Beijing Denies Accusations of Abuse at Xinjiang Camps

Recent months have seen an increasing amount of international attention and criticism of China’s targeted persecution of Muslim in , where an ongoing anti-terrorism campaign has been revealed to include the mass detention of ethnic minorities in a system of extralegal political re-education camps. This mass internment, which Chinese officials have continually denied, was the subject of a ’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) review of China in Geneva on August 10, and a Chinese representative today categorically denied the claims voiced last week in front of the U.N. rights panel. At The Guardian, Lily Kuo reports:

On Friday, a UN human rights panel said it had received credible reports that as many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang were being held in indoctrination or “re-education” camps, where they can be kept indefinitely, without due process.

Hu Lianhe from China’s united front work department – an agency under the Communist party that focuses on China’s influence abroad – told the panel: “There is no such thing as re-education centres in Xinjiang.”

[…] Hu said claims that 1 million Uighurs had been forcibly detained were “completely untrue.” At the same time, the Chinese delegation acknowledged the existence of education and vocational camps.

“For those who are convicted of minor offences, we help and teach them in vocational skills in education and training centres, according to relevant laws. There is no arbitrary detention and torture,” he said.

[…] On Friday, Gay McDougall, a vice-chairwoman of the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, told the panel: “We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that, in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability, [China] has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internship camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone’.” [Source]

More on the denial and justification offered by the Chinese delegation to the U.N. rights panel, as well as a survey of expert dismissals of the Chinese statements, from The Globe and Mail’s Nathan VanderKlippe:

“We have to have more than a denial of allegations,” said Gay McDougall, vice-chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. If China disputes that one-million people are in re-education centres, she said, “well, how many were there? Please tell me.”

But the Chinese delegates conducted a lengthy discussion of Xinjiang, drawing on the text of Chinese laws as proof that people of all ethnicities and beliefs receive equal treatment. At the same time, anti-extremism activities have “improved” the ability of the region’s religious believers “to identify and resist extremist ideology,” Mr. Hu said.

[…] Instruction in Chinese law “is a major focus of the political re-education centres,” said Adrian Zenz, a scholar at the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, who has tracked the development of the security state in Xinjiang.

The Chinese statements suggest an effort “to navigate around this as much as possible,” he said, in hopes “that the international attention will eventually fade.”

China’s delegation to the United Nations committee also included Kaisaier Abudukeremu, the president of Xinjiang Medical University. An ethnic Tibetan, he defended Beijing’s polices as necessary. […] [Source]

At Quartz, Isabella Steger notes that this denial marks the first time that Beijing has “vehemently denied” these claims in front of a global forum, recalls earlier government efforts to suppress information about the re-education camps, and highlights statements from the Chinese delegation suggesting that all ethnic minorities in China enjoy religious freedom—a claim that Beijing often makes in the face of international censure:

Despite Chinese authorities’ suppression of information about the alleged internment camps, by restricting the movement of Uyghurs and limiting access of foreign journalists to the area, more and more information about them is trickling out of China. One source of information has been Uyghurs or other Muslims living overseas, most notably an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen (paywall) who escaped from one such camp in Xinjiang, and was put on trial last month in Kazakhstan for illegally entering the country. The woman testified to the existence of camps where Muslims were forced to attend patriotic education sessions lauding the Chinese Communist Party.

[…] The Chinese delegation at the UN reiterated many times that not only Muslims in Xinjiang, but ethnic minorities across China enjoy religious freedoms and and have benefited from targeted economic policies aimed at improving their livelihoods. In response to allegations that Chinese authorities have systematically tried to suppress Uyghur culture, such as by banning beards, veils, and certain Muslim names, a Chinese representative said, “Wearing masked robes is also prohibited in many other countries in the world.”

[…] The World Uyghur Congress, a Berlin-based group that represents Uyghurs exiled abroad, rejected all of the Chinese delegation’s statements, for example highlighting that Beijing has systematically tried to eliminate the Uyghur language despite China’s stance that it has dedicated substantial funds to providing bilingual education to ethnic minorities: [Source]

As the Chinese delegation was attempting to downplay the evidence presented to the U.N. CERD review, state-affiliated tabloid Global Times bilingually published an editorial similarly defending their policies in Xinjiang, and attacking international criticism as an attempt to destabilize China. Reuters summarizes the Global Times editorial:

In joint editorials in its Chinese and English versions, the widely-read Global Times tabloid said criticism of the rights record in Xinjiang was aimed at stirring trouble there and destroying hard-earned stability.

China’s security presence there has prevented Xinjiang from becoming another Syria or Libya, it added.

“There is no doubt that the current peace and stability in Xinjiang is partly due to the high intensity of regulations. Police and security posts can be seen everywhere in Xinjiang,” the paper wrote.

“But it’s a phase that Xinjiang has to go through in rebuilding peace and prosperity and it will transition to normal governance.”

[…] “What the West has been hyping has destroyed numerous countries and regions. When the same evil influence was spreading in Xinjiang, it was decisively curbed.”

Xinjiang has “no room for destructive Western public opinions”, and all steps must be taken to ensure its stability, it said. [Source]

Read more about the Xinjiang re-education camps, and the systematic use of harassment, intimidation, and religious discrimination against Uyghurs amid a long-running anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang, via CDT.