A recent visit to Xinjiang by The Washington Post and evidence compiled by Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a Canberra-based think tank, suggest international pressure and outrage have done little to slow China’s crackdown on its Uyghur population, which appears to be entering an ominous new phase.
Next to a vocational training school and a logistics centre south of Kashgar, a new detention camp spanning some 60 acres, opened as recently as January. With 13 five-story residential buildings, it can accommodate more than 10,000 people.
The Kashgar site is among dozens of prison-like detention centres that Chinese authorities have built across the Xinjiang region despite Beijing’s claims that it is winding down its internationally denounced effort to “re-educate” the Uyghur population after deeming the campaign a success.
For the past year, the Chinese government has said that almost all the people in its “vocational training programme” in Xinjiang, ostensibly aimed at “deradicalising” the region’s mostly Muslim population, had “graduated” and been released into the community.
“This shows that the statements made by the government are patently false,” says ASPI researcher Nathan Ruser, adding that there has merely been a “shift in style of detention-”.
The new compound, one of at least 60 facilities either built from scratch or expanded over the past year, has floodlights and five layers of tall barbed-wire fences in addition to the towering walls.
Satellite imagery reveals a tunnel for sending detainees from a processing centre into the facility, and a large courtyard like those seen in other camps where detainees have been forced to pledge allegiance to the Chinese flag.
“This is a much more concerted effort to detain and physically remove people from society,” Ruser says. “There aren’t any sort of rehabilitative features in these higher-security detention centres. They seem to rather just be prisons by another name.”
Some prison-style facilities like the one outside Kashgar are new. Other, existing sites have been expanded with higher-security areas. New buildings added to Xinjiang’s largest camp, in Dabancheng, near Urumqi, last year stretched to almost a mile in length, Ruser says.
Some 14 facilities are still being built across Xinjiang, the satellite imagery shows.
The findings support recent reporting from BuzzFeed News that China has built massive new high-security prison camps to create a vast and permanent infrastructure for mass detention.
These detention camps are the backdrop to all Chinese government efforts to control the population in Xinjiang, says James Millward, a professor of inter-societal history at Georgetown University who has been tracking the plight of the Uyghurs.
“They exist as a threat,” Millward says. “[The authorities] can go to people and say: ‘We want you to move 600 miles and work in a factory, or your father better not object to this marriage that’s been set up for you by the party committee, otherwise you’ll be seen as an extremist.’”
When the scale of the human rights abuses in Xinjiang came to light in 2017 and 2018, China categorically denied their existence.
But as satellite imagery and testimony from survivors and relatives became incontrovertible, and United Nations experts estimated that one million people or more had been incarcerated, Beijing tried to explain away the camps as a necessary programme to deal with terrorists.
In recent years, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, Beijing has used “Islamic radicalisation” as a reason to carry out what many human rights advocates have labelled cultural genocide.
People who have been interned in the camps have described being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol; to renounce their religion and pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party; and to undergo what they have described as systematic brainwashing.
Women have been forcibly sterilised and the Uyghur birth-rate has plummeted.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has called China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims the “stain of the century”, and the administration is reportedly weighing a declaration of China’s actions as genocide.
But Xinjiang government chairman Shohrat Zakir, the top Uighur official in the party structure in the region, has said that the “re-education camps” were needed to combat violent religious extremism and that the “graduates” now faced brighter futures.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said this month that suggestions that China was persecuting Uighurs had been “concocted by some anti-China forces” and were “another farce designed to smear and discredit China”. (Source: Independent UK)