New Law Aims to Justify Xinjiang Camps

After repeatedly denying the existence and true purpose of Xinjiang’s re-education camps despite mounting evidence and global condemnation, the Chinese government has now modified legislation to justify interning up to a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. The revised laws, drafted by the regional legislature, build upon a law first issued in March 2017. That law had marked the first region-wide legislation targeting “religious extremism” by banning beards, veils, and refusal of state media. The new law states that local governments can use “vocational training centres” to teach Mandarin, implement “ideological education to eliminate extremism,” and perform psychological treatment. As legal scholar Donald Clarke and China Law Translate’s Jeremy Daum point out, the new revisions do not provide legal justification for prolonged and involuntary detentions in the camps as they were passed by a regional legislature. According to China’s Constitution and its Law on Legislation, “the physical restriction of personal liberty is permitted only pursuant to statutes passed by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee,” according to Clarke. Daum writes:

Nothing in the Counter-terrorism Law or the amended Regulations themselves allows for prolonged detention. This will require further legislation. That said, it is not likely these regulations were put forward without consent from central authorities, and further legal basis may be forthcoming.” [Source]

Nectar Gan and Mimi Lau at the South China Morning Post report on reactions to the revisions:

Dolkun Isa, executive chairman of the Munich-based World Uygur Congress, said Chinese authorities had been implementing the measures detailed in the revision without any legal justification for over a year.

James Leibold, an expert in China’s ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, said the global criticism of the use of the detention centres had led to the Communist Party “scrambling to justify them legally and politically”.

“[The] original 2017 deradicalisation regulation was vague and imprecise on its provision for ‘education and transformation’,” he said. “Thus this represents a retrospective fix and attempt to justify ‘legally’ the mass detention of Uygurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere, for the purpose of political and cultural remoulding with due process.”

[…] However, rights advocates said writing the internment camps into law did not give it legitimacy.

“International human rights law is clear, no matter how much China tries to ‘legalise’ the impermissible,” said Michael Caster, a human rights advocate with Safeguard Defenders who studies China’s legal system. [Source]

Xinjiang’s legal modification came shortly after the Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini gave a speech urging China to cooperate with the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which had called for the release of all re-education camp detainees. It also came in light of Vice President Mike Pence’s sharp-tongued speech detailing a laundry list of accusations against China, which the New York Times reports includes aggression against U.S. warships and predatory behavior towards neighbors. In response, Zhang Baohui of Lingnan University in Hong Kong stated this “will look like the declaration of a new Cold War,” while Jinan University’s Chen Dingding has detailed the three types of Chinese reactions.

Pence also accused the Chinese government of election interference, following similar remarks by Trump at the U.N. that were denied by Beijing. China watchers and cybersecurity experts have since sought to clarify the difference between Russian and Chinese influence operations, with Wired Magazine choosing instead to call it “political maneuvering,” and scholar Peter Mattis writing up a special series contrasting the two countries’ approaches.

Since Pence’s speech, FBI director Christopher Wray and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), via its annual report, have both voiced concerns over China. Owen Churchill and Jun Mai at the South China Morning Post report:

“China in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counter-intelligence threat we face,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing when asked about the threat China poses relative to Russia. “Russia is in many ways fighting to stay relevant after the fall of the Soviet Union. They’re fighting today’s fight. China is fighting tomorrow’s fight.”

US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who testified alongside Wray, told the committee: “China absolutely is on an unprecedented – or exerting unprecedented effort to influence American opinion,” although she added that “we have not seen to date any Chinese attempts to compromise election infrastructure.”

[…] In a report released amid deepening tensions between Washington and Beijing, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said that commitment to the rule of law was “the foundation upon which cooperative alliances and security partnerships, multilateral consultative mechanisms, and the free flow of trade and investment depend”.

“Any effort to rethink US government approaches to the current Chinese government should recognise that pressing for adherence to universal standards and insistence on greater reciprocity advance American economic and security interests,” the CECC said in its annual report, released on Wednesday. [Source]

Yanan Wang and Dake Kang of AP report further on the CECC’s recommendations:

[…] It would call on Trump to press his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to close the “political re-education camps” immediately.

The legislation, proposed by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, would also support an existing push for sanctions against Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo and other officials under the Magnitsky Act, which would prevent Chen from entering the U.S. and freeze any assets he has in U.S. banks.

Other sanctions raised for consideration by the proposed act include a ban on sales or provision of U.S.-made goods or services to Xinjiang state agents and the barring of certain Chinese entities — including the Xinjiang police bureau — from purchasing U.S.-made equipment that could be used for surveillance.

[…] The congressional measure calls for the creation of a State Department post to coordinate financial and diplomatic responses, a database for U.S. residents to provide details about missing family members and an expedited asylum process for the affected minority groups.

[…] The 300-page report describes a “downward trajectory” on human rights since Xi took power in 2012. It says the ruling party is “trying to redefine” human rights and “basic human dignity.” [Source]

The CECC’s co-chairs, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, have since written a letter to FBI director Wray requesting information about any intimidation and threats received by members of the Chinese, Uyghur and Tibetan diaspora communities living in the U.S., while asking if the FBI has conducted any outreach to such communities. They have also penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal describing how the U.S. had misplaced hopes that trade and engagement would help Beijing open up:

China’s domestic repression is directly related to its international aggression and global political influence operations, and therefore connected to vital U.S. national interests. Beijing’s increasingly aggressive government has sought to shape global norms on development, trade, the internet and even human rights in its image. It is actively seeking to use its economic power to influence global perceptions of its authoritarian model.

American policy makers are now re-examining the flawed assumptions that drove U.S.-China relations for decades, as evidenced by Vice President Mike Pence’s major policy speech on China last week. We must recognize that our commitment to the promotion of universal principles, the rule of law and human dignity is the foundation upon which our relationships and partnerships depend.

We must not forget that the expanding scope of domestic repression in China also directly affects an increasing number of Chinese citizens, stirring resentment, dissent, and even activism among them. At the heart of the CECC’s 2018 annual report is this enduring truth: Pressing for China’s adherence to universal standards advances not only American national security, economic interests and moral values, but also the aspirations of Chinese citizens eager for peace, freedom and political reform. [Source]

Read more about ongoing events unfolding in Xinjiang, via CDT.

Update (October 11, 2018, 10:00 am PDT): See also an RFA report on the secret transfer of detainees in Xinjiang to other regions of China.

Editor’s note: The first paragraph and headline of this post have been edited to include clarification of the legal status of the new amendments.