China’s Xinjiang Policy: Less About Births, More About Control

China’s Xinjiang Policy: Less About Births, More About Control

  • Like the one-child policy, Beijing’s repressive actions against minority Uighur Muslims are about preserving power.

For years, when I was giving talks or discussing my reporting on China’s one-child policy, well-meaning audience members would inevitably ask a question that I had come to expect: “Of course forced abortions and sterilizations are bad,” they would say, “but isn’t the one-child policy good, in some ways? Doesn’t it help lift millions of people out of poverty?”

This has always been the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative. The one-child policy, it claimed, was a difficult but necessary move that was crucial for the country’s advancement. Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, insisted in 1979 that without a drastic fall in birth rates, “we will not be able to develop our economy and raise the living standards of our people.”

Recent reports from the Associated Press and the noted Xinjiang scholar Adrian Zenz about forced sterilizations imposed on China’s repressed Uighur minority should quash this lingering, pernicious fig leaf. If the one-child policy was designed to boost economic growth and benefit citizens, why is Beijing actively suppressing reproduction among Uighurs—who are Chinese citizens—when the country’s birth rate has plunged to its lowest in 70 years, imperiling future growth? Why is the party telling Han Chinese to have more children, even as it sterilizes more Uighur women than the population of Hoboken, New Jersey?