China's paranoia and oppression in Xinjiang has a long history

China finally admitted this week what had been widely reported: that it is ...

Posted: Oct 14, 2018 9:15 AM
Updated: Oct 14, 2018 9:15 AM

China finally admitted this week what had been widely reported: that it is interning thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in "re-education camps" in the far-western region of Xinjiang.

Human rights groups previously estimated that as many as one million people have been held in the camps, which satellite photos show have sprung up across the region in recent months.

Asia

China

Continents and regions

East Asia

Xinjiang

Diseases and disorders

Health and medical

Mental health

Mental illnesses

Paranoia

Riots

Society

Violence in society

International relations and national security

National security

Terrorism

Terrorism and counter-terrorism

Unrest, conflicts and war

Beijing

Demographic groups

Muslim people

Population and demographics

North America

The Americas

United States

Human rights

Minority and ethnic groups

Uyghurs

Belief, religion and spirituality

Islam

Muslim extremists

Rebellions and insurgencies

Religious groups

September 11

Terrorist attacks

Civil unrest

Protests and demonstrations

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Syria conflict

Along with restrictions on halal food, Islamic dress, and general religiosity, the ongoing crackdown has primarily affected the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who historically were the majority in the region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang defended recent measures at a press briefing Thursday, saying "taking measures to prevent and crack down on terrorism and extremism have helped preserve stability, as well as the life and livelihood of people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang."

While the strategies Beijing is taking are new -- and include a state-of-the-art surveillance regime -- they echo a longtime paranoia about Xinjiang and a deep suspicion of its non-Han population among China's rulers which have historically resulted in oppression and rebellion.

New territory

Xinjiang is vast. Stretching 1.6 million square kilometers (640,000 sq miles) from the Tibetan plateau in the southeast to Kazakhstan on its north-western border, it is by far China's largest administrative region, but one of its least densely populated. Around 22 million people reside in the region, most of whom live around the major cities of Urumqi, Kashgar and Yining.

While Chinese armies rampaged through what is now Xinjiang and controlled parts of it for centuries, the modern administrative unit only dates to the mid-nineteenth century, a fact hinted at by its name, which translates as "new frontier" in Chinese.

Despite the Communist Party's claims that "Xinjiang has since ancient times been an inseparable part of the motherland," the relatively recent imperial conquest of Xinjiang has always been accompanied by an ever present paranoia that it could break away from Chinese rule, becoming another "Outer Mongolia."

During the Sino-Soviet split, there was a deep fear in Beijing that Moscow would seek to annex Xinjiang, which bordered the then Soviet Union, or encourage ethnic minority groups to rebel.

This was a very real possibility: during the 1930s and 40s, as the short-lived Nationalist government fought a civil war with the Communists and faced a growing threat of Japanese invasion, two breakaway East Turkestan Republics were declared and swiftly put down in Xinjiang.

While the East Turkestan independence movements (and their successors today) were largely based on ethnonationalist arguments about a homeland for Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, since the turn of the millennium Beijing's chief concern has been the potential spread of radical Islam in the region, and the alleged influence of international terrorist organizations.

Particularly in the wake of September 11, 2001, as Washington sought Beijing's support in its "war on terror," the Chinese government linked unrest in Xinjiang with Islamist groups overseas, succeeding in getting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) listed as a terrorist organization by the US.

This was despite there being such little information available on ETIM at the time or evidence supporting Beijing's claims that some openly questioned whether it existed as a coherent group at all.

Ethnic unrest

Even as the authorities were focused on Islamic terrorism, the biggest unrest in Xinjiang in recent years appeared to have nothing to do with religion.

A mass protest which broke out after a police crackdown on a smaller demonstration spiraled out of control in July 2009, and saw rioters rampage through Urumqi armed with clubs, knives and stones.

They randomly attacked and in many cases beat to death any Han Chinese they found in the streets, including women and elderly people, and set cars, houses and shops on fire.

It took around 20,000 paramilitary police and People's Liberation Army soldiers to quell the unrest, which left at least 197 Han and Uygur people dead, according to Chinese state media.

Internet access to all of Xinjiang, along with international phone and text messaging services, was cut off for almost a year in the wake of the violence.

Since the 2009 violence -- which came shortly after unrest in Tibet -- restrictions on the lives of ordinary Uyghurs in Xinjiang have increased, even as the space to criticize and push for alternative policies has narrowed.

The region has a multitude of problems deserving of discussion beyond security and ethnic unrest. Xinjiang is one of China's poorest areas, and development has lagged other parts of the country. Uyghurs and other minorities complain of discrimination in employment and education, and corruption is rife within state-controlled industries that continue to dominate the local economy.

Increasingly however, any criticism of these issues -- particularly anything which touches on ethnic or religious matters -- is cast as advocating for independence or seeking to undermine the government.

In 2014, Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based economics professor who was considered one of the leading moderate Chinese voices on Xinjiang, was jailed for life for "separatism" and spreading "ethnic hatred."

His arrest and the severity of his sentence shocked many supporters, who warned that by stamping out voices such as Ilham's, "the Chinese Government is in fact laying the groundwork for the very extremism it says it wants to prevent."

This prediction has largely been borne out, especially as Chinese authorities have ramped up restrictions on Islam in the name of fighting terrorism, including banning veils and beards, cracking down on Quran study groups, and preventing Muslim officials from fasting for Ramadan.

Both Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have featured Xinjiang in their propaganda in recent years, and Uyghur fighters have been spotted in Syria and Iraq.

Uyghurs have also been linked to numerous terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of China, though it is disputed how many of these incidents are linked to or directed by overseas militant groups.

No way out

Beijing's paranoia about terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang is real and understandable.

But despite numerous warnings about this resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the authorities' reaction has only been to crack down harder and restrict Muslim life further.

Chinese officials argue that without a firm hand, the country's far west risks turning into another Syria, where rebel groups and Islamist militants backed by foreign powers, including the US, have plunged the country into a years-long civil war.

This narrative has been used to justify not only restrictions on Islam, but the massive securitization of Xinjiang, with armed police manning checkpoints across cities, surveillance cameras everywhere, and citizens unable to leave the region.

That approach reached its zenith in the past year with the expanding network of "re-education camps," where predominantly Uyghur internees are forced to attend "anti-extremist ideological" classes and their behavior -- particularly religious behavior -- is tightly controlled.

"Detentions are extra-legal, with no legal representation allowed throughout the process of arrest and incarceration," according to the World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based umbrella group for the Uyghur diaspora, which recently submitted evidence to the United Nations about the camps.

While the Chinese government initially pushed back against these claims -- saying "Xinjiang citizens including the Uyghurs enjoy equal freedoms and rights" -- the apparent acknowledgment and legalization of the camps this week, as well as increasing discussion of the issue in state media, indicates Beijing may be doubling down on its policies in Xinjiang in the face of growing international condemnation.

Washington has recently found its voice on Xinjiang, where it long overlooked abuses by Beijing. But as with US criticisms of Chinese media actions overseas, there is a risk the White House's concerns get linked to the ongoing trade war between China and the US, and are thus easily discounted in Beijing's eyes as self-motivated and made in bad faith.

This week, US lawmakers announced their intention to nominate Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize, the award of which in 2010 to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo infuriated Beijing. Liu died of cancer last year while still in Chinese government custody.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu rejected US criticism at a regular press briefing Thursday, saying people had "been creating lies and launching baseless accusations at the appropriate counter-terrorism measures taken by the Xinjiang authorities."

Nor is it obvious how Beijing would reverse its policies at this point. Few moderate Chinese voices are left who can speak authoritatively on Xinjiang, and those officials running the province -- like Chen Quanguo, former Tibet party secretary and a key ally of President Xi Jinping -- are hardliners with a reputation for ruthless crackdowns and zero tolerance.

Just as in Hong Kong, where China's heavy-handed approach arguably inspired support for independence, Beijing is left with a problem that it created, but one that perversely justifies its earlier approach.

Charting an alternative path of reconciliation and respect for human rights would require a subtlety in dealing with dissent that Xi's administration has so far not shown evidence of.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 37624

Reported Deaths: 1503
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12150785
Ramsey4805226
Stearns234519
Dakota228690
Anoka2180107
Nobles16626
Olmsted110115
Washington106940
Mower9452
Rice8357
Scott7004
Clay58538
Kandiyohi5701
Wright4565
Blue Earth4532
Todd4002
Carver3641
Lyon3092
Sherburne3075
Freeborn2900
Steele2281
Watonwan2160
Benton2143
St. Louis17715
Martin1635
Nicollet15912
Cottonwood1340
Goodhue1298
Winona12215
Crow Wing10612
Pine1030
Le Sueur981
Chisago971
Otter Tail931
McLeod880
Carlton850
Dodge840
Polk812
Chippewa781
Unassigned7637
Isanti720
Itasca6412
Waseca640
Douglas620
Meeker611
Morrison591
Murray580
Becker550
Faribault550
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pennington500
Pipestone371
Mille Lacs342
Renville322
Wabasha310
Brown302
Rock300
Yellow Medicine300
Beltrami290
Fillmore280
Houston250
Swift211
Norman200
Wilkin203
Redwood180
Cass152
Wadena150
Aitkin140
Big Stone140
Kanabec141
Koochiching141
Roseau130
Marshall120
Grant100
Lincoln100
Pope100
Mahnomen81
Clearwater70
Hubbard60
Lake60
Traverse50
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30377

Reported Deaths: 720
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6332179
Woodbury320644
Black Hawk219658
Buena Vista170711
Linn124282
Johnson12388
Dallas123529
Marshall104119
Story7513
Pottawattamie71911
Scott71910
Wapello70530
Crawford6752
Muscatine62444
Dubuque62122
Sioux4600
Tama46029
Wright3771
Louisa36013
Jasper32117
Plymouth3135
Warren2641
Dickinson2602
Washington2349
Hamilton1871
Webster1712
Cerro Gordo1471
Boone1451
Clarke1292
Clay1280
Allamakee1264
Mahaska11517
Shelby1140
Clinton1051
Poweshiek1048
Carroll931
Pocahontas931
Bremer916
Des Moines862
Henry863
Franklin840
Cedar811
Emmet800
Taylor790
Cherokee751
Monona740
Floyd702
Marion680
Hardin670
Guthrie644
Sac630
Benton621
Jefferson590
Osceola590
Jones560
Harrison530
Humboldt531
Lee532
Butler522
Iowa510
Buchanan501
Monroe506
Hancock490
Calhoun482
Delaware481
Madison422
Lyon410
Clayton403
Davis391
Fayette370
Mitchell370
Winneshiek370
Mills360
Palo Alto360
Grundy350
Kossuth330
Lucas304
Greene290
Howard290
Chickasaw280
Jackson270
Union270
Winnebago270
Ida230
Cass210
Appanoose203
Keokuk201
Page200
Van Buren190
Worth170
Audubon161
Adair150
Ringgold150
Decatur110
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont70
Unassigned70
Rochester
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 68°
Mason City
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 67°
Albert Lea
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Austin
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 70°
Charles City
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 66°
Hot and sticky fourth of July weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Alternative baseball hopes to come to the Med City in 2021

Image

FOURTH OF JULY IN AUSTIN AND STEWARTVILLE

Image

Seans 6pm Weather 7/4

Image

Fans excited for Honkers return

Image

Honkers fall to St. Cloud in home opener

Image

Baseball returns to the Med City

Image

Seans 10pm Weather 7/3

Image

Leaders advocate for the homeless

Image

Fireworks Show During the Pandemic

Image

Pillars of the City Unveiled

Community Events