A 403-page leaked government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party has been recently shared with The New York Times, offering 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.
The key disclosures in the documents include:
‘NO MERCY’: President Xi Jinping, the party chief, laid the groundwork for the crackdown in a series of speeches delivered in private to officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang in April 2014, just weeks after Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31.
Xi called for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship” and showing “absolutely no mercy.”
One directive also showed an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which authorities have corralled as many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities into internment camps and prisons over the past three years.
The directive distributed among the party leadership advises local officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived for the summer break from different parts of China and keep them quiet. It included a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious: Where is my family?
“They’re in a training school set up by the government,” the prescribed answer began. If pressed, officials were to tell students that their relatives were not criminals – yet could not leave these “schools.” The question-and-answer script also included a barely concealed threat: Students were to be told that their behaviour could either shorten or extend the detention of their relatives.
“I’m sure that you will support them because this is for their own good,” officials were advised to say, “and also for your own good.”
This is the situation that the vacationing students will find when the get home. They would learn that their parents were gone, relatives had vanished and neighbours were missing – all of them locked up in an expanding network of detention camps built to hold Muslim ethnic minorities.
China has rejected international criticism of the camps and described them as job-training centres that use mild methods to fight Islamic extremism. But the documents confirm the coercive nature of the crackdown in the words and orders of the very officials who conceived and orchestrated it.
Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organised a ruthless and extraordinary campaign in these internal communications. Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment.
Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition, and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet.
Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have detained many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in internment camps. Inmates undergo months or years of indoctrination and interrogation aimed at transforming them into secular and loyal supporters of the party. (Source: The Straits Times)