While the media has been quick to bash President Donald Trump over his ongoing trade war with China, most outlets have largely overlooked the human rights abuses by the nation’s communist regime, much of which has been targeted at the Chinese Uighur Muslim minority that lives in western China.
But in a strong move by Trump fighting back against such prejudices, the White House has reportedly tapped a Uighur American academic named Elnigar Iltebir to serve as the National Security Council’s (NSC) director of China policy.
Citing unnamed “current and former U.S. officials,” ForeignPolicy.com (FP) reported that the White House had, without fanfare, appointed Iltebir to be in charge of shaping and executing the administration’s policies on China as part of the NSC, a position that will cover issues like China’s alleged human rights violations against the Uighur minority.
Iltebir reportedly attended George Washington University and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government prior to earning a Ph.D. in international security and economic policy from the University of Maryland.
Her family originally came from the Xinjiang province in northwestern China, which is home to millions of Uighur Muslims and has been harshly cracked down upon by the Chinese government. China is alleged to have detained upwards of 2 million minority Muslims — many of them Uighurs — in actual concentration camps where they are allegedly tortured for unspecified periods of time without trial — or worse.
In addition to the mass detentions of Muslim minorities, the Chinese government also stands accused of imposing intrusive mass surveillance on the population in the region and of destroying Islamic mosques in the area, among other heavy-handed and repressive tactics that are purported to be aimed at cracking down on religious extremism.
Fixing the problem
Iltebir’s placement on the NSC is big news for U.S. policy with China, according to the Asia Pacific advocacy manager of Amnesty International, Francisco Bencosme. “The possibility that there could be a Uighur negotiating opposite Chinese government officials is really powerful,” he told FP.
Bencosme also noted that Iltebir’s appointment would not only bring a distinct diversity and insight to the NSC team, but could also inform certain administration policies that would directly benefit the oppressed peoples.
He said such policies could include “accountability of Chinese officials, or raising at the highest levels what’s happening in Xinjiang, or supporting civil society that’s been harassed by Chinese officials.”
Are the gloves coming off?
To be sure, while the Trump administration has officially condemned the alleged mistreatment of the Uighur people on more than one occasion — just last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to it as one of the worst human rights abuses of our time and the “stain of the century” — the issue has largely been kept on the back burner in light of delicate trade deal negotiations that are ongoing.
Indeed, it was reported in June that Vice President Mike Pence was set to deliver an important speech that would announce new sanctions on Chinese surveillance businesses that have taken part in the alleged abuses, but that speech was called off at the last moment ahead of an important meeting with Chinese officials at the G-20 economic summit.
That said, this move by Trump to place a well-educated and highly-capable Uighur American academic on the NSC to take charge over the administration’s China policy suggests that the White House intends to be a bit less subtle going forward in pressuring China over their abhorrent actions.