graceful for the PRC to change course. Attacking will just lead to path dependence for the CCP. 

First, our strengths. Currently, America’s most powerful institutions are our worldwide entertainment and corporations. Hollywood, the NBA, Disney. These institutions have soft power that matters to a lot of people overseas. When I worked in China, I was always amazed at how popular the NBA was. The finals played on almost every TV and billboard I saw. With over 600 million viewers in China, the NBA is a cultural behemoth. It is important to note that China is a rising power, with a burgeoning middle class. This middle class finally has time to consume entertainment-and what a luxury it is. 

America has a monopoly on the best basketball played anywhere. It’s quality is unsurpassed. Paragraph 1.1 of the Wikipedia page on Olympic basketball is aptly entitled “American Dominance.” A monopoly gives you market power. You can squash competitors, and you can force people to obey your will. In this way, the NBA has power, and I propose that it use it to solve a genocide. 

The plan is quite simple. Adam Silver contacts the CCP, and requests that they start treating Uighurs decently, with a list of specific demands- let everyone go, and start over as if nothing ever happened. There is no need for this to be violent: everyone who was involved (police officers, bureaucrats, administrators) will be given new positions elsewhere and taken care of appropriately. The camps will be demolished, and each individual sent home. Mr Silver will do this respectfully, there is no need to be ugly, and without disrespect to the CCP’s power in mainland China.

If they refuse, the commissioner’s next move will be to offer alternatives. A full-scale PR nightmare. We will publicly embrace the CCP, and Chinese people. No hate for either (or Xi himself), but we will pack our stands with Uighur refugees, and activists. We will put #freeuighurs on the court at every game, and we will continue to do this until the situation resolves to our liking. 

The CCP can try to ban the NBA, but it will face serious backlash. The party has experienced this before. When things are very unpopular, they try to fix them. 600 million fans of the NBA want to watch basketball, and even only a minority are diehard fans, those diehard fans will make their displeasure known, and it would hardly prove expedient to throw half the country into camps if they disagree with you. 

As I like to say, “hell hath no fury like a consumer scorned.” 

The worst-case scenario here is that China really does successfully ban the league. I find this eventuality unlikely, but this is where the State Department enters. We can organize a group that writes an insurance policy for the NBA-you lose revenue, we’ll cover your costs. Putting this together, we could make it a no-lose situation for the NBA. 

This strategy, if implemented, has a high chance of success- in fact, it may have the highest chance of success that currently exists in the problem space. Tariffs don’t work, sanctions don’t work, military force won’t work, but maybe, just maybe, asking nicely, while carrying cultural clout of American basketball might.

21 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by En (en) · 2020-11-01T23:51:31.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except China already banned the NBA for a year due to some seriously softball comments over HK with zero domestic repercussions. It's just set to unban now. While this was during covid and people were obviously distracted, your scenario had already happened, and you didn't even realize it because nobody in China cared!

The Chinese government controls the message completely. The NBA is banned? It's the NBAs fault for interfering in China's domestic affairs.

Uighers have been demonized as terrorists in Chinese society for two decades. Imagine if Texas was the main source of "Radical Islamic Terrorism", and there was a program to reducate Texas Islams into good Christians. Take a good hard look at your MAGA neighbors and think, what percentage of Americans would be full throatedly in support of the program? What percentage would just be silent about it? Then add that criticism of the program would be considered treason, and then see how much of the population objects.

I know a lot of very "moral" people (good to their families, employees, give to the poor, etc), western educated Chinese professionals, who support the uigher program entirety. I don't think fundamentally they are much different than we are, they are products of their environment.

This is the same America that put the Japanese in internment camps half a lifetime ago. We might think we're so much better now, but are we? Imagine Trump crushed covid with the efficacy that the Chinese government did. Is it hard to imagine that he would now be ahead in the polls by 10, 20%? He wins and puts in place Islamic reduction camps and prosecutes all criticism as sedition.

Unlikely? Remember we just, last week(!), confirmed a Supreme Court Justice that supports gay conversion re-education therapy. She was on the board of a school that banned all gay students from admission, and even the straight kids of gay parents! This is who we have picked as the successor to RBG.

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T00:41:56.319Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for taking the time to really engage with the post. This is the strongest argument against this, that'd they would just shut it off and folks really wouldn't care. They did blackout some games, upload feeds later after they could make sure materials were scrubbed of #freehongkong, etc. A think a longer-term, more comprehensive ban would make people more upset. 

This idea is not even really a solution, it's more like a hail mary pass when you're down 8 with 3 minutes left. Will it work? Probably not, but it sure is higher than running the ball (essentially our collective response at the moment). 

I agree that there is surprising support for current internment from otherwise normal, nice people. I think putting a face on children separated from their mothers make help this. I also agree that we are not, in a broad sense significantly more moral people (look what we did at Gitmo etc). I do, however, have a sense that bad things happen in America, but generally (at least compared to other places), once they get enough media exposure we correct them.  Perhaps this is just a naive view of mine, but it's strongly held. 

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T00:43:05.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, I should mention, ideas that you think might have a higher chance of working are encouraged! This is a problem I think about a lot. 

Replies from: en
comment by En (en) · 2020-11-02T03:10:53.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your response! I've worked in and around China for a long time and also read extensively on China (highly recommend "The Party" by Richard McGregor). So while I am not an expert by any means, I have at least a base of knowledge and experience more than the average joe. 

Honestly, the NBA doesn't have the moral compass to take this sort of action, nor does really any large US corporation. Even Google only pulled out of China when it didn't matter. They were so behind in search and maps in Baidu, so when they left "due to censorship", it didn't affect their bottom line at all.

Also, people just don't care as much about sports in China as in the US. Yeah, there are 600 million "fans", but we are using that word in the broadest sense. The most hardcore of these will find ways to watch games if they are banned, the rest will just shrug it off. Even Apple, perhaps the most loved western brand in China, could be banned tomorrow and 90% of Apple users would just shrug and switch to a Huawei phone. 

Perhaps I'm jaded, but I am not optimistic that anything can or will be done at this point, and certainly not from the private sector. In the public sector... western governments have failed so miserably at COVID that controlling it and recovering from the economic impacts are all they will care about in the next five to ten years. The eastern democracies that have handled COVID well are too economically tethered to China. They might make some noises, but won't take any real action.  

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T04:52:46.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm definitely afraid that this is the most likely outcome. It's a classic collective action problem. It's interesting that the NBA will take action on social issues, but you could look at those and say they'll only do it if it helps them financially, not if it will actually affect the bottom line. It would take concerted efforts from players (such as Enes Kanter) to get them to do anything. You would only have to convince 400 people in the league to make something like this happen-much smaller than trying to move the state dept. etc. 

You may be correct, that at the end of the day folks just don't care about sports very much. If you think there is a core fanbase of around 100 million people rabid fans in China, I believe that may be enough to move the needle. Again, this is not a high percentage play, but I think it's an interesting option, that's higher than the other options I see on the board to try to prevent this really bad thing from happening. 

Replies from: en
comment by En (en) · 2020-11-02T06:28:08.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think 100m is overstating the hardcore fan base by at least a factor of 10. You can do some fermi analysis to come up with a better ballpark number. Start with the middle class, further segment by young males, further segment by interest in NBA, then multiply by a hardcore fan factor ratio, which you could estimate by taking the ratio in the USA and applying a discount rate.

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T20:41:53.377Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahh-great idea! 

comment by romeostevensit · 2020-11-01T23:57:21.975Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Empires will not leave be a populace that lives along a major artery for the flow of critical resources. I would guess that's what is happening here.

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T00:33:40.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it truly sucks. Incentives are all out of wack. 

comment by Ai · 2021-02-10T15:07:34.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello there, I'm a Taiwanese and recently participated several discussions on Clubhouse about this subject. There were thousands of Chinese people flooded in the platform before China banned it, including locals in Xinjiang sharing their stories and situation. A lot of Hans were left in complete shock, they all know something is going on but didn't know how serious that is. It's probably not "genocide" inside, but a series of mental torturing actions on one's identity and belief. Many of Uighurs' mental conditions became abnormal after coming out. There are also people who were working for CCP and were later arrested because of unexplained reports. The unclear law enforcement standard leaves people in fear. There were also overseas human rights advocates and journalists from ABC Australia shared their own way of news validation. They seek to prove they are rigorous and people should not say "it's fake news" to obliterate their efforts. I think Chinese Han people who claim the camp isn't that bad is simply because they are not concerned, or they just know what cannot be said in that country. 

comment by Olomana · 2020-11-02T07:15:20.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's "Holodomor", not "Holomodor".

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T20:29:43.699Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great catch-thank you!

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2020-11-02T11:02:53.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I must inform you that this post is very detached from reality. First of all, what is a genocide? I always thought it was the killing (-cide) of a people (geno-), and usually involves the murder of hundreds of thousands. Like Germany killing Jews, or Rwanda killing Tutsis, or Turkey killing Armenians. 

On the other hand, China is not trying to eradicate Uighurs. They're not even trying to deny their existence as a distinct ethnic minority. China has dozens of officially recognized minorities, and I think the Uighurs would be in the top ten as far as population is concerned. 

If you actually want to do some good, the first thing you need to do is to find out what is actually taking place in Xinjiang. But here you will need to be aware that China has enemies with rival geopolitical goals and billions of dollars to spend on propaganda campaigns, campaigns which will often be covert in the sense that they won't openly say "this newspaper or this researcher or this defector is funded by intelligence agency of country X". 

It has been noted that Uighurs are Muslims, and the reeducation camps (or whatever they are) are largely aimed at eradicating religious extremism (along with ethnic separatism), and yet the countries that are complaining about their situation are the post-Christian countries of the American bloc, not the Muslim countries of the OIC. 

If you actually want to do some good, you should probably also try, as hard as possible, to understand the thinking of the people who are in charge of whatever it is that you want to change. Though there may be some difficulties for an American, in understanding the thinking of nationalistic bureaucrats and social scientists from a quasi-Marxist one-party state, that's the latest expression of a distinct 5000-year-old civilizational tradition. 

Maybe you can understand it a bit, by thinking in terms of how the American establishment responds to white nationalism. Many of the attitudes of white nationalism were commonplace a century ago, but now it is considered a threat to the cohesion of a multiracial society with high immigration. Also, thinking in terms of nation-building and realpolitik may help you: Xinjiang is a key nexus in plans for a "new silk road" that will be a global economic network under the sway of China, something that China's enemies are trying to undermine. 

There is no genocide in Xinjiang. As far as I am concerned, to use that word to name what you're opposing, already means your rhetoric, and probably your understanding, is unmoored from reality. What's happening in Xinjiang isn't even ethnic cleansing, in the sense of a race being expelled from its homeland. At best, you could perhaps call it colonization by Han Chinese; except that Xinjiang has been part of the People's Republic from its beginning. So it's more like, mass settlement by members of the national ethnic majority, in an area formerly dominated by a minority. (If there's a short name for that, it's not coming to mind.) 

As for the proposal to use the NBA to change Chinese internal policy, it's about as meaningful as K-pop fans fighting conservative populism in America, by booking tickets to a Trump rally so there will be empty seats. Or even less meaningful than that. And didn't "South Park" do an episode on the NBA kowtowing to China to something? Indeed, I've just checked that a team manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests, China was angry, and so the NBA apologized. I assure you that even if the NBA as a whole was somehow persuaded to become part of the new cold war against China, it would be about as effective, as Putin's pleas for America to stay in the arms control treaties. 

Replies from: Viliam, thomas-kwa, PatrickDFarley
comment by Viliam · 2020-11-02T18:09:37.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no genocide in Xinjiang.

We can debate which label is most proper to apply, but I think the article is more concerned about what actually happens, no matter how we choose to label it. And how mostly no one gives a fuck.

Replies from: willbobaggins
comment by willbobaggins · 2020-11-02T20:41:15.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Viliam/Mitchell-thank you both for reading!

I'm with Viliam-happy to debate terms/use less hyperbole, but very bad things are happening to Uighurs in Xinjiang right now. The purpose of this post is to encourage people to think of solutions outside of what is currently being done because none of it seems to be working. 

This might not be the correct solution, but at the very least folks need to know that it is possible to stop, the terrible things happening right now to people in Xinjiang. 

If you believe you can make a positive change in the world, you have some shot at making it happen. If you don't believe you have a chance, you have no shot. 

This is by no means a high percentage play, but when you're down 25 in the 3rd quarter you better believe and start throwing some deep balls. And sometimes, you're able to make it happen. 

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2020-11-03T12:41:20.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's compare this goal of "stopping genocide in Xinjiang" with, say, the goal of "stopping famine in Yemen". The Uighurs are governed by a state which is not within the American sphere of influence. Famine in Yemen is the product of a Saudi blockade that is strategically supported by the United States, because it opposes the expansion of the Iranian sphere of influence. It would make slightly more sense to use the NBA to prevent famine in Yemen, since the United States really does have political leverage there. But nothing would actually change unless some faction of America's powerbrokers decided to change the policy. 

(By the way, I don't actually know that "famine in Yemen" is any more real than "genocide in Xinjiang". I'm sure they're having food shortages, but is it actual starvation? I haven't done the research.) 

The "genocide in Xinjiang" is nonexistent, it's a propagandistic construct manufactured by the enemies of China. To speak of "human rights violations" would at least have some truth, but it still evades the question of why they are occurring. Xinjiang has a history of separatist movements, and in this generation, that includes some jihadists. This is an era of Islamic militance, as events in France and Austria have just reminded us. And Xinjiang is also a crucial node in the development of economic ties between China and the Islamic world; hostile powers like America and India want this to fail. So of course China's social engineers are there in force, trying to make the troublesome 10% into patriotic consumers or whatever, while police and spies crack down on the real resistance and on foreign subversion. 

You may not want to hear this, but the quickest way for repression to end is for Uighur resistance to end. Maybe Turkey and the OIC can negotiate a culturally sensitive compromise. But what role does America have in this situation? Trump had an advisor (Carter Page) who counselled economic and strategic cooperation among Russia, China, and America, but he was an early victim of "Russiagate". American strategists think promotion of democracy and human rights is a way for the US to gain strategic advantage. America is ideologically opposed to the Chinese system, and strategically opposed to Eurasian integration. You might better spend your time in reforming your own country's panopticon, while you still can. 

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-11-02T21:24:24.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It has been noted that Uighurs are Muslims, and the reeducation camps (or whatever they are) are largely aimed at eradicating religious extremism (along with ethnic separatism), and yet the countries that are complaining about their situation are the post-Christian countries of the American bloc, not the Muslim countries of the OIC.

I agree that OP's plan is unlikely to do much good, but I strongly disagree with both the direct meaning and implications of the above sentence. My understanding is that "eradicating religious extremism" is simply the CCP party line and nobody really believes it. Also, whatever the aims of the CCP, we have nearly incontrovertible evidence that their actions include severe human rights violations on a large scale. I've also heard that the fact that the OIC supports China's actions in Xinjiang is response to Chinese bullying, not a reflection that they think such actions are good.

I'm downvoting this comment because it either (a) shows a lack of caring about human rights, or more likely (b) is needlessly unhelpful because it doesn't start the brainstorm of ways to do good that realistically mesh with the CCP's strategic concerns.

comment by PatrickDFarley · 2021-02-10T02:54:49.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some of these claims have not aged well

Do you still believe that "China is not trying to eradicate Uighurs" and that the camps are "largely aimed at eradicating religious extremism"? Am I to believe the BBC (along with its named sources) has flat-out lied about all of this?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2021-02-10T12:06:41.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot improve on the words of redditor @TurkicWarrior: "I think they’re trying to tame the Uyghur people, break their national aspiration and be loyal to China. I don’t think they will take the Uyghur culture away, it’s impractical."

Replies from: PatrickDFarley
comment by PatrickDFarley · 2021-02-10T13:40:30.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your response to the first-hand claims of forced sterilization, forced "re-education", and banned language is that an anonymous Reddit commenter thinks it's "impractical"?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2021-02-10T20:03:32.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpret the Reddit commenter to be saying that whatever the Chinese policy in Xinjiang is, it's not complete deracination. Possibly it's a mix of surveillance for the majority, and intense sinification for the minority considered most at risk ideologically. 

I do not regard the depiction of events in Xinjiang by US State Department, BBC, etc, as particularly objective or reliable. I believe the moral and factual claims made are made in service of political and geopolitical agendas. 

edit: Let me say more about this... The west has been militarily intervening in the Muslim world for over a century. For a generation we've been fighting a "war on terror", in which we kill who knows how many hundreds or thousands of Muslim civilians, outside our own borders, every year. 

These are the same societies in which elite politicians, media, and lawyers (or at least a significant faction thereof), are meanwhile shaping western public opinion towards the view that geopolitical rival China is committing genocide, the greatest sin in our holocaust-influenced political ethics. In the case of China, the alleged genocide turns out to be some combination of "cultural genocide" and a decrease in birth rates. But we'll go on just calling it genocide, with all of that word's connotations of mass murder. 

Westerners think that Muslim governments don't join the western denunciation because of Chinese money, or anticolonial sentiment. But there's another dimension too. Many Muslim countries are preoccupied with managing their own radicals. A lot of the post-9/11 war on terror has consisted of western advisors working with Muslim governments, in complex deals whereby weapons and intelligence and other assistance are provided, in return for aligning with the western bloc in other ways. China now offers, not just an alternative model of economic development, but an alternative model of governance and regime security.