Chinese policies aimed specifically at reducing the population of mainly Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang could prevent the birth of about 4 million babies over the next two decades, new research has found.
Projections show reduced minority birthrates could raise the proportion of Han Chinese from 8.4 percent to 25 percent in southern Xinjiang.
Beijing has for years sought to tighten its grip on the vast border area historically marked by economic inequality and sporadic outbreaks of unrest.
Millions of Han Chinese have relocated to Xinjiang to find work in the coal and gas-rich region in a settlement drive that has caused friction.
German researcher Adrian Zenz said publicly available papers by Chinese security researchers blamed the density of minority communities as the “underlying reason” for unrest and proposed population control as a risk-reduction method.
At the same time, documented official fears about the arid region’s lack of natural resources to support an influx of Han Chinese settlers suggest that the authorities see birth suppression as a key tool for manipulating the area’s demographic makeup, Zenz said.
China last week announced a major reform of policy governing the number of children a couple can have, increasing it to three as the nation grapples with an aging population, but academics say that Beijing does not view all babies as equally desirable in Xinjiang and is pursuing a policy of decreasing the number of children born to ethnic minorities.
Strategies include ramped-up birth control policies in the region — including imprisonment for having too many children and claims of forced sterilization.
Focusing on four prefectures in southern Xinjiang and using models recommended by multiple Chinese academics, Zenz calculated that Beijing could aim to raise the number of Han Chinese in the “traditional Uighur heartlands” to one-quarter of the population.
Zenz said that he found “an intent to reduce ethnic minority population growth in order to increase the proportionate Han population in southern Xinjiang.”
Official data show Xinjiang’s birthrate nearly halved between 2017 and 2019 — the steepest drop of all Chinese regions and the most extreme globally since 1950, an analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute showed.
Zenz calculated the natural ethnic minority population growth in southern Xinjiang would have reached 13.14 million by 2040, but that suppression measures could prevent up to 4.5 million births among Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.
China has faced mounting international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, where the US says Beijing is committing genocide.
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