In the recent months and weeks, there has been an expansive counternarrative spreading questioning the legitimacy of the claims that there is a massive ethnic and cultural purge taking place in Xinjiang and other largely Muslim regions of China.
Some claim that the Xinjiang crisis is simply a Western propaganda campaign designed to discredit the CCP, and it is a fraud, serving the twin aims of distracting from democratic incompetence, and driving support for American-backed anti-Chinese economic protectionism. A large number of those spreading this propaganda are not making intellectually legitimate arguments, though. Instead some sources are simply parroting the CCP party line. This is increasingly being carried out by an army of overseas Chinese whose ideologies are closer to their totalitarian parent state than the countries to which they pledged their allegiance upon being granted citizenship. China has carefully cultivated this through their intricate use of WeChat and its news services to control the narrative and influence the thought of their overseas populations, creating a large, voluntary, international fifty cent army.
For those who legitimately question the narrative, who think that perhaps there are questions regarding the legitimacy of the claims that China is perpetrating a compulsory ethno-cultural cleansing, the following are the reasons why the narrative from the cacaphony of voices that has emerged is credible, and present nearly incontrovertible evidence that, even absent ethnic violence, there is a campaign of illegal forced detentions on a mass scale, and that there is a Chinese effort to not only cover up the evidence, but discredit the critics of this program. If one is still doubt after reading this, I implore any serious doubter to visit Xinjiang themselves. The moment one steps out of the airport, it is clear in the very air that something very wrong is taking place in Xinjiang province.
China’s Lies and Initial Denial
When claims of these facilities first arose, China, as they frequently do, outright lied and denied their existence entirely. There is ample video footage of Chinese representatives denying the existence of the centers to begin with, as well as attempting to discredit those who reported on them. Taking place around August of last year as reports began to trickle out, Chinese officials claimed that the camps were a fabrication, and labelled the allegations as “unfounded slander” and “defamatory rumors.”
It was only later as evidence began to emerge from satellite documents, video evidence, and released detainees, that China finally admitted that, it had, in an alarmingly short period of time and in the utmost secrecy, transported approximately 20% of its male Uighur population into camps, somewhere between 1 and 3 million people, crushing the economy while claiming that these schools were meant to revitalize the region.
Their lies were immediately qualified. These “re-education” camps, whose existence had been explicitly denied only months prior, were labelled voluntary vocational facilities, vernacular eerily reminiscent of the Stalinist re-education gulags that were popular in the former Soviet Union.
The initial fraudulent denials regarding their existence, followed by their qualifications, should make any rational observer seriously question the veracity of any subsequent Chinese statements, as well as take further pause to consider why they lied about the facilities initially, in what they intended to hide.
This is not simply a Western narrative. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, and a growing number of central Asian governments, even the UN itself, an organization politically dominated more by China and its bought allies than even the US, a chorus of voices many of whom are decidedly critical of the “Western” sphere of influence, have all came out with their own independent verifications. There exists a trove of accounts and data in support of the facts. The links provided below include some produced by NGOs, IGOs, and non-Western news sources. What is also worth noting is that the only groups and states that legitimately question the severity of the Xinjiang crisis, including those in the UN who recently signed a counter-letter in support of China’s actions, are all closely allied with the CCP government, and for the most part also have abysmal human rights records, including Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia and North Korea.
One one hand, there are a litany of allegations from former detainees, family members, news sources, and after the initial period of denial, and at this point, the Chinese government themselves have admitted to the mass detentions, as well as their original fabrications and cover-up. After China’s initial fraud was uncovered, the only thing left to debate is the label on the facilities, and questions over whether these are voluntary facilities. All the reports to date allege that detention in the camps is physically enforced, and that the conditions and purpose of the camps is more cultural cleansing and ideological purification than vocational training of any sort. The securitization of the facilities, and the lack of transparency displayed by China should make the reality of the situation completely obvious. No one in these camps who truly wants to leave can leave.
The Apparent Total Lack of Transparency Regarding Supposed “Training Centers”
If, as critics purport, the facilities are indeed training centers, and are simply voluntary centers existing simply to foster learning, then why the apparent securitization of the facilities? How many legitimate universities, schools, or even residential training centers are surrounded by guard towers, man-high razor-wire, electrified fences, and armed guards?
There has been ample documentary evidence produced by numerous news outlets showing this to be the case. Further, if they, again, are fully voluntary and there is no forcible confinement or adverse conditions, then why is there no independent UN access to these sites except to a small sampling CCP-approved facilities and under the watchful eye of minders? The UN HR group was denied open access to these sites, and there is a ban on international observers making unannounced visits to their other facilities, of which there are a large number, together estimated to hold between one and three million Uighurs.
To any rational observer, this should be inexplicable. The camps were constructed and filled in a complete vacuum of secrecy, and now the administration of the camps will not allow any third party visitors anywhere near the facilities. Any regime that had prioritized the best interests of its people would surely want to display the logistical and social prowess of a system that can re-settle and effectively educate such large groups of people in such a short period, and certainly wouldn’t dare to be so opaque, especially when dealing with millions of people and under accusations of forcible detention. Rather, there is a failure of rationality on the part of those who take the word of a totalitarian government versus that of the UN, a host of international organizations, and a cacophony of governments that range from Western, to decidedly anti-Western.
China’s History of Dealing with Ideological Dissent
The original narrative for China’s suppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang related to the spate of terrorist attacks that had taken place post-911 and into the early parts of this decade. The longstanding separatist movement in Xinjiang paired with increased levels of cultural and political Islamicization led to the government to take increasingly radical steps to quash the movement.
In 2016, Chen Quanguo took over as the provincial chief for Xinjiang. He had previously served as the province chief for Tibet, another region with a culture largely separate from the CCP influenced Han nationalist system. This is where China undertook large-scale systematic cultural engineering on a scale rivaling the cultural revolution. The entire region was dotted with police stations which doubled as hubs in a large spy network, luring people in with free access to household goods, while simultaneously making efforts to destroy their local education system and uproot any sense of a separate identity. This system was directly imported into Xinjiang, with urban police centers often only 300 meters apart, a million Han migrants placed into households to infiltrate and inform on those suspected of not being sufficiently patriotic, and establishing a deep spy network which inculcated a Stalinesque fear of betrayal and distrust that shattered the society. This is readily admitted to in Chinese state media.
A Clear System of Discrimination and Cultural Suppression in Xinjiang
Any reporter, political scientist, or human being who has ever travelled to Xinjiang, particularly after the crackdown started in 2018 could sense that Xinjiang is not a free place. China has admitted to this for a long time and the securitization of the province was never in dispute, regularly referred to by the CCP run People’s Daily. Violent crackdowns are regular, and the internet in Xinjiang was completely cut off from the rest of the world for nearly a year in 2009.
Roadblocks exist near every major point, even in rural villages, security checks exist to enter gas stations, passport checks and facial photographs are taken at the entrances and exits of train stations. Speaking to the Uighur people for even a couple of minutes, it becomes very evident that they do not feel free to express their political beliefs. When asked about Xi Jinping, about Xinjiang, about politics, unlike in other parts of China where Chinese citizens feel relatively free to voice their criticisms while still deferring to the “wisdom” of their authoritarian government, Xinjiang residents simply refuse to talk.
How Should the World Respond
China demands that the world accept the reality that Xinjiang represents a difficult region, filled with political extremism, violence, and instability. The CCP feels that it needs to take extreme measures to take control of the region. Notwithstanding these explanations, and regardless of the CCPs fear of terrorism, separatism, or even instability, to a world who accepts a universal conception of human rights, of which China has been a hypocritical and vicious defender when the crimes are committed by other states, there is no acceptable excuse for cultural destruction, mass involuntary detention, or ethnic cleansing in this era.
This is not to say that China is the worst or only offender, nor is it to criticize the citizens for their full complicity when there is such a strong system of state control over thought. Yet, China’s behavior is abominable, and those who use their voices to defend the actions of this regime are equally culpable for abetting the cultural normalization of a regime whose boundless evil finds few parallels, not simply in its conduct, but in its frightening aims: the CCP does not want to be obeyed in China, they want to be the total embodiment of Chinese thought. Until every ethnic Chinese on the face of the planet intellectually subsumes themselves to the ideology and good of the Communist Party of China, China will never allow the world to live in peace.
This behavior should never be normalized, the governments of the world should take a stand, be active on the issue of human rights, and stop allowing trade relations and fear to cloud moral truth. As China would have the world believe, we must pick between economic buoyancy, and political egalitarianism – without a strong hand and limited freedoms, states will not develop. This is a lie. Simply look to India, Japan, America. Freedom is what allows us to keep our souls and enjoy the happiness that we earn with our labor. Without the freedom to speak our minds, think what we please, and then finally act on our dreams, all the money in the world would give our lives little more meaning than a pig with a full trough. If we believe in human rights, and collectively recognize that we are a higher-order species, humans, then perhaps we ought to start acting like them.
Staff writer: Ari B
Chinese state media on the forced home-stays: http://gongyi.people.com.cn/n1/2018/1107/c151132-30386143.html
An example of totalitarian apologism and denial: https://medium.com/@sunfeiyang/breaking-down-the-bbcs-visit-to-hotan-xinjiang-e284934a7aab
CNN on China’s denial of the existence of the camps, including video of Chinese officials on the record in the UN lying about them before their reversal shortly thereafter: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/13/asia/china-xinjiang-uyghur-united-nations-intl/index.html
A WSJ report detailing the elements of social control in Xinjiang: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-hard-edge-the-leader-of-beijings-muslim-crackdown-gains-influence-11554655886
The report from Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/09/09/eradicating-ideological-viruses/chinas-campaign-repression-against-xinjiangs
A report from Human Rights Watch on the UN proceedings on Xinjiang: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/10/un-unprecedented-joint-call-china-end-xinjiang-abuses
The report from Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/un-act-to-end-china-mass-detentions-xinjiang/
An expansive US State Department report on Xinjiang: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/china-includes-tibet-xinjiang-hong-kong-and-macau/xinjiang/
An article acknowledging the situation from the SCMP, owned by CCP member Jack Ma: https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3015681/indonesia-doubts-western-reports-human-rights-abuses