By Chung Man Leung, MSc International Politics
China’s policies in Xinjiang targeting the Uighurs have become significantly more ruthless. Since 2017, according to reports by various media sources, Chinese authorities have been systematically targeting Uighur Muslims and detaining them in ‘re-education camps’. Reports suggest that the Uighurs are being forced to denounce Islam and show complete allegiance to the Communist Party of China through means of brainwashing and torture. Others claim there are also cases of sexual abuse.
Separatism and extremism in Xinjiang have been a trouble for China for a long time and the state has been continuously trying to repress it. Despite a relatively peaceful period in the last decade. The situation seems to have become worse during the tenure of the current Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued a statement to condemn China. CERD urged the country to immediately release those detained and shut down the camps. Similarly, Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, published a report stating that Chinese authorities have been constantly adminstrating mass surveillance in Xinjiang. The ‘Integrated Joint Operations System’ is used by officials to collect personal information, identify suspicious activities, and investigate those who have been flagged as ‘problematic’.
The Chinese government has linked the problem of Xinjiang to viruses and drugs, thus there is a need to correct them – the re-education camps are, in this logic, the cure for the Uighurs and other Muslims.
Chinese authorities refuse to accept the allegations of them violating basic human rights, and at first denied the existence of these camps. Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region has claimed that the camps are merely Vocational Education and Training Centers ‘just like boarding schools.’. Zakir added that these centres will eventually be abolished when society does not need them anymore. Chinese officials also argue that these centres are soft measures to counter extremism.
Recent coverage by The New York Times has shown that the detention of Uighurs and Muslims has been precisely organized. The newspaper got access to an internal report of over 400 pages, which has been identified as one of the biggest leaks from the Chinese Communist Party in its history. The report not only includes instructions on how detainees should be treated but also the ideological structure that underpins the whole policy. Beijing’s relentless policy towards Xinjiang was noted as the ‘most far-reaching internment campaign since the Mao era.’ President Xi Jinping stressed that his government has to show absolutely no mercy in their fight against terrorism, infiltration and separatism. A statement from the Xinjiang authority criticized the coverage and deemed it as fake news ‘fabricated by hostile forces at home and abroad.’ Even the Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted that China’s effort against extremism has been remarkable. However, did not deny there was a leak of internal documents and that the measures mentioned within them were being used to target Uighur Muslims. As quoted by The New York Times, Xi Jinping claims ‘religious extremism [in Xinjiang]… is like taking a drug, you lose your sense, go crazy and will do anything.’ Therefore, the re-education camps are, in this logic, the ‘cure’ for the Uighurs by the Chinese Government.