China's policies have seen 'unprecedented drop' in Uighur births in Xinjiang, report says

Uighur protesters who have not heard from their families living in East Turkestan hold flags during a protest against China, in Istanbul, 25 March 2021. Source: EPA / AAP

Birth rates in Xinjiang fell by almost half between 2017 and 2019, the Australian think tank report found, with sharper declines in counties populated by Uighurs or other minority groups.

Coercive policies in China’s far western region of Xinjiang have led to a sharp decline in birth rates for Uighurs and other minorities, which could add to evidence of genocide, according to a new report. 

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report, released on Wednesday, cites official Chinese data and says there has been an "unprecedented and precipitous drop in official birth rates in Xinjiang since 2017", when China began a campaign to control birth rates in the region.

Xinjiang's birth rate dropped by nearly half from 2017 to 2019, and counties where the population was predominately Uighur or another minority group saw much sharper declines than other counties, the government-funded institute said in the report.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China maintains that changes in birth rates are linked to improved health and economic policy and it strongly rejects accusations of genocide.

The ASPI analysis is based on Chinese government data, including regional population figures released in March.

"Our analysis builds on previous work and provides compelling evidence that Chinese government policies in Xinjiang may constitute an act of genocide," it said.

The ASPI report said birth rates in counties with a 90 per cent or greater Indigenous population declined by an average of 56.5 per cent from 2017 to 2018, far more than other regions in Xinjiang and China during the same period.

Fines, internment, or the threat of internment, were among the methods used by authorities to discourage births, it said.

There have been growing calls among some Western countries for an investigation into whether Beijing's actions in Xinjiang amount to genocide.

The United States government and parliaments in countries including Britain and Canada have described China's policies in Xinjiang as genocide.

According to the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, there would need to be proof of intent by Beijing to destroy an ethnic population in part to meet that determination.

The United Nations has cited reports that at least one million Uighurs have been held in political re-education camps in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities have also been accused of forced labour, forced sterilisation, sexual abuse and rape against the Muslim minority group.

Beijing initially denied the camps existed but has since said they are vocational training centres designed to combat religious extremism, and that all people in the centres have “graduated”.

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