China loses ability to deny Uighur oppression with leaked govt cables – Business Insider

  • China has long denied its mass surveillance and prison-camp detention of the Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
  • But a series of classified government documents, leaked to The New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this month, has knocked down this line of defense.
  • We now have solid proof of the Uighur oppression from within the Communist Party.
  • The leaks are devastating and extraordinary, but China likely doesn’t care. It has brushed off the documents by calling them fake news, and continued to defend its actions in the region.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

China has lost its ability to deny its mass oppression of the Uighur Muslims, thanks to a series of devastating leaked cables detailing the crackdown from within the Communist Party.

The country has for years denied oppressing the Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic minority in western China, with intrusive surveillance and mass detentions. China sees Uighurs’ religion as a threat, and is operating a counterterrorism campaign in their home region of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan.

Leaked internal government documents detailing the crackdown, published by The New York Times and the  International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) this month, have confirmed the coordinated campaign against the populace.

FILE PHOTO: Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras while leaving the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in January 2019.
Reuters


The classified documents published by The New York Times include instructions on how to tell Uighur students that their parents had been detained for their religion, speeches by President Xi Jinping on the need for a crackdown on Uighurs, and a threat to punish party officials who don’t follow instructions.

The cables published by the ICIJ describe the tight security controls in the prison camps and the multitude of reasons for which Uighurs can be detained — from using a file-sharing app to exhibiting Muslim markers, such as telling colleagues to pray and stay away from porn.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese paramilitary police in riot gear stand guard across the entrance to a large mosque in the centre of the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 9, 2009.  REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

Chinese paramilitary police in riot gear guard a mosque in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Reuters


China claims the leaks are fake news — but this line of defense isn’t working

China has attempted to shoot down both The Times’ and the ICIJ’s stories, calling both sets of leaks “fabrication.”

It has used this line of defense multiple times before in response to previous reports of the Xinjiang crackdown as told by relatives, former detainees and experts on the region.

But the strategy of dismissing evidence of the Uighur oppression as fake news doesn’t work anymore because the leaked documents are solid proof of the crackdown, especially given the documents originated from within the Communist Party.

china communist party meeting

A plenary meeting of China’s National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March 2018.
Andy Wong/AP


The Times’ documents were sent by “a member of the Chinese political establishment,” whose identity is not known to the public but is to the newspaper.

The origin of the ICIJ cables is less clear — the network says it received them “via a chain of exiled Uighurs” — but they all contain stamps and letterheads of Chinese authorities.

The ICIJ also said it vetted the cables with several linguists and Xinjiang researchers, and corroborated the contents with former Xinjiang detainees.

Adrian Zenz, one of the researchers that vetted the ICIJ’s cables, wrote in a Times op-ed: “No more denying, no more dodging. The Chinese Communist Party can no longer hide its relentless campaign of mass internment against the ethnic minorities in … Xinjiang, or claim that the effort is an innocuous educational program.”

“For all its efforts at secrecy, the Chinese government can no longer hide the extent, and the reach, of its campaign of repression in Xinjiang,” he added.

Xi Jinping

Xi votes on a constitutional amendment at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March 2018.
Reuters/Jason Lee


The leaks are devastating, but China likely doesn’t care

The leaks are devastating and extraordinary, particularly since they come from a regime as secretive and tightly-controlled as the Chinese Communist Party.

Even so, it seems extremely unlikely that the Chinese government will retreat on Xinjiang in favor of a better image abroad.

Though Chinese officials have brushed off both leaks as fabrications and attempted smears by Western countries, they have also defended the country’s tactics in the region.

Spokesmen for the country have continued to boast of the lack of terrorist incidents in Xinjiang and an improvement in the region’s economy, and to claim the camps simply offer “free vocational training.”

China has used this defense for years.

A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A perimeter fence outside a “vocational skills education center” in Dabancheng, Xinjiang.
Reuters


A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman even said last week, in response to the Times report, that the country’s tactics in Xinjiang were “worth learning from.”

The party official who leaked the internal documents to The Times “expressed hope that their disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions,” the newspaper said.

But as China continues to go without sufficient, tangible pushback or punishment for its actions by foreign powers, it seems likely that the oppression of Uighurs will not stop any time soon.

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