Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government is engaging in a sweeping campaign of forced birth control and sterilization on Uighurs and other minorities that is "far more widespread and systematic" than was previously known, according to an AP investigation published Monday.

Why it matters: The draconian effort, which has been carried out in the western region of Xinjiang over the past four years, has been described by some experts as "demographic genocide." It coincides with years of restrictions and human rights abuses against Uighurs and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups in China under the authoritarian leadership of Xi Jinping.

What's happening: China regularly conducts pregnancy checks, forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on some of the Xinjiang region's minority women. The conditions have led to a "climate of terror around having children," AP writes.

  • Officials reportedly use the threat of detention to force minorities to comply with the population control measures, which come even as the government has encouraged some of the country's Han majority to have more children.
  • Police raid homes for hidden children, and parents who are found to have three or more children are taken to detention camps unless they can pay large fines, according to AP.
  • Inside the detention camps, IUDs are forced on some women, along with what appear to be pregnancy prevention shots, former detainees told AP. They are also forced to attend lectures about how many children they should have.

Where it stands: AP gathered the information using government statistics, state documents and interviews with dozens of ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor. AP was also provided with the following findings from new research by China scholar Adrian Zenz:

  • About 200,000 IUDs were inserted in Xinjiang in 2014, according to Zenz, compared to nearly 330,000 in 2018 — a 60% increase. Meanwhile, the use of IUDs dropped significantly for the rest of the country.
  • The birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, mostly Uighur regions, dropped by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018. In the whole of Xinjiang, birth rates fell by 24% last year alone, compared to 4.2% nationwide.

What they're saying: China's Foreign Ministry dismissed the investigation as "fake news," with spokesperson Zhao Lijian telling AP in a statement: "Everyone, regardless of whether they're an ethnic minority or Han Chinese, must follow and act in accordance with the law."

  • Darren Byler, a Uighur expert at the University of Colorado, told AP: "The intention may not be to fully eliminate the Uighur population, but it will sharply diminish their vitality. It will make them easier to assimilate into the mainstream Chinese population."

Our thought bubble, via China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: "China's policies in Xinjiang have been considered cultural genocide; a policy of forced sterilization and abortion imposed on minority populations would bring their policies closer to the textbook definition of actual genocide."

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