The ‘Perfect Police State’ is Emerging in Xinjiang

The ‘Perfect Police State’ is Emerging in Xinjiang

Tom Phillips at The Guardian reports that Xinjiang is experiencing an unprecedented security surge following the appointment of Chen Quanguo as the Party Secretary of the Uyghur autonomous region. Chen’s surge has led to an exponential increase in the presence of security forces and the creation of a police state in which local inhabitants are subject to constant state control.

Chen has wasted no time in putting his controversial ideas into practice. Since he became Xinjiang’s party chief last August thousands of security operatives, ranging from elite special forces to poorly trained rookies, have been deployed onto the streets of villages, towns and cities. Many are low-level surveillance officers tasked with keeping tabs on the region’s 23m inhabitants and – above all – members of the 10m-strong Uighur minority.

Zenz said the recruitment of security staff in Xinjiang had gone “absolutely through the roof” under Chen’s rule. In the first five months of this year, 31,000 such jobs were advertised – more than the entire total between 2008 and 2012. Last year a record 32,000 security agents were hired.

“[It is] almost like in the old East Germany,” Zenz said. “The perfect police state.”

[…] In a village near Upal, a Uighur market town 50km south of Kashgar, members of one local militia lined up in the main square, wielding 5ft metal rods, for what are now daily security drills. Nearby, the white and green armoured personnel carriers of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police raced past, along a corridor of white poplars. “I haven’t seen so many roadblocks since the last time I was in Hebron,” said a European traveller who had come to the region in search of the ancient Silk Road but had instead stumbled across scenes from a conflict zone. [Source]

Before being drafted to Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo served as the party chief in Tibet, where he was credited with placating unrest in the region using a combination of repression and innovative policies that included the development of tourism in the region. Chen’s current appointment reflects the central government’s desire to replicate the “Tibetan recipe” in Xinjiang. Claude Arpi at Daily O looks at what this recipe is and how it is being reproduced:

His selection is linked to the “Tibet Recipe”, the way Chen managed to “pacify” the TAR. Once in Urumqi, Chen immediately started applying the formula that he used in Tibet to Xinjiang. But what is this recipe?

First, Chen transformed the Roof of the World into a vast Disneyland. In 2006, the arrival of the train on the plateau changed everything for Beijing and unfortunately for the Tibetans. Wave after wave of Chinese tourists could be poured into Tibet to experience the “Paradise on Earth” with its blue sky, pristine lakes and rivers, its luxuriant forests and deep canyons (the latter in Southern Tibet).

[…] In passing, the Tibetan intangible heritage had to be preserved, often with Chinese characteristics. The same formula has now to be replicated in Xinjiang.

Second, in order to “stabilise” the plateau, Chen imposed restrictions on the local population like never before. Similar policies will be used in Xinjiang. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organisation based in the US, just released a “glossary” of special slogans or “formulations” (tifa) used by the Chinese officials and the media when referring to party policies on the plateau. [Source]

In a recently published white paper titled “Human Rights in Xinjiang-Development and Progress,” the Chinese government claims that religious freedom is protected in Xinjiang. Yet, the reality on the ground is far from rosy. Xinjiang’s ethnic Uyghur population has been subject to increasingly intrusive social and religious controls. In April, officials banned parents from giving their children Muslim names with overt religious overtones, including Jihad, Imam, Medina and Mohammed, among others. New legislation was also passed in March prohibiting “abnormal” beards and the wearing of veils in public places. At China Policy Institute, Elizabeth Van Wie Davis writes that these oppressive policies are largely responsible for driving Xinjiang’s Muslims to join terrorist organizations.

Separate from the fighters in TIP, an analysis of ISIS’s files to determine why fighters join ISIS was published by the New American. The analysis found that in ISIS “(n)early all of the fighters originating from China reported that they came from the predominantly Chinese Muslim (“Uyghur”) province of Xinjiang. … Xinjiang’s 114 fighters also represent, on a provincial, total number basis, the fifth-highest number of foreign fighters”. Moreover, ISIS in western Iraq released a video highlighting Uyghur fighters, showing their activities in the battlefield and training camps, and brutally executing informants.

[…] So does China oppress Muslims in Xinjiang? Here too the answer is yes.  Although the government has done much to develop Xinjiang, as noted in the White Paper, questions linger regarding how much development ends up within the Muslim Uyghur communities as opposed to the Han Chinese communities in Xinjiang. Additionally, the recent policies of requiring men to trim their beards, women to avoid full face coverings, and parents to eschew Islamic names for children are examples of Muslim suppression. There are also approved translations of the Quran, public education for imams, and surveillance at mosques. Implemented earlier by some Central Asian states, restrictions on attire and grooming have not only not discouraged extremism, but also have created resentment.

Although some of these policies may not have intended to create added antipathy, the resentment is quite real. To paraphrase the noted scholar, Frederick Starr, many analysts assume the Islamic and violent currents arise from diehards among Muslim Uyghurs, who pine for a past that never was, or from the efforts of subversive forces from abroad. However, this explanation excludes the main driver of movements, namely Chinese policies themselves.

China’s policies to combat violence may be actually strengthening it. The noted scholar explains. “Most analyses of the current predicament in Xinjiang…simply assume intentionality on the part of Beijing.  By so doing, they may miss… the ways in which Beijing finds itself unexpectedly confronted by the unintended consequences of its own actions.  But the assumption of intentionality has yet a darker side, for it easily slips into the view that Chinese policy in Xinjiang is nothing less than a deliberate conspiracy against ethnic and cultural minorities there.”

The gap between what the officials claim in their white papers and what is actually happening on the ground point to the stark reality that the Chinese government has failed to win the hearts of its minorities. This has been the case both now and when the Communist Party first conquered the region in 1949, writes Claude Arpi in a separate piece for China Policy Institute:

On April 21, 1949, Mao Zedong instructed the PLA to ‘liberate’ the entire country; his orders included the borderlands of Xinjiang and Tibet. After getting the assurance from the Soviets that they would not interfere but would support the annexation of the Western Dominion, as Xinjiang was then called, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) swiftly moved to ‘liberate’ the Middle Kingdom’s Western borders. […]

In less than two months the vast deserts and oases of Xinjiang became effectively part of the new People’s Republic of China. But while the PLA defeated nature and men, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was unable to win the hearts of the local population. A similar scenario would take place in Tibet, less than a year later. The recent WP is a propaganda exercise aimed at hiding the Communist Party’s failure; it says: “Legitimate rights of religious organisations have been effectively safeguarded …Xinjiang has published translations of the religious classics of Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity in multiple languages,” adding 1.76 million copies of the Quran have been printed and distributed.

The atheist Communist Party by controlling every detail of the religious life of the native Uyghurs, often fuelling more resentment; by the end of 2016, argues the WP: “Xinjiang had two world cultural heritage sites, five national historical and cultural cities, 113 cultural relic sites under state key protection, and 558 cultural relic sites under autonomous regional protection, with more than 616,000 tangible cultural relics being collected and kept in 182 state-owned units.” There is, however, a deep gap between the official declarations and the situation on the ground. The Economist recently titled: “The bullies of Urumqi, The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims,” noting that today in Xinjiang there is as a ban on ‘abnormal beards’ and even naming a child ‘Muhammad’. [Source]

The state’s attempt to stifle all displays of Islamic identity is part of an ongoing nationwide “war on terror” that was launched in 2014 in response to a series of violent incidents in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. The ban on “overly religious” names also signals a shift in discourse to one that emphasizes the eradication of so-called “static” and “noise” in society that run counter to the state’s vision of social harmony. From Darren Byler at Milestones:

In order to accomplish the mission of the “People’s War on Terror,” the Party Secretary of the university Zhou Xuyong declared that all “static” (zaoyin) and “noise” (zayin) would need to be eliminated. Anyone who demonstrated the slightest resonance with unapproved Islamic ideologies was to be purified through a process of “reverse osmosis” (fan shentou). He said the goal was to create an atmosphere in which Uyghur Islamic “extremists” scurried across the street like rats while the public surrounded them screaming their disapproval and beating them in righteous anger.

What we have here is a virulent mix of metaphors attempting to signify an “overall goal,” which Uyghur human rights groups refer to as “absurd.” The overall goal appears to be one of eliminating noise and purifying minds by taking to the streets and screaming at rats. Static and noise in this case are anything that does not conform to the new standards of secularism that are being imposed on the Uyghur population. It is anything that signals a lack of loyalty, gratitude, and obedience. Noise and static are any sound that cannot be accounted for by the state and thus signals a dissonance from the main melody line of “harmonious” development.

Of course, the harmony of the state is also the sound of a particular form of Chinese Islamophobia. At the school, this purification of ideology was aimed at students and faculty members who demonstrated a lack of submission. In the broader society, noise eradication is aimed at “rectifying” Islam in Uyghur society. This is accomplished by through the everyday policing of moral behavior – a type of re-engineering project. It is established through “beautification” projects that demand that Uyghur women to take off their hijab or jilbab and men shave off their beards. It is established through the mass detention of young Uyghurs in training centers across Southern Xinjiang. Young men and women are being held indefinitely while the state attempts to train them in Chinese and patriotism while preventing them from practicing their faith. Many of these young men and women have children that in some cases are now being treated as wards of the state. These children too are being “rectified.” In order to keep themselves from becoming detainees and allow their children access to school and healthcare, Uyghur parents are being asked to change the names of their children. Names, it seems, can also be read as a sign of “noise” and “static.” [Source]

Elsewhere, Qiao Long at RFA reports that authorities have detained several ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang for having close ties with Uyghurs. This incident signals an attempt by officials to tighten control of the Kazakh population in addition to those within the Uyghur community.

The Kazakhs were detained on June 10 by the Dushanzi district state security police in Xinjiang’s Karamay city, a local resident said, naming two detainees as Halibyat Baimullah, 47, and Kanjitai Dushan, 49.

[…] Many of the religious restrictions imposed for many years on Xinjiang’s Uyghur population have now been applied to Kazakhs, too, according to members of the ethnic group in China and Kazakhstan, with the authorities criminalizing formulaic exchanges of blessings using traditional Islamic phrases in the Kazakh language.

In February, authorities in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture near the border with Kazakhstan detained and secretly sentenced a Kazakh man, Yeshat, 22, in connection with his posts to the popular WeChat messaging app.

Yeshat was accused of spreading “separatist extremist speech and extremist religious ideas and other information” from his WeChat account. Media reports at the time said he had “confessed” to the charges against him and to his “mistakes.” [Source]


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.