Population statistics published by the Chinese government show a sharp decline in birth rates in Xinjiang amid reports of mass internment and population control of ethnic minorities in the region. The region’s growth rate shrank by around two-thirds within two years, according to the figures which run up until 2019.

Between 2017 and 2019, the birth rate in Xinjiang almost halved, dropping from 15.88 per cent in 2017 to 8.14 in 2019, according to an annual report compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics of China.

Uighur xinjiang children
Photo: La Priz via Flickr.

China’s national average rate, meanwhile, only decreased by around 2 per cent in the same period.

The same figures detailed in the China Statistical Yearbook show population growth rate in the region shrank by two-thirds from 2017 to 2019, dropping from 11.40 per cent to 6.13 in the first year, and to 3.69 per cent in the second.

The drop – noted and visualised by Twitter user John Stone – represents a marked change in Xinjiang’s previous population growth rate, which held steady from 2010 to 2017, fluctuating between 10 and 11 per cent.

The rate reflects the population growth for both Han Chinese and Uighur Muslims in the region, suggesting that the decline for the Uighur population may be more drastic than officials numbers depict, Stone tweeted.

In comparison, China’s national average dropped from 5.32 to 3.34 per cent from 2017 to 2019.

Xinjiang, labelled by Chinese authorities as “an autonomous region” in the country’s northwest, has a population of around 25 million people, around half of which are Uighur Muslims.

In January, state-backed Global Times hit out at an analysis from German China scholar Adrian Zenz which reported on a drop in natural births and alleged forced sterilisations. The tabloid said the data was from “unknown sources” and led to “wrong points and absurd logic,” as they pointed to an overall population rise in Xinjiang. However, the data set uncovered by Stone was published by the Chinese authorities themselves.

Allegations of genocide

The sudden decline in birth rate comes amid increasing international pressure on Beijing over reports of mass internment and coerced population control of the Uighur population in Xinjiang.

Reports of increased surveillance and mass arbitrary detainment of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in “political re-education camps” by Chinese authorities emerged in 2017. Think tanks and rights groups estimate at least a million Uighurs have been detained by Beijing.

Xinjiang re-education camp Uighur
A Xinjiang camp. Photo: Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre.

Last June, reports emerged detailing systematic forced abortions, sterilisations and IUDs conducted by Chinese authorities upon Uighur women.

The US government and Canada’s parliament have both labelled China’s treatment of its Uighur population as “genocide.”

Beijing has denied any mistreatment of its Uighur population. Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Xinjiang following calls by UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab for an independent investigation into the reports of widespread abuses.

“Xinjiang-related issues are in essence about countering violent terrorism and separatism.” Wang said in an address to the UN Human Rights Council. “There has never been so-called genocide, forced labour, or religious oppression in Xinjiang.”

Foreign journalists attempting to investigate the camps have reported heavy surveillance and harassment by authorities in the area.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.