By Andrew Humphries
When Ramila Chanisheff addresses Uniting Church members during Synod 2023 next week, she will be imparting a message of great importance, and support, for the ethnic Uyghur population of East Turkistan.
The Australian-based President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association will outline the brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities that has seen many Uyghurs killed, imprisoned and forced into labour camps to create the goods that China exports to the world.
In addressing Synod 2023, which begins on November 18, Ramila hopes to raise the level of awareness around what is happening in East Turkistan, also known as the Chinese province of Xianjing.
Ramila said Synod members had an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the ethnic Uyghur population in East Turkistan.
She said that since 2016 China had been guilty of systemic ethnic cleansing in East Turkistan, an area rich in resources like gas, oil, cotton and polysilicon, which is used in the production of solar panels.
Those Uyghurs not killed have been imprisoned or forced into camps as cheap labour, which allows China to export goods to the rest of the world at low cost.
With solar panels, for example, China has been able to turn their export into a huge economic driver in a very short time, but the dilemma for Australians is that the solar panels we want to install as a renewable energy initiative have almost certainly been made in East Turkistan using forced labour.
“While solar panels are wonderful, the story behind their production isn’t so wonderful,” Ramila said.
“I’m all for the environment and free energy, but we’ve got to think about what cost this comes at, when you’ve got a whole ethnicity being ethnically cleansed (and forced into labour camps).”
Ramila said it was time the rest of the world, including Australian authorities, stood up to these human rights abuses by China, a message she will take to Synod 2023.
“It’s about giving some background and educating everyone about what’s happening over there,” she said.
“My message is that a lot of people still don’t know what’s happening in East Turkistan, and how China is treating the Uyghur population.
“It’s also about asking people buying these products to demand assurances from the manufacturers that they haven’t been made using forced labour.”
Senior Social Justice Advocate Mark Zirnsak said the Chinese government had made it difficult to get a full picture of the extent of the use of forced labour in areas like East Turkistan.
“The (Chinese) regime’s involvement makes it impossible to conduct effective on-the-ground investigations to determine if forced labour is present in the production of certain goods,” Mark said.
“Investigators I have spoken with who have experience working in China have reported that any attempts at meaningful investigation of forced labour inside China are now treated as industrial espionage by the regime.
“Responses from Chinese suppliers cannot be relied upon as evidence that forced labour is not present in the production of goods.”
At a Synod level, Mark said it was important careful consideration was given to exactly how products being used were manufactured in other parts of the world.
“A clash of values occurs where any part of the Synod puts the financial sustainability of its existing operations ahead of the need not to be supporting businesses involved in human rights abuses, environmental destruction or other criminal activities,” he said.
“A significant danger exists that such business dealings become justified through the argument the greater good the Synod is providing into the world cancels out the abuses and environmental destruction associated with our transactions.”