China accused of meddling with Uighur population figures

China accused of meddling with population figures to counter Uighur genocide condemnation
3 min read
16 June, 2021
Chinese authorities say there were 11.6 million Uighurs in Xinjiang in 2020, however, there has been serious criticism of their figures.
The Chinese census figures have not passed without criticism [peng song/Getty]

China has attempted to challenge accusations it is committing genocide against the Uighur Muslim minority by presenting new population figures which critics say are not to be trusted.

Government census data suggests that from 2010 to 2020 the Uighur presence in their home province of Xinjiang rose to 11.6 million, The Times said on Tuesday.

This is an approximately 16-percent uptick, which critics say is an attempt by Beijin to counter claims of genocide against the Muslim minority.

Moreover, the figures saw an increase for every year in the range.

Nevertheless, questions have been raised about this data. The authorities had before hugely cut figures for past years.

The Chinese authorities said this was routine when it was done, however, others have suggested it was a ploy to obscure periods of population decrease, as well as to exaggerate periods of growth.

The data says there were 11,624,257 Uighurs in Xinjiang in 2020, with 11,560,000 living there in 2019.

These numbers are lower than earlier data for the two years prior to that.

Nevertheless, since the state has cut 245,000 from the population in 2017 and 178,600 from the 2018 statistics, there is now constant annual growth from 2017 to 2020.

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Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist whose work on the Uighurs, said: "The revisions… conveniently ensure that there is no reported negative Uighur population growth for any given year."

Beijing likewise faces allegations concerning the increasing regional presence of members of China's dominant Han ethnic group.

This newest data indicates that the Han Chinese figures grew at a greater rate of almost 25 percent over the last ten years.

They now comprise 42 percent of those living in Xinjiang, at 10.9 million.

Their proportion of the province's demographics is up by around 4.4 percent on 1990.

Xinjiang 'training camps'
Click here to enlarge image (September 2020)

Professor James Leibold works at La Trobe University and spoke with South China Morning Post.

The China race expert said: "That really confirms the strategy of Beijing to 'optimise', in their words, the population structure of Xinjiang, which involves the constriction of the Uighur population as well as increasing the size of the Han population, as well as readjusting where those population groups live".

China's actions in Xinjiang have been slammed by rights groups including Human Rights Watch, which has accused Beijing of perpetrating "crimes against humanity".

Among the abuses highlighted are forced abortions, mass incarceration in camps, and torture.

One woman, Tursunay Ziawudun, who was held for nine months in 2018 has alleged she was gang raped by masked men three times while she was detained.

She also claimed the men applied electric shocks to her genitals, and that officials brought women to her cell "every night" where they were raped.

Some countries, including the US, have deemed the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs a genocide.