Germany, Uighur Muslims and One Country, Two Systems

  • Context: Germany, which country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, accused China of “poor and cruel treatment” of minorities and underlined deep concerns over the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.


  • Germany did not name the minorities bearing the brunt of poor treatment but activists have accused China over the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
  • More than one million ethnic Uighurs and other minorities have been herded into internment camps to undergo political indoctrination, according to rights groups and experts.
  • China insists the camps are training centres aimed at providing education to reduce the allure of Islamic radicalism.
  • Beijing is also under fire over a security law it imposed on Hong Kong in June that radically increased its control over the financial hub and led to a brutal crackdown on dissent.
  • Hong Kong was guaranteed autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” deal agreed ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.
  • But critics say the security law, imposed following months of large and often violent protests calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, spells the end of the agreement.

Who are the Uighurs?

  • The Uighurs are mostly Muslims, and number about 11 million in western China’s Xinjiang region.
  • They see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations, and their language is similar to Turkish.
  • But in recent decades, there’s been a mass migration of Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and the Uighurs feel their culture and livelihoods are under threat.

Where is Xinjiang?

  • It’s in the far west of China, and is the country’s biggest region.
  • As an autonomous area, it – in theory at least – has a degree of self-governance away from Beijing.
  • Uighur Muslims make up under half the region’s roughly 26 million people.
  • What’s happening to people in Xinjiang?
  • Human Rights Watch says Uighur people in particular are subject to intense surveillance and are made to give DNA and biometric samples.
  • Those with relatives in 26 “sensitive” countries have reportedly been rounded up, and up to a million detained.
  • Rights groups say people in camps are made to learn Mandarin Chinese and criticise or renounce their faith.

One Country, Two Systems

  • Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows it to keep freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, like the freedom to protest and an independent legal system, hence the anger at the extradition Bill and perceived creeping influence by Beijing.
  • “One country, two systems” is a constitutional principle formulated by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for the reunification of China during the early 1980s.
  • Deng’s plan was to unify China and Taiwan under the One Country Two Systems policy. He promised high autonomy to Taiwan. China’s nationalist government, which was defeated in a civil war by the communists in 1949, had been exiled to Taiwan.
  • Under Deng’s plan, the island could follow its capitalist economic system, run a separate administration and keep its own army but under Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan, however, rejected the Communist Party’s offer.
  • The idea of two systems in one country resurfaced when Beijing started talks with Britain and Portugal, who were running Hong Kong and Macau, respectively.
  • The British had taken control of Hong Kong in 1842 after the First Opium War. Macau, on the other side, had been ruled by the Portuguese from 1557. They started withdrawing troops in the mid-1970s.
  • It was suggested that there would be only one China, but distinct Chinese regions such as Hong Kong and Macau could retain their own economic and administrative systems, while the rest of the PRC (or simply “China”) uses the socialism with Chinese characteristics system.
  • Under the principle, each of the two regions could continue to have its own governmental system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including trade relations with foreign countries.

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