Chinese government targets Uyghur children with ‘pomegranate flower’ policy

Han Chinese youths are paired with Uyghur children in the latest forced assimilation program.
By Gulchehra Hoja
2021.10.21
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A Uyghur woman waits with four children on a street in Kashgar in China's northwest Xinjiang region, June 4, 2019.
AFP

The Chinese government is pairing up ethnic majority Han Chinese youths with Uyghur children in the latest phase of a coercive surveillance and assimilation program that Uyghurs say shows Beijing’s genocidal intent toward the Muslim minority in the far-western Xinjiang region.

The “Pomegranate Flower” policy, unveiled by state media last month, comes on the heels of a widely resented program that sent 1.2 million Han civil servants to live with and monitor Uyghur families in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Uyghurs condemned the three-year-old “Becoming Family” policy as destructive to family life, with some calling the billeting of Chinese cadres in homes “organized rape” and an act of “genocide” aimed at wiping out the 12 million Uyghurs and their ancient Central Asian culture.

Under the program targeting children, state-assigned Han “relatives” from across China will contact Uyghur youngsters by phone and visits to the XUAR, the report said.

The Pomegranate Flower program reflects the government’s slogan that all ethnic groups in the country must “hug each other tightly like pomegranate seeds” to realize a Chinese nationality that transcends ethnicity.

Ethnic minorities — beginning with Uyghurs and Tibetans, but also including Mongolians and Koreans who have been ordered to reduce or end education in their languages — see it as forced assimilation.

According to a report published on Sept. 11 on Tengritagh (Tianshan), the official website of the XUAR government, toddlers and primary school pupils in one village in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture voted to “realize the objective of becoming family” with Han youths from all over China.

In just over a week, nearly 40 children in one village, including one-year-old Mahliya Mahmut, were matched up with 36 pairs of Pomegranate Flower “relatives” from some 30 cities across 13 provinces, regions, and municipalities in China, Tengritagh said.

Ayagh Chigetugh village in Kashgar’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county was once one of the poorest villages in all of China, but has gained hope, Zhu Pingcheng, the village party secretary, said in support of the Pomegranate Flower program.

“In particular, the children in the village hope that, as they grow up, they will receive much warmth and care; that, if possible, they will be able to go and see places all over the country; and that they will more deeply understand the great family of the Chinese nation.”

Many Uyghurs had already spoken by phone with their assigned “families” in other Chinese provinces, who in turn were planning to go to Xinjiang to visit their children, the report said.

But the report did not explain why toddlers or preschool-age children needed to be matched with Han family members or where their own parents were.

“They seem to have given no information about that,” said Ilshat Hassan, a U.S.-based Uyghur analyst and former president of the Uyghur American Association. “Why, if these were children whose parents were around, would they be in need of the ‘care’ and ‘love’ of other people?”

In reality, their parents either have been detained in China’s vast network of internment camps or been transported to other locations to perform forced labor, Ilshat said.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in internment camps since 2017, while dismissing widely documented evidence of many abuses in the camp system. China says the camps are vocational training facilities where Uyghurs and other Turkic people learn skills in an effort to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region, where about 12 million Uyghurs live.

‘The unity of ethnicities’

The Chinese government has previously promoted policies such as “the unity of ethnicities” and the “three inseparables” since the end of 2016 to bring various ethnic groups more closely into the fold of national interest and security.

Canada-based Uyghur activist Memet Tohti, the executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said the forced pairing of Uyghur infants and toddlers with Hans in Chinese provinces is the latest of many real-world examples of China’s genocidal policies.

He also pointed out that this move is further proof of the conditions of genocidal intent against a group, as defined in international law and conventions.

“If the intent of the Chinese government was to care for these children, they would create a healthy environment in which the children could grow up with their own parents,” Memet told RFA.

“To separate children from their parents, or even to kill the parents using all manners of methods, and to send these children into a foreign environment, or off with Han children, in a Han environment — they can call it whatever they want — but to send children into such an environment is precisely a typical example of elimination by genocide,” he said.

As part of the Becoming Family policy, the Chinese government holds “family week” activities in Xinjiang during which Han cadre “relatives” eat, live, work, and study alongside the Uyghurs they have been assigned to monitor.

Zumrat Dawut and Qelbinur Sidiq, two female former detainees in internment camps in the XUAR, have told the international media that Uyghurs have been forced to eat non-halal food and drink wine by their Chinese relatives, and that Uyghurs girls and women have been sexually assaulted in their homes.

Uyghur analyst Ilshat Hassan said that the Pomegranate Flower policy transcends assimilation and escalates genocide.

“These children are still in their own homeland, but [the state is attempting to] assimilate them, to eliminate their language, their culture,” he said. “This is genocide.”

Ilshat called on the international community to take urgent action to end the genocide against the Uyghurs.

Parliaments in Canada, The Netherlands, the U.K., and Lithuania, and the U.S. State Department have described China’s actions in the region as “genocide,” while the New York-based group Human Rights Watch says they constitute crimes against humanity.

“As of now there has been no response from the United Nations,” he said. “As of yet, no action has been taken toward stopping this. This might be politics for the rest of the world, but it’s a matter of life for us. We are crying out and protesting in the name of this genocide. It is a tragedy for all of humanity, not just for us.”

Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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