The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to exert its influence on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and ethnic minorities within its borders, particularly Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslims. The Washington Post reports that this crack-down saw to the construction of facilities dubbed “reeducation camps” where the CPP forces members of ethnic minorities to learn about the CCP and Chinese nationalist ideas against their will.
These camps are part of the “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign, included in President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” Initiative. Testimony from ethnic Kazakhs who left China following their stay in reeducation camps, along with a letter written by a prison guard translated into English by Freedom’s Herald, paints a grim picture of these camps. Former prisoners report large-scale sexual violence, involuntary sterilization, the punitive use of IUD birth control, and forced abortions. Many also mentioned the detention and abuse of minors.
The Jamestown Foundation states that, “China’s pacification drive in Xinjiang is, more than likely, the country’s most intense campaign of coercive social re-engineering since the end of the Cultural Revolution.” Human Rights Watch reports that the CPP makes individuals outside of the camps report on their family members or denounce loved ones who have been detained. Relatives of ethnic Kazakhs often receive calls from detained family members asking them to end advocacy efforts.
Since the launch of “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” in May 2014, the number of people formally arrested within Turkic Muslim regions leaped three-fold compared to the previous five years. A core part of this policy is the large-scale surveillance employed throughout Xinjiang, including the collection of biometric data. Human Rights Watch reports that this data collection identifies individuals who supposedly pose a threat to the CCP.
The CPP frames the of greater China as beneficial to the greater good. Socially reengineering China is one of Xi Xinping’s most ambitious objectives. His “China Dream” initiative aims to elevate the values of the Han ethnic majority and restore the country’s historic prosperity and national pride. As perceived outsiders, Turkic Muslims represent a threat to the consolidation of Chinese nationalist power.
Since 2016, ethnic Kazakh Muslims residing in northern Xinjiang face increased targeting by the Strike Hard Campaign. On top of restricted movement policies that bar Turkic Muslims from leaving the country or even certain areas of their own neighborhoods, those spared from detention might be required to attend Chinese flag-raising ceremonies, political indoctrination meetings, and Mandarin classes. NPR reports that the government charges many Muslims with spreading “superstition,” leaving little room for religious tolerance for Islam in China.
In Kazakhstan, there is a public outcry against the Xinjiang camps and human rights violations perpetrated against ethnic Kazakhs. However, many in the country believe that their government prioritizes its economic relationship with China over the rights and interests of its people. Kazakhstan remains relatively quiet in order to preserve its relationship with China, being especially hesitant to recognize people fleeing discrimination as refugees. Foreign Policy quoted International Legal Initiative president Aina Shormanbaeva as saying, “Recognizing someone from Xinjiang as a refugee would mean acknowledging that the camps and the abuses in them are real, which would contradict Beijing.”
As outlined by the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, China’s intentional suppression of the Uighur and Turkic Muslim culture within Xinjiang and other Muslim populations in China via their network of reeducation camps amounts to cultural genocide. However, because China is not a party to the International Criminal Court, acknowledging the reality of this situation poses enormous political and economic implications for any country that does. Many Muslim-majority countries even stand by China due to economic pressures.
In the future, social re-engineering might be one of Xi’s greatest legacies. The Washington Post quoted Vanessa Frangville, a professor of Chinese Studies, who stated that curbing religion removes any of the CCP’s opponents to power: “To control the whole population through technology and ideology – it’s what leaders dream.”