About those internment camps in Xinjiang—the autonomous region in the west of China, where the minority Uighur Muslim population has been notoriously subjugated by the authorities. Apparently, those camps help individuals who have been “swayed by extremism and terrorism return to the right track, obtaining skills to support themselves integrating into society.” At least that’s what Chen Tong, president of the law school at Xinjiang Normal University, told a session on China’s human rights protection of ethnic minorities at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.
Chen is the latest Chinese official to peddle the (literal) party line on the counter-terrorism focus and achievements of the surveillance and detention regime in China’s western province, even as much of the rest of the world condemns the forced detention of millions of Uighurs under a dystopian state regime.
Somewhat awkwardly for Chen, a report this month from researcher Adrian Zenz, has exposed the forced detention and separation of children in Xinjiang, with “the state growing its ability to care full-time for large numbers of children at precisely the same time as it has been building the detention camps,” all of which seems to be targeted at the Uighur population, given the unwieldy increase in school admissions for that ethnic group.
“In just 2017,” Zenz reports, “the total number of children enrolled in kindergartens in Xinjiang increased by more than half a million. And Uighur and other Muslim minority children, government figures show, made up more than 90% of that increase,” catapulting Xinjiang’s pre-school enrolment from below the national average “to the highest in China by far.”
The BBC followed up on this, reporting that “China is deliberately separating Muslim children from their families, faith and language,” in Xinjiang, building boarding schools and rendering townships of quasi-orphans.”Formal assessments are carried out to determine whether the children are in need of centralized care,” part of a system described as a “campaign to systematically remove children from their roots.”
Despite this, Chinese officials still believe they can provide plausible explanations for human rights abuses taking place as the world watches. The internment regime has, according to law school president Chen, “no essential difference from those institutions in western countries in dealing with crimes or terrorism such as early intervention, de-extremization and community correction facilities.”
Chen also cited a laundry list of achievements from Xinjiang. GDP for the region up from 313 yuan ($46) in 1978 to 40,427 yuan ($5,800) by 2016. Also by 2016, 15,721 health institutions and 51,000 doctors in place, and one mosque for every 500 Muslims—which has satisfied the “normal religious needs of local people” he told his audience.
Back in the real world, Zenz points out, “children now find themselves in schools that are secured with hard isolation closed management measures. Many of the schools bristle with full-coverage surveillance systems, perimeter alarms and 10,000 Volt electric fences, with some school security spending surpassing that of the camps.”
According to Zenz, “the Xinjiang government is literally able to ‘parent’ at least tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand or more children—the evidence suggests that Xinjiang’s securitization strategy is gradually moving from mere policing towards the development of long-term social control mechanisms.”
In Xinjiang, security and surveillance subjugate the population, and it’s no different for many of the new pre-schools. Zenz describes “intrusion barriers, perimeter alarms, interior and exterior surveillance systems and a police alert system,” form part of a multi-layered system that is provides “a 100% coverage perimeter video surveillance system and doors with secure access control systems,” at the fenceline, while inside there is “a full coverage surveillance system for the courtyard and interiors.”
China has developed the world’s most unconstrained surveillance laboratory across a province with a larger population than 22 of the EU’s 28 member states. But, according to a government spokesperson, “Xinjiang affairs belong to China’s internal affairs. Terrorism and extremism wantonly trample on basic human rights. The measures China has taken in Xinjiang are preventive anti-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts that are entirely conducted in accordance with the law to respect and protect human rights and have won extensive supports from people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”
For Zenz and much of the watching world, though, “the long-term goal in Xinjiang is a targeted cultural genocide, designed to completely alter and align the hearts and minds of the next generation with the Communist Party ideology.”