“China, the Uyghur drama”, an “impact documentary” at Fipadoc

China the Uyghur drama an impact documentary at Fipadoc

And if this film allowed to put pressure on China ? The French director François Reinhardt presented to Fipadoc “China, the Uyghur drama”, a meticulous and unique documentary, while the French Parliament is preparing to vote this Thursday, January 20, a resolution denouncing the “genocidal character” of the crimes perpetrated by China against the Muslim Uyghur minority. Interview.

RFI : China, the Uyghur drama recounts in images and with leading speakers the arbitrary internment, forced labor, torture rooms, sterilization of women and concentration camps set up for the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Is this the first time that we bring together in a very condensed format and in a very understandable way all the current and historical arguments on the Uyghur drama ?

Francois Reinhardt : To my knowledge, this is the first time that we have been able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Our idea was to demonstrate in an implacable way also the historical relationship of China vis-à-vis this Uyghur region which is called Xinjiang. Until now, the elements were scattered and we did not have many testimonies. It’s recent, the testimonies of Uyghurs who have left the camps. But it was necessary to understand over the long term the historical relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Uyghurs and Xinjiang, this region so special for China. To my knowledge, this is the first time that we can have an overview of what is happening in this region of the world. For us, it was very important that we be able to understand why the Communist Party attacks this ethnic group so much, what scares them and what are the objectives behind this massive repression in Xinjiang.

Read also : Will France recognize a “genocide” against the Uyghurs?

Thus we discover that behind this totalitarian repression, there is the stake of the enormous wealth in natural resources of the region. Xinjiang also represents the entry and exit door for the New Silk Roads, President Xi Jinping’s giant project to make China a superpower, not to mention the dominant ideology giving power to the majority ethnic group of Han.

Overall, the idea is to unify China. China wants to regain its borders from the Xin era, late 18th century, early 19th century, when the Chinese empire was the largest and included Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong . This is the time when China was the most important, the strongest and the largest geographically. Xi Jinping wants to rediscover these geographical borders. It is very important to know this. He wants to rediscover the dimension of China at the time of the great empires.

And the other reasons ?

They want to unify the Chinese people. There is a very significant demographic imbalance. The Han, the main ethnic group in China, make up 92 percent of the population. Besides them, there are 55 other ethnic groups, including the Uyghurs who represent approximately 11 million people. And these 55 ethnic groups have their own language, customs, cultures, clothes… In Beijing there is even a minority park where you can go and visit not only picturesque landscapes that have been remade in cardboard from the Chinese provinces, but also the people in their attire. There is a universal or colonial aspect of the beginning of the 20th century in Europe… The idea is that everyone, all these ethnic groups fit into the mould, that they all look like good little Chinese – I say that without contempt for the Chinese people. The idea is that everyone is in the same mould. What they call in the new theory of ethnic minorities “a melting pot”. They want to merge all these ethnic groups so that only one ethnic group remains. Obviously, this would be the Han ethnicity, since it is already the most important demographically.

One of the speakers in the film states that “ Xinjiang is the information black hole “. Is this still the case ?

Yes, it still is, more than ever. Since Xi Jinping came to power, the Xinjiang region has closed down. And more and more every year. Today, to obtain a visa to go to Xinjiang, one of our teams did it, you still have to find somewhat roundabout ways to be able to get there, to be able to film there. And we have almost the certainty of being constantly checked by the police, of being forced not to be able to go where we want. It remains an information black hole, except when the Chinese authorities decide to organize a press trip to promote the wonders of this region. They will never allow a Chinese journalist (who wouldn’t risk it anyway) or a foreign journalist to roam freely in Xinjiang to ask questions of the population. The journalist would be immediately arrested, but especially the people who answered the questions would be immediately arrested and we do not know what could happen to them afterwards. It is extremely dangerous.

As a director what do you risk having made this film ?

I don’t think I will risk anything at all. Maybe a bit of internet trolls etc. With this film, I’m not going to teach Chinese dignitaries anything. Everything there is in the film, they already know very well. In recent years, the Chinese ambassador to France has had rather harsh words vis-à-vis certain researchers, certain diplomats or certain journalists in France. In fact, they often attack the messengers, but they never go back on the facts they have stated. I am a French director. We are a country that claims to be a country of human rights. France took over the presidency of the European Union for six months. I think our job is also to stand up and explain what is happening in certain countries, to say to French or European compatriots: perhaps we should act or react now. You may have to stand up to these diets.

The film evokes several times the term of a “ cultural genocide “, but when we see the concentration camps whose specialists estimate the number at 1 400 in the country, with its torture chambers and the testimonies of rape, forced sterilizations and other massive and systemic violence, it seems clear that the crimes go far beyond a genocide “ cultural “.

In legal terms, “cultural genocide” does not exist. But we really feel what is behind it, the erasure of everything that makes up the identity of a people. So, cultural genocide is not a legal word, but it still means a lot of things and it is well used in this case, when you can no longer pray, because religion is forbidden. The only worship allowed in China is everyone’s worship of the Chinese Communist Party. We don’t have the right to have other idols than the little red book, Mao Tse-tung or Xi Jinping. To take a very trivial example of what the Uighurs are faced with today: in a Uighur who has a butcher’s shop, all his knives are identified, there is traceability. If his knife is found at a crime scene, we’ll find out who owns it. When you are at home, you have a QR code on the door of the house and if the police come by, they can scan the QR code and check who lives in your house. If anyone else is there, they are taken to a police station for verification. All the behavior of the population has become suspect. No one lives freely in Xinjiang anymore. It no longer exists.

And Uyghur families are even forced to welcome ethnic Han Chinese into their homes.

Sure enough, the Chinese government has asked over a million Han Chinese to come to Xinjiang, with families, for what they call “Ethnic Unity Weeks.” They invite each other to spend a week, night and day, in homes, with the Uyghur population, with a questionnaire. They must verify that the Uyghurs are indeed good little soldiers of the regime and that they behave as the Chinese Communist Party wishes.

Your film is competing in the category “ Documentary impact ». What impact do you want to create with China, the Uyghur drama ?

If this film has an impact, it is first in everyone’s conscience. For example, if people who see this film say to themselves: how, on my scale, can I act? That would already be huge. The means of action are diverse: there is the fact of getting closer to one’s deputies so that, at the political level, something happens. Pay attention to your own consumption, so as not to fuel the ongoing forced labor in Xinjiang. So trying to limit some brands which we know that among their suppliers there are sub-contractors who use Uyghur forced labor.

Twice, Michèle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked to go to Xinjiang to carry out her own investigations. China didn’t really refuse, but put conditions such that ultimately the trip is not possible. It would be a tremendous impact if this film allowed the United Nations, deputies, parliamentarians, to put pressure on China, so that they really go and see what is happening there. So far, even during the Covid pandemic, they haven’t let the WHO do its job. As one of the interlocutors in the film says, China is a broken partner. They want to play in the same court as us, but according to their own rules which are at odds with our values.

China, the Uyghur drama, by François Reinhardt, at Fipadoc 2022, and on February 8 on arte.fr.

Also to listen: The Uyghurs, a people under totalitarian surveillance

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