Beijing think tank cancels global conference amid Canadian boycott

The formal notice and related story of the cancelled 2020 International Metropolis migration conference in Beijing. One really has to wonder what the International Metropolis co-chairs and Secretariat were thinking when choosing Beijing to host the conference, beyond the finances:

A global migration policy conference Canada played a key role in establishing has been cancelled after its Beijing host pulled out of the event scheduled for June.

The 2020 International Metropolis Conference was at the centre of a boycott led by Canadian scholars over China’s poor human rights record: the repression of the Muslim Uighur and Tibetan minorities; threats to Hong Kong’s legal and judicial independence; and the ongoing detention of foreign nationals, including Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

In an email to participating researchers and policy-makers last week, Professors Jan Rath of the Netherlands and Paul Spoonley of New Zealand, co-chairs of the event’s steering committee, said they regretted but respected the decision by the Centre for China and Globalization to pull out of the conference. Boycotters had argued that the centre is part of the Chinese apparatus and feared it would be used to legitimize the Communist regime’s policies and practices.

“We can understand that external pressures have complicated the organization of the event,” said the letter. “An International Metropolis Conference in Beijing would have offered an opportunity for members of the Metropolis network to meet and engage with their counterparts in that country and in the region, and vice-versa, in the interest of enhanced mutual understanding of migration developments.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of the Canadian immigration department who led the boycott with others, welcomed the cancellation.

“The regime’s ongoing human rights abuses and cultural genocide efforts regarding minorities like the Uighurs make China an inappropriate host for an open discussion of migration issues, where human rights are central,” Griffith told the Star.

The conference had been organized by the International Metropolis Network, made up of experts from around the world in migration and settlement policies as a platform where state officials, non-government organizations and researchers share ideas and discuss best policies to manage migration and integration.

Canada was instrumental in the establishment of the international network of experts, with one of the organization’s three secretariats at Carleton University. The annual conference attracts as many as 1,000 participants and presenters a year and has been held around the world.

Organizers maintain that Metropolis has always been an “apolitical” network aimed at fostering understanding of migration issues.

“China has emerged as a major economic power in the world, and as a country with a significant role in migration, whether in Asia or globally. For us to have a comprehensive picture of regional and global migration means understanding China’s role in migration, both as a country of origin and, more recently, a country of destination,” the International Metropolis said in its letter to members. “To ignore China in the field of migration today is to have but a partial understanding of global migration phenomena.”

Griffith disagreed, pointing to the recent denial of entry to Hong Kong of Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, a group critical of the Chinese regime, as an example of interference and repression by Beijing.

“For conferences in Western countries, that is largely true, but certainly not in a country like China, which would have used the conference to legitimize its policies and practices and not allow any open discussion of its repression of the Uighurs and other human rights abuses,” said Griffith

The conference’s steering committee said further details will soon be provided on an “alternative” International Metropolis event to replace the cancelled Beijing conference.

You Can’t Force People to Assimilate. So Why Is China at It Again?

Good overview and analysis. Holding the 2020 International Metropolis Conference in Beijing hard to justify, particularly given the spin given by the Centre for China and Globalization (see Fri Jun 28 CCG to host International Metropolis Conference in Beijing in June 2020):

The Chinese government’s campaign of internment in the northwestern region of Xinjiang is extraordinary, by dint of its scale — but also, its contradictions.

Up to 1.5 million people from predominantly Muslim Turkic minorities — Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — have been arbitrarily detained in political re-education camps designed in part to make them renounce their religious beliefs.

At times, the Chinese authorities have portrayed this mass detention campaign as a “strict preventative measure” against violent extremist ideologies. At others, they have called it a benign “vocational training” initiative, comparing detainees to “boarding school students.”

But eyewitnesses — as well as the government’s own documents — reveal that these facilities are prisonlike internment camps that rely on intensive brainwashing procedures and forms of psychological torture. (There also have been reports of physical torture and rape.) Beyond the camps, the state’s social re-engineering efforts involve systematically separating childrenfrom their parents and enlisting more and more adults in forms of forced labor.

Although China has occasionally faced violent resistance from some Uighur groups, notably terrorist attacks in Beijing in 2013and Kunming in 2014, the re-education campaign in Xinjiang isn’t really about combating extremism. (The United States’ antiterrorism czar, Nathan Sales, said as much earlier this month.) Those detained aren’t just young men — the group most vulnerable to radicalization, it is thought — but also the elderly and pregnant women, as well as atheists and converts to Christianity. One can be interned for putting too much gas in one’s car, refusing to smoke in public (abstention is taken to be a sign of piety) or receiving phone calls from relatives overseas. Members of ethnic minorities who said that they had tried everything to become “model Chinese citizens” have reported that those efforts didn’t save them from internment.

Why not? And why is the Chinese government repressing entire ethnic groups when such heavy-handed tactics are likely to only promote resistance and radicalization? And why is it willing to risk alienating Muslim governments in Central Asia and beyond even as President Xi Jinping has made the grand Belt and Road Initiative his flagship international project?

Because the Chinese Communist Party cannot not try to coerce assimilation. Its ultimate goal in Xinjiang — as elsewhere in China — is to exercise complete ideological supremacy, and that also entails trying to transform the very identity of the country’s minorities. The C.C.P. lives in perennial fear that, short of having a complete grip on Chinese society, its long-term survival is in danger.

And so the C.C.P. is doubling down today on a campaign of forced assimilation in Xinjiang that has failed elsewhere in the past.

The party’s current re-education drive is an upgraded version of the Cultural Revolution. This campaign, too, seeks to achieve ideological control by eradicating alternative ideological and belief systems. But it does so in a much more sophisticated and high-tech way. In Xinjiang, reams of personal information about Uighurs and other minorities are entered into police databases after being collected at checkpoints, through feeds from surveillance systems or during house visits.

Only this effort seems to ignore that one effect of the Cultural Revolution was to create a spiritual vacuum and that in the decades since China has experienced various spiritual revivals. Many Uighurs and Tibetans, as well as members of the Han majority, have ardently embraced both traditional and new beliefs.

The number of Christians in China is thought to have increased from 3.4 million in 1950 to about 100 million today — or more than the C.C.P.’s entire membership. Even C.C.P. members have either openly embraced a major religion or have anonymously admittedthat they attend religious services, seek divination, burn incense or keep idols in their homes. Many of the devout see no contradiction between their faith and their patriotism or respect for the party.

Still, the C.C.P.’s campaign of assimilation today continues to target religion, because, in the party’s eyes, religion, which tends to represent a person’s deepest allegiance, competes with loyalty to the state and undercuts the party’s ideological foundation: materialism.

China’s spiritual revival has thoroughly confounded the core Marxist assumption that economic development would naturally extinguish religious beliefs; in fact, it has occurred even as the country has been lifted out of poverty. Increasing wealth also seems to have fueled corruption, including within the C.C.P. — undermining the party’s legitimacy and moral standing. The C.C.P. is now doubly on the ideological defensive.

The government, beyond targeting religion, has also tried to promote ethno-linguistic assimilation — again, through material incentives. Some minorities have pursued a Chinese language education in order to achieve upward social mobility. But many more have only become more entrenched in their distinct ethnic and religious identity.

Earlier this year, Tibetan nomads were told they could obtain state subsidies only if they replaced their altars devoted to Buddhist deities with images of Chinese political leaders. Likewise, Christian villagers in southeast China had previously been told to replace depictions of Jesus with portraits of President Xi if they wanted to continue to receive poverty-alleviation subsidies. Local officials then reportedly claimed, according to social media, that the initiative had successfully “melted the hard ice” in Christians’ “hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party.”