Enough Complicity With Genocide. It's Time to Boycott China | Opinion

The evidence is clear, public, and overwhelming: An estimated one million Uyghurs are in concentration camps, treated as little more than chattel, and enslaved. Both men and women endure systematic physical and sexual abuse, including rape and torture. Young men remain absent from the streets of Urumqi, and women are sterilized and forced to marry men from the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group. They are not safe outside of China, either; CCP authorities have rounded up Uyghur university students in Egypt, as well as a daring group of Uyghurs who made their way into Thailand in 2015 and sent them to the camps. Even Uyghurs abroad and in the United States are threatened and intimidated by authorities in China, who practically hold their kin hostage to prevent them from speaking out.

This is the largest internment of an ethnic-religious minority since the Second World War, and we now bear witness to the attempted destruction of an entire people. What, then, have we in the so-called "Free World" done?

The products of Uyghur slave labor are openly advertised in places like Japan. As 800 year-old mosques are destroyed and Uyghur graveyards are bulldozed and paved over, Hiltons and Tesla dealerships are built in their place. A powerful corner of American finance pours hundreds of billions of dollars into both the XUAR and China in general.

Perhaps no one better represents this morally devoid, avaricious faction than the founder of Bridgewater, Ray Dalio, a hedge fund manager, who recently employed the age-old, racist argument of "Confucianism" to defend the actions of the CCP and government in Chinese society. "As a top down country, what they are doing is they behave like a strict parent," he said in answering a question about China's human rights abuses.

Not to be outdone, Dalio was soon followed by Chamath Palihapitiya, the billionaire CEO of Social Capital and part owner of Golden State Warriors, who recently admitted on a podcast that he simply did not care about the Uyghurs. "Nobody cares about what's happening to the Uyghurs, okay?" Palihapitiya said. "I'm telling you a very hard ugly truth... Of all the things I care about, yes it is below my line."

While his personal apathy in the face of genocide is horrifying, there is a sad truth to what he said. There is very little attention paid to the emergency happening in Xinjiang. Most genocides are only recognized after the fact, and it's discouraging that now, while we have the chance to intervene, we ignore the truth, taking only half measures as an entire people faces destruction.

We must act—the only question is how.

We believe the answer now lies in divestment: a bottom-up, grassroots movement of the politically conscious. Beginning with students, young people, and everyday citizens, we are calling for the divestment of university endowments from companies that are complicit in the Uyghur genocide. And with the help of public officials, we seek direct divestment of public pension funds from any companies complicit in the oppression of Uyghurs or the Chinese Communist Party's human rights abuses.

Inspired by the South African Apartheid Divestment Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, our objective is to financially disentangle the United States from its complicity in the Uyghur genocide and hold to account those who are responsible.

Our momentum is growing: the Catholic University of America recently committed to divest its $276 million endowment in response to overwhelming student demands, and the call for divestment has been echoed at universities across the country by students calling for similar action.

The theoretical and moral basis of the Uyghur Genocide Divestment Movement has, in practice, been laid for quite some time: In May of 2020, students from both College Democrats of America and the College Republicans National Convention came together to release the Washington Appeal, a joint letter outlining the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to academic freedom and liberal, democratic institutions. The letter further sought to address "a long-term campaign undeniably aimed at expanding the reach and power of the Chinese state's apparatus of oppression," and outlined "the scope of this threat, the need to counter it, and the precise actions demanded by our circumstances. Signatories also included prominent Chinese dissidents such as Teng Biao and organizations such as the World Uyghur Congress, Campaign for Uyghurs, the Uyghur American Association, and Engage Action. The Washington Appeal paved the way for divestment by demanding, among other things, "the full and public disclosure of all ties, both financial and academic, between centers of higher learning and all Chinese state agencies and proxies."

Public officials ought to seek to support the grassroots, bipartisan efforts by students, and use them as the pretext to take further action at the local, state, and federal level. In August 2020, then-Under Secretary of State Keith Krach commended the Washington Appeal, and used the same spirit to call upon university administrators to divest their financial holdings from China in his groundbreaking Letter to the Governing Boards of American Universities.

Nonetheless, divestment alone is not enough, and our solidarity with the Uyghur people must be active. Not a noun, but a verb: continued action rather than a single and circumscribed act. We need a broad set of related actions to overwhelm the regime and those that enable them.

stop Uyghur genocide
Activists take part in a protest calling for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games over China's human rights record, in Tokyo on October 2, 2021. PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

It's critical that divestment be complemented with a broad and ferocious set of similar actions, including sanctioning more officials in the regime responsible for the genocide and increasing transparency around NGO, think tank, and academic funding. We must confront those in the U.S., particularly in finance, who enable the Chinese Communist Party. We must be fast, aggressive, and dauntless in our efforts to aid those who are suffering.

The faction we find ourselves opposed to is as avaricious and morally depraved as it is well-heeled and powerful. But this is not a struggle between the Left and Right. It's one of right against wrong, between those who embrace their humanity and seek to achieve the greater realization of human dignity, and those who would have us enjoined with the Chinese Communist Party to destroy the rights and even humanity of those they oppose.

We must pursue justice, for the Uyghurs, and for ourselves.

Rory O'Connor is Founder of the Athenai Institute. Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of For Us, The Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.

The views in this article are the writers' own.