Beijing’s Uighur Policy: ‘Show No Mercy’
Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organized 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.
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. The key disclosures in the documents include:
•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. Mr. Xi called for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship,” and showing “absolutely no mercy.”
The guide recommended increasingly firm replies telling the students that their relatives had been “infected” by the “virus” of Islamic radicalism and must be quarantined and cured. Even grandparents and family members who seemed too old to carry out violence could not be spared, officials were directed to say.
“If they don’t undergo study and training, they’ll never thoroughly and fully understand the dangers of religious extremism,” one answer said, citing the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State. “No matter what age, anyone who has been infected by religious extremism must undergo study.”
Students should be grateful that the authorities had taken their relatives away, the document said.
“Treasure this chance for free education that the party and government has provided to thoroughly eradicate erroneous thinking, and also learn Chinese and job skills,” one answer said. “This offers a great foundation for a happy life for your family.”
The authorities appear to be using a scoring system to determine who can be released from the camps: The document instructed officials to tell the students that their behavior could hurt their relatives’ scores, and to assess the daily behavior of the students and record their attendance at training sessions, meetings and other activities.
In the documents — which the Times says was leaked by an unnamed member of China’s leadership who is upset over the harshness of the crackdown — local authorities are instructed to tell students who ask if their imprisoned relatives had committed a crime, that no, they hadn’t, but their “thinking” had been “infected.”
The Times points out that Xi Jinping’s crackdown didn’t come from nowhere. It was catalyzed by violent, deadly attacks by Islamic militants in Xinjiang. But, says the Times, the attacks never came close to challenging Communist Party control of the region. Xi is using a sledgehammer to exterminate a gnat. No one could plausibly object to Beijing’s desire to protect the country from Islamic extremism, but its offensive is destroying any aspect of Muslim belief, practice, and culture there.
“Round up all those who need to be rounded up,” came the order. More:
The party had previously used the phrase — “ying shou jin shou” in Chinese — when demanding that officials be vigilant and comprehensive in collecting taxes or measuring harvests. Now it was being applied to humans in directives that ordered, with no mention of judicial procedures, the detention of anyone who displayed “symptoms” of religious radicalism or antigovernment views.
The authorities laid out dozens of such signs, including common behavior among devout Uighurs such as wearing long beards, giving up smoking or drinking, studying Arabic and praying outside mosques.
The story tells of a top Communist Party official in Xinjiang who was sacked by Beijing for being insufficiently merciless on the Uighurs:
But Mr. Wang’s greatest political sin was not revealed to the public. Instead, the authorities hid it in the internal report.
“He refused,” it said, “to round up everyone who should be rounded up.”
One Uighur man who was released from detention in 2015 (no-one appears to be freed these days) told us of a punishing schedule inside.
Ablet Tursun Tohti said those detained would be woken before dawn and would be forced to learn laws, and sing a song entitled Without the Communist Party, there can be no new China.
The BBC’s Newsnight programme also interviewed former prisoners who were able to leave for other countries. Here is what one of them, Omir, said:
“They wouldn’t let me sleep, they would hang me up for hours and would beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out the nails. All these tools were displayed on the table in front of me, ready to use at any time. And I could hear other people screaming as well.”
The Soviets and their allies in Central Europe did similar things to Christians in their day. Don’t forget that. This is how Communists are. This is what Communism is.
Do you know that Beijing is disinterring bodies in Uighur cemeteries, and bulldozing the graveyards, so Uighurs will have no way to come remember their dead? Did you know that China has been formally accused of harvesting organs from Uighur prisoners and selling them?
Why is this not the biggest story in the world now? Why are the Muslim countries — the Arab ones, as well as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia — so silent about it? Is it because of that sweet, sweet Beijing cash? Or do they just not care? There was lots of agonizing in the West, and in the Western media, over Europe’s not taking in enough Syrian refugees, but aside from Jordan, how many Arab countries took any in? Concern over the treatment of Muslims only really seems to matter to Muslim governments when it can be used as a cudgel to bash the West.
Again, no one can plausibly begrudge Beijing its desire to stop Islamic extremism. But the Chinese Communists are eradicating an ancient culture and a religion from the face of the earth in Xinjiang province. And the world just stands by watching, because China is rich and powerful enough to get away with it.
UPDATE: In the comments, a reader points out that it’s not true that Muslim countries (other than Jordan) have not taken in refugees. I knew that Turkey had taken in most of them, and but unintentionally neglected to acknowledge that in my original post. I did not realize that other Islamic countries had taken in so many. I appreciate the correction. Here’s what the reader posted:
UAE: 100k estimated
Iraq: 252,983 (registered)
Egypt: 131,433 (registered), up to 500k estimated
Yemen: 100k estimated
If you include non arab muslim majority countries:
Turkey: 3,614,108 (registered)
Lebanon: 929.624 (registered), 2.2 million estimated
excluding Germany that has 770k estimated and Sweden that has over 100k
most western countries has less than 50k and many less than 20k
Iran and Saudi’s lack of Syrian refugees is shameful, but for the most part the region is taking far more Syrians than the west is, especially considering the relative wealth of many of these countries to Europe. (It is worth noting Iran already has 1 to 2 million Afghan refugees.)