New Delhi: A comprehensive inside view has now emerged from China about how Beijing has continued a coercive clampdown against a million Uyghurs and Kazakhs in internment camps in the Xinjiang province over the last three years.
The revelation has come via the leak of 403 pages of “internal documents” from within China’s ruling Communist Party, accessed and published by the New York Times last week.
“Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment,” notes the New York Times report.
“The leaked papers offer a striking picture of how the hidden machinery of the Chinese state carried out the country’s most far-reaching internment campaign since the Mao era.”
Over the past few years, China’s actions in Xinjiang to fight what it claims is Islamic terrorism have drawn international criticism. The province is a resource rich region where predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups — Uyghur being the largest — make up more than half the region’s population of 25 million.
Last month, the US government put sanctions on eight Chinese tech companies over Beijing’s coercive policies in Xinjiang.
Beijing, however, has continued to dismiss such charges and argued that it only uses “mild methods” at “job-training centres” — reported to be internment camps — to fight “Islamic terrorism”.
The leaked government papers paint a drastically different picture. Here are some highlights from the leaked documents.
Xi’s secret speeches & expansion of internment camps
The leaked papers reveal that China’s President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping delivered a number of secret speeches in 2014, in which he urged a dictatorial response to insurgency and terrorism.
This was in reference to a spate of bloody attacks by Uyghur militants in Xinjiang that occurred during Xi’s April 2014 visit to the region, just a year after he took office. Ethnic riots in 2009 in Xinjiang capital Urumqi also led to the crackdown.
Taking a leaf out of US’s “war on terror”, Xi in his speeches talked about showing “absolutely no mercy” in carrying out the security offensive. He also viewed terror attacks abroad as a cautionary tale of what happens when human rights are prioritised over national security.
Xi described Uyghurs as a threat to communism, tainting the Communist Party’s image. He expressed concerns that Uyghurs may travel to war-torn West Asian countries like Syria and Afghanistan and return to China with demands for a separate homeland.
The speeches were used as justification by party official Chen Quanguo, who after being appointed to govern Xinjiang in 2016, rapidly expanded the detention camps. He ushered in stricter security protocols, encouraged law enforcement overreach and purged “[local] officials suspected of standing in his way” including a rogue official, Wang Yongzhi — who released 7,000 camp inmates.
The New York Times writes that the phrase “round up everyone who should be rounded up”, coined by Chen, appears many times in internal documents.
Keeping children quiet
One of the biggest revelations in the leaked papers was a clinical question-and-answer directive for local law enforcement to be used for students who, upon returning home from university in the summer of 2017, would enquire about their missing family members and relatives.
According to the Q&A guide, officials were directed to inform students that their loved ones were in “training centres” for being exposed to radical Islamic beliefs. The students were also given the heavy responsibility of earning the “release of their family if they behaved”.
Preventing potential resistance from students, the directive was aimed to ensure stability in the region and keeping things silent.
‘Ideological cure’ for religious extremism
The documents show that religious extremism has been understood as a disease or a contagion in need of an “ideological cure”. President Xi Jinping outlined in his speeches that economic development won’t be enough to root out resistance among Uyghurs — transforming their beliefs is the only option.
The leaked documents show that former detainees attested to regimented routines in which they were forced to renounce Islamic beliefs and pledge loyalty to the Communist Party.
According to the Q&A guide, students were told their family members could leave “training centres” after “course completion” and meeting all standards, including mastering the “standard national language”, Mandarin.
The push for fluency in Mandarin goes hand-in-hand with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, “a quasi-military organization” that is part of Xi’s objective to usher in more Han Chinese (country’s dominant ethnic group) and alter the region’s demographic, where Uyghurs are currently a majority.
Who leaked the documents?
According to the New York Times, “a member of the Chinese political establishment”, who requested anonymity, leaked the papers in the hope that Xi Jinping and the ruling party would not get away with the mass detentions.
The leak shows that the crackdown caused dissent in the ruling party, revealing more doubts and discontent than previously known.
The aforementioned rogue official, Wang Yongzhi, is one example of how the mass detentions were not unanimously embraced by party officials.
Thousands of Xinjiang officials were “punished for resisting or failing to carry out the crackdown with sufficient zeal”. Over 12,000 investigations were launched against those who didn’t do enough, and for “gravely disobeying the party central leadership’s strategy for governing Xinjiang”.