During a party conference on Xinjiang policy, Chinese president Xi Jinping called the CCP’s policy in the region “entirely correct” and vowed to continue its implementation for the long-term. This work conference comes six years after Xi first chaired a conference on Xinjiang, after which he ordered cadres to show “absolutely no mercy” in a then newly-launched crackdown on terrorism. The 2014 crackdown has become an ongoing and extensively documented system of ethnic discrimination, internment camps, forced labor, and the suppression of religious freedom that has been labeled "genocide" by some onlookers.
In just the past month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute documented the continued construction of internment camps, the Washington Post’s outgoing China bureau chief compared reporting in Xinjiang to North Korea, and increased awareness about repression inspired civil society groups in Muslim-majority countries to protest the treatment of Uyghurs. Nonetheless, the Xinjiang policy conference suggested that leaders at the highest levels of the central government are in complete consensus on Xinjiang policy.
Note presence of all other 6 Politburo Standing Committee members at the meeting.
One other result of conference: to force all top leaders (including new PBSC members not present at 2nd XJ work conference in 2014) to swear allegiance to hardline Xinjiang policies. https://t.co/QgtwyBtI2j
— Carl Minzner (@CarlMinzner) September 28, 2020
A 2017 speech, “Studying and Understanding the Essentials and Meaning of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Strategy for Governing Xinjiang”, translated by Jude Blanchett, elucidates the nature of Xi’s policy. The speech stresses that the Party “must deepen stability maintenance as well as the ‘strike hard’ and rectification activities,” while weeding out “ethnic-separatists” and working on poverty alleviation.
For the New York Times, Chris Buckley noted a contrast between the thematic focuses of the 2020 and 2014 Xinjiang work conferences:
A Times investigation last year cited internal speeches by Mr. Xi in 2014, when he called for all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” in Xinjiang using the “organs of dictatorship,” and showing “absolutely no mercy.” But it took years for his broad demands to lead to mass detentions into the new camps.
At his latest meeting, Mr. Xi’s published remarks sounded less alarmed than he did in 2014, suggesting that his government feels it has a firmer grip on Xinjiang. The published remarks did not mention terror threats but focused on what he said were rising incomes of the people of Xinjiang and government spending.
Mr. Xi’s latest speech appeared to signal that the Chinese government would continue investing heavily in industrial and urban development in Xinjiang. In a recent government white paper, Beijing defended labor allocation programs for rural Uighurs in Xinjiang that many international experts say rely on pressure and coercion to keep the job recruits in their posts. [Source]
The work conference followed the September release of a State Council Information Office white paper, which pointed to gains in Uyghur employment as a defense of policies in the region. The white paper also lauded the work of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary organization founded in the 1950s that served as the PRC’s vanguard. In an article shared by the Lowy Institute, Michael Clarke analyzes how Chinese rhetoric on Xinjiang has the reintroduced colonial motifs of labor and poverty:
The provision of “education and training” for all social classes of Uighurs, as a number of researchers have demonstrated, points toward an attempted “proletarianisation” of such populations into a “docile yet productive lumpen class”, via a clear linkage between the “re-education” system and forms of forced labour. Here, Uighurs are either compelled to work as low-skilled labour in factories directly connected to “re-education” centres or, upon their “release”, in closely proximate “industrial parks” where companies from throughout China have been given incentives to relocate to.[Source]
This video of a Uyghur man making @SkechersUSA is a useful way to analyze the risk businesses take in sourcing from companies using labor transfers from Xinjiang to other parts of China.
— Laura Murphy (@DrLauraTMurphy) September 28, 2020
The official Xinhua readout of Xi’s speech (Chinese) included extensive thoughts on ethnic unity. Jim Millward, a historian of Central Asia, writes on how Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong’s “many origins, one body” ethnic relations hypothesis has been adopted and inverted by Xi’s newly imagined “Zhonghua”:
[T]he speech is about the “Zhonghua” national identity, not individual ethnic identities of Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrghyz, Han, Hui or others. Most telling is the phrase 新疆各民族是中华民族血脉相连的家庭成员, “Every minzu (nationality, ethnic group) of Xinjiang is a family-member linked to Chinese (zhonghua) bloodlines.” … In the previous official formulation regarding ethnicity in China, Zhonghua was seen as a culmination of national processes under the leadership of the Party, a merging of diverse elements into one (a kind of e pluribus unum), a historical capstone rather than a racial foundation. Now Xi’s language flips that on its head: all the diverse minzu are biologically linked in the past to “Zhonghua,” which is very hard to distinguish from Han. This “consciousness” is to be inculcated through education to all levels and groups in society, the paragraph continues, and it is explicitly linked to the campaign to Sinicize (here the country name is used: 中国化) the Islamic religion — which we know means in practice razing mosques, flattening shrines and ripping down domes.[Source]
The “Sinicization” of Chinese ethnic minorities is not confined to the Uyghurs. Last month in Hainan, an order banning the local Utsul population from wearing hijabs sparked student protests. In Inner Mongolia, the local government unexpectedly instituted Mandarin-language instruction in lieu of Mongol-language education. The switch led to student boycotts, and a number of suicides. Mongolia’s former President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj posted a furious open letter condemning Xi Jinping for the policy change:
Hello all. Many wanted to see my original letter to Chinese President. Here are the letters in Mongolian, English and Chinese. The Chinese embassy in UВ has received the letter,but prevents to deliver to Mr.Xi Jinping. I ask you all, to share until the addressee sees the letter. pic.twitter.com/30plxGaz7e
— Цахиагийн ЭЛБЭГДОРЖ (@elbegdorj) September 29, 2020
China’s new ethnic policies seem to track closely with “second generation ethnic policies” set forth by a group of scholars in 2011. At The China Story, Gegentuul Baioud writes about these scholars and their vision: “They envision the ‘melting pot’ (大熔炉) formula well known and used in the West, in particular in the United States, as the ultimate ‘solution’ to assimilating minorities and solving China’s ethnic ‘problems’.” For the Made in China Journal, Christian Sorace further expands on the political fears driving the embrace of an American assimilation model:
What is it about the US multicultural model that these thinkers are drawn to? From their perspective, the problem with China’s system of minzu autonomous regions is that it promotes ‘territorial consciousness’ (领土意识), which is believed to sow the seed of ‘separatism’ (分裂主义). Instead, Ma Rong calls for a dual process of ‘culturalisation’ (文化化) and ‘de-politicisation’ (去政治化) that would reduce minzu autonomy to a deracinated form of ‘culture’—in other words, while cultural difference is to be celebrated, political autonomy is to be eradicated (Sinica 2019). [Source]
In the face of increasing international condemnation, the Wall Street Journal reports that “Mr. Xi demanded comprehensive efforts to ‘tell Xinjiang’s stories well,’ and to publicize the region’s development successes ‘with the courage of our convictions.’”