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China uses carrots and sticks to boost Uyghur-Han intermarriage-report

China mixes financial, education and career incentives with coercive measures such as threats to families under state policies to promote intermarriage between majority Han Chinese and ethnic minority Uyghurs in the restive Xinjiang region, a new report by a Uyghur rights group has found.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project analyzed Chinese state media, policy documents, government sanctioned marriage testimonials, as well as accounts from women in the Uyghur diaspora, that government incentivizes and coercion to boost interethnic marriages has increased since 2014.

“The Chinese Party-State is actively involved in carrying out a campaign of forcefully assimilating Uyghurs into Han Chinese society by means of mixed marriages,” said the report.

The findings on forced marriage by Washington, DC-based NGO come as Western governments and the United Nations have recognized that Chinese policies in Xinjiang amount to or may amount to genocide or crimes against humanity. Forced labor, incarceration camps and other aspects of China’s rule in Xinjiang have drawn sanctions from Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States.

The study, “Forced Marriage of Uyghur Women: State Policies for Interethnic Marriage in East Turkistan,” draws on state media propaganda films, state-approved online accounts of interethnic marriages and weddings, state-approved personal online testimonials from individuals in interethnic marriages, as well as government statements and policy directives.

“The Party-State has actively encouraged and incentivized ‘interethnic’ Uyghur-Han intermarriage since at least May 2014,” the Uyghur Human Rights Project says in the report, released on Nov. 16.

Interethnic marriage policies gained momentum after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a “new era” at the Xinjiang Work Forum in 2014, touting a policy of strengthening interethnic “contact, exchange, and mingling,” the report said.

“Uyghur-Han intermarriage has been increasing over the past several years since the Chinese state has been actively promoting intermarriage,” said Nuzigum Setiwaldi a co-author of the report.

“The Chinese government always talks about how interethnic marriages promote ‘ethnic unity’ and ‘social stability,’ but these actually are euphemisms for assimilation,” she told RFA Uyghur.

“The Chinese government is incentivizing and promoting intermarriage as a way to assimilate Uyghurs into Han society and culture.

Carrots include cash payments, help with housing, medical care, government jobs, and tuition waivers.

When it comes to sticks, “young Uyghur women and/or their parents face an ever-present threat of punishment if the women decline to marry a Han ‘suitor,’” the report said, citing experiences of Uyghur women now living in exile.

“Videos and testimonies have also raised concerns that Uyghur women are being pressured and forced into marrying Han men,” said Setiwaldi.

The report cites an informal marriage guide for male Han party officials published in 2019, titled “How to Win the Heart of a Uyghur Girl.”

Han men who want to marry Uyghur women are told that the woman they love “must love the Motherland, love the Party, and she must have unrivaled passion for socialist Xinjiang,” it said.

Commenting on the report, scholar Adrian Zenz said the Chinese Communist Party’s “policy of incentivizing Han and coercing Uyghurs into interethnic marriages is part of a strategy of breaking down and dismantling Uyghur culture.”

Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., was the first outside expert to document the network of mass internment camp for Uyghurs launched in Xinjiang in 2017 and he has analyzed China’s Uyghur population policies.

The intermarriage strategy serves the goal of “optimizing the ethnic population structure, breaking the ‘dominance’ of concentrated Uyghur populations in southern Xinjiang as part of a slowly unfolding genocidal policy,” he told RFA.

“It’s important that people pay attention to the different forms of human rights abuses that are taking place in the Uyghur region, particularly those that are underreported, like forced marriages,” said Setiwaldi. 

“People can raise awareness and push their governments to hold the Chinese government accountable.”

China had no immediate comment on the report.

Last month, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement dismissed U.S. efforts to debate the U.N. report, saying, “the human rights of people of all ethnic backgrounds in Xinjiang are protected like never before” and “the ultimate motive of the U.S. and some other Western countries behind their Xinjiang narrative is to contain China.”

Written by Paul Eckert for RFA.