Chinese Translation of ASPI’s “Architecture of Repression” Xinjiang Report Now Available

This week, CDT finished publishing a Chinese translation of “The Architecture of Repression,” a recent report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the bureaucratic, legal, and rhetorical foundations of mass detentions and other rights abuses in Xinjiang. The introduction to the original English report (authored by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, James Leibold, and Daria Impiombato) lays out its goals and contents:

Since the mass internment of Uyghurs and other indigenous groups in China was first reported in 2017, there is now a rich body of literature documenting recent human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. However, there is little knowledge of the actual perpetrators inside China’s vast and opaque party-state system, and responsibility is often broadly attributed to the Chinese Communist Party, Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, or President Xi Jinping himself.

For accountability, it is necessary to investigate how China’s campaign against the Uyghurs has been implemented and which offices and individuals have played a leading part. The current knowledge gap has exposed international companies and organisations to inadvertent engagement with Chinese officials who have facilitated the atrocities in Xinjiang. It has also prevented foreign governments from making targeted policy responses.

Finally, it is essential to carry out such an investigation now. Amid debate internationally about whether the recent events in Xinjiang constitute genocide, Chinese officials are actively scrubbing relevant evidence and seeking to silence those who speak out.

This project maps and analyses the governance mechanisms employed by the Chinese party-state in Xinjiang from 2014 to 2021 within the context of the region’s ongoing human rights crisis. To that end, the authors have located and scrutinised thousands of Chinese-language sources, including leaked police records and government budget documents never before published. This archive of sources is made publicly available for the use of others. [Source]

The report details the variegated infrastructure underpinning the 2014 Counterterrorism Campaign and the 2017 Re-education Campaign in Xinjiang. The latter, it notes, included “a distinct five-year plan to radically alter Xinjiang society […] and to achieve ‘comprehensive stability’ (全面稳定) by the end of 2021,” an observation in line with recent reports of shifts in the region. At the level of central strategy, ASPI notes a “striking resemblance” between these campaigns and Mao-era mass mobilizations, and points out that “in addition to mass internment and coercive labour assignments, Xinjiang residents are also compelled to participate in acts of political theatre, such as mass show trials, public denunciation sessions, loyalty pledges, sermon-like ‘propaganda lectures’, and chants for Xi Jinping’s good health.” The authors examine Beijing’s “reflexive compulsion” for this kind of “campaign-style governance” via a survey of leading analysts’ views. Campaign-style governance is described as a counterpart to and suspension of regular, bureaucratic “norm-based governance”: a “‘guerilla policy style,’” “defined by ‘secrecy, versatility, speed, and surprise,’” which offers “‘a tool for the party-state to correct the perceived failings of its vast bureaucratic machine,’” or to bridge “‘the gap between the party-state’s desired governance outcomes and current administrative capabilities.’”

In addition to this top-down strategic focus, the report details the key roles of lower-level officialdom, highlighting county-level Party secretaries and local neighborhood or village committees. In Xinjiang, county secretaries “are directly responsible for a number of ‘first-in-command projects’ (一把手工程), from orchestrating the Counterterrorism Campaign in their jurisdictions, to leading a taskforce that oversees the county’s Vocational Education and Training Service Management Bureau (职业技能教育培训服务管理局) also known as the Re-education Bureau (教培局), to signing ‘statements of target and responsibility’ (目标责任状) for coercive labour transfers and, finally, to overseeing the implementation of population-control measures.” Although Uyghurs have served in this role in the past, as of September 2021, “not a single county party secretary in Xinjiang is Uyghur, which speaks to the erasure of once-promised ethnic self-rule, and to deeply entrenched racism at the heart of the Han-dominated party-state system.” Three officials receive individual profiles: the “young, loyal and capable” Tsinghua- and Harvard-educated Yao Ning; Yang Fasen, now a vice-governor, who as county secretary pioneered a widely emulated model of propaganda-heavy “de-extremification”; and Uyghur deputy county secretary Obulqasim Mettursun, whose enthusiastic adoption of Party rhetoric in essays and “propaganda lectures” made him the focus of a regionwide “Learn From Obulqasim Mettursun“ campaign and won him the titles of Outstanding Communist Party Member and Advanced Model of National Unity—though not, yet, promotion to the rank of fully-fledged county secretary.

The authors also describe grassroots implementation of the campaigns through a “Trinity” system of neighborhood committees, police, and external “Fanghuiju” teams:

[… T]he Neighbourhood Committee (社区居委会), a nominally service-oriented voluntary organisation, has morphed into a powerful policing organ. Its new functions now include issuing travel permits for Uyghur residents, monitoring residents’ actions and emotions in their homes, committing individuals to re-education camps and subjecting relatives of those detained to ‘management and control’ orders that are akin to house arrest.

[…] Xi took inspiration from the 1963 ‘Fengqiao Experience’ (枫桥经验), in which work units and commune brigades mobilised the masses in targeting and transforming the ‘enemies’ hiding among the people. Adapted for contemporary use, Xi has unleashed the neighbourhood and village committees to expand the party’s visibility and control at the grassroots and to pre-empt any source of instability. Grassroots mobilisation efforts increasingly blanket China and have been criticised for their arbitrariness during the Covid-19 pandemic, when neighbourhood committees outside Xinjiang denied residents who returned from travel access to their own homes. [Source]

Drawing on leaked documents, the report provides particularly valuable detail on Fanghuiju—“shorthand for ‘Visit the People, Benefit the People, and Link the Hearts of the People’ (访民情、惠民生、聚民心).” In notoriously invasive home visits to Uyghur families deemed particularly suspect, officers calling themselves “relatives” of the targets deliver political instruction and monitor domestic tidiness, emotional stability, and ideological rectitude. The report includes excerpts from official reports on repeated visits to the family of a 19-year-old who was detained and eventually sentenced to three years in prison for using the Zapya file-sharing app and, allegedly, a VPN.

Also cited is a manual, used in Kashgar Prefecture, which encourages participants to “show warmth to their Uyghur ‘relatives’ and give kids candy. It also provided a checklist that includes questions such as: ‘When entering the household, do family members appear flustered and use evasive language? Do they not watch TV programs at home, and instead only watch VCD discs? Are there any religious items still hanging on the walls of the house?’” Participation in the visits is widespread, with “almost every department and office in Xinjiang” contributing personnel, including seemingly unrelated bodies such as the Agricultural Machinery Bureau.

The ASPI authors also offer insight into the official language of the campaign. This is a highly charged, militaristic lexicon of “micro clues” and “enemy movements”; “severing heads” and “brandishing the sword”; and the “three loves” (for the Party, the motherland, and “the big family of the Chinese nation-race”), “three oppositions” (to separatism, extremism, and violence), “three gratitudes” (to the motherland, the Party, and Xi), and “three wishes” (for the motherland’s prosperity, Xi’s good health, and ethnic harmony and unity).

The report concludes:

By examining the Chinese party-state’s governance methods, this report illustrates how human rights abuses are being carried out in Xinjiang and by whom. Mass campaigns aimed at political realignment are not artefacts of a bygone era. Rather, they are occuring at a time when Chinese society is more tightly connected with the world than ever before, and pursued along racial and religious lines in Xinjiang with profound social impacts. Consequently, this is the first PRC mass campaign that liberal democracies have experienced up close, while knowingly or unknowingly consuming its outputs, such as products made with forced labour. [Source]


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