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13 APR 2024

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Does China have the moral authority to criticize Israel?

Sources collected over numerous decades describe extensive diplomatic and humanitarian transgressions at the hands of China’s government

Chinese and Israel Flags

The Basic Facts

  • China and its allies have criticized Israel’s self-defense tactics in its war against Hamas, including labeling them as “genocide" and "occupation".

  • However, field research and eyewitness testimonies suggest numerous counts of genocide, occupation, and additional humanitarian crimes within China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, numerous governments and citizens have claimed that Israel is committing genocide in and occupation of the Gaza Strip. In particular, Iran has repeatedly condemned “Israel’s genocidal regime” and South Africa has accused Israel of both “genocide in Gaza” and the “illegal occupation of Palestine.”

Interestingly, Iran and South Africa share an alliance with and dependence on China, whose government has similarly leveled condemnation of Israel, and effectively justified the October 7th Hamas invasion inside Israel’s borders, noting, that “Palestinian living space has been ‘squeezed to the limit’ by more than 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

What is clear is that Iran and South Africa – only two of a host of nations – castigate and punish Israel through a lens that is seemingly not applied to their ally and benefactor China.

There is no denying that a humanitarian crisis is present in Gaza, which has subsequently led Israel and Egypt to deliver much-needed relief such as medical supplies, drinking water, and fuel, among other necessities.

There’s also no denying the complete silence towards crises in China that span more than 70 years, conflicts whose field research and eye-witness testimonies have raised alarms for the same claims leveled at Israel by numerous nations allied with China.

Understanding genocide and occupation, claims levied at Israel

As defined by the United Nations, genocide is “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.” Despite genocidal claims against Israel, statistics show significant growth of both the Palestinian and Arab Israeli populations since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. In fact, “Gaza’s population has nearly doubled since 2000” as reported by the Financial Times. Further, specifically addressing claims of Israeli genocide in Gaza, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby has stated that they are "pretty inappropriate."

While there is no single-sentence definition of occupation, the International Committee of the Red Cross notes that occupation begins with “the presence of foreign forces,” further specifying that “occupation could not be established or maintained solely through the exercise of power from beyond the boundaries of the occupied territory.” Subsequent to Israel’s complete withdrawal of civilians and military forces from Gaza in 2005, there has been no Israeli presence of any sort in the Gaza Strip for nearly 20 years.

We will next examine a selection of China’s policies and actions of the past decades to see how they perform against the same criteria used to condemn Israel’s policies toward Gaza.

Tibet and the alleged ethnic assimilation

Since 2009 “more than 140 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest” of the ongoing encroaching controls of Beijing, which have caused a more than half-century-long deterioration of Tibetan freedoms and culture. In the early 20th century, Tibet “retained complete control over [its] affairs including the army, currency, and so forth” with the Dalai Lama at the government’s head. After the Communist takeover, the Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1950, forcing capitulation to China’s sovereignty over the region. Soon after China “terminated the traditional government…and closed down most … monasteries,” effectively curtailing both civil and religious freedoms.

Over the following decades into the 21st century, China violently quelled a series of Tibetan resistance riots as well as transforming all areas of Tibetan life – most recently, as noted by Human Rights Watch, criminalizing Tibetan culture advocacy; supporting “significant increases in the ethnic Chinese or Han population;” and “switching … to Chinese-medium [educational] instruction.” Further compounding the permanent presence of Chinese military forces in Tibet, “China had issued instructions to their senior commanders to induct at least one soldier from each Tibetan family and turn them loyal towards the country as well as keeping a check on their families.”

Despite that independent observers have concluded that “China is getting away with cultural genocide in Tibet,” the lack of action and protest from leading nations seems likely to hasten an already unrestrained ethnic catastrophe for Tibetans.

Xinjiang and the alleged occupation

The most northwestern area of China, Xinjiang, is home to over 11 million Uyghurs, a Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic group to whom Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014 vowed publicly to “show absolutely no mercy.” The Chinese government’s policies targeting Uyghurs have been described by Human Rights Watch as “unrelenting crimes against humanity.” Amnesty International estimates that “one million or more people … have been held in arbitrary detention in internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang since 2017,” constituting nearly 10% of the entire minority population. (In the United States this would equate to over 33 million citizens held in detention, 16 times more than the nearly 2 million people held in US prisons as of March 2023.)

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as recently as 2022, claims against Beijing include: mass detention, forced sterilization, torture, political re-education camps, restriction of religion, widespread surveillance of minorities, and forced labor.

And it is a conflict that has endured for decades. Traveling through Xinjiang in 2003, writer Colin Thubron described in his book Shadow of the Silk Road “a silent, demographic genocide” that has persisted since the 1949 Communist takeover and has gained momentum following the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the US and of March 1, 2014, in Kunming, China.

Putting these oppressive government policies into human context is Thubron’s encounter with a Xinjiang-native Uyghur who laments, “‘This is a military occupation. It’s like Tibet…They want to brainwash us.’”

Despite the United Nations-led investigative reports and extensive first-hand accounts, China’s allies forgo any castigation, claiming, “Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet relate to China’s domestic affairs and should not be interfered upon.” While not outright denying human rights abuses, a network of nations deny that these allegations are relevant for international review.

China’s response to Israel's war in Gaza and global reticence

Despite statistical evidence and first-hand testimonies, China denies any wrongdoing, claiming, “People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang live in harmony, [and] the economy and society in Tibet continues to prosper... Under the veneer of concern for human rights is the effort to destabilize China and obstruct its development.”

While China and some of its allies have leveled charges of genocide and occupation against Israel’s actions in Gaza, there has been no effective international restraint on China’s ethnic-based actions in Tibet and Xinjiang and no accountability for the harsh consequences of those actions.



Financial Times, The Gaza Strip — in charts, October 16, 2023

Human Rights Watch, China's “Bilingual Education” Policy in Tibet, March 4, 2020

International Committee of the Red Cross, Occupation and other forms of administration of foreign territory, March 2012

New York Times, ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims, November 16, 2019

New York Times, Tibetan Monk, 18, Dies After Self-Immolation to Protest Chinese Rule, March 3, 2016

Prison Policy, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023, March 14, 2023

Thubron, Colin, Shadow of the Silk Road, Harper Perennial, 2008.

United Nations, UN General Assembly Meetings Coverage, October 17, 2023

United Nations, UN General Assembly Meetings Coverage, October 18, 2023

United Nations, UN General Assembly Meetings Coverage, November 7, 2023

United Nations, UN General Assembly Meetings Coverage, November 10, 2023

The Washington Post, China is getting away with cultural genocide in Tibet, November 1, 2023


Mideast Journal Staff

Mideast Journal Staff is a team of expert writers, editors, and researchers, committed to delivering accurate fact-based coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.


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