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Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during an event to honor some of those involved in China’s fight against Covid-19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, September 8, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
“Completely correct” is how Chinese President Xi Jinping this week described his government’s policies in Xinjiang, the region of northwest China in which 13 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims continue to endure appalling repression.
Beijing has repeatedly lied to the world about the region – first denying the existence of “political education” camps, then claiming that these detention centers were voluntary “vocational training” facilities, and subsequently suggesting everyone had “graduated.” So it’s worth treating this latest statement to a Communist Party conference with a heavy dose of skepticism.
First, Chinese authorities claim they have brought calm to the region. But their strategy of repression in Xinjiang should not be confused with security. Under the guise of “striking hard” against “terrorism,” which China defines alarmingly broadly, authorities have deployed a terrifying form of collective punishment: one million Turkic Muslims arbitrarily detained for long periods, indoctrinated, and frequently used in forced labor, while another 12 million are subjected to pervasive state surveillance, cultural erasure, and demonization of Islam.
Second, Chinese authorities assert their commitment to “openness and transparency.” While the government has allowed journalists and diplomats into the region, these visits are highly restricted – accompanied or tailed by government minders from the moment they arrive until departure. Independent observers cannot speak to victims and witnesses of abuses, or even ordinary people, without fear of reprisals, and visitors only see what the authorities want them to see. Most cruelly, the region is shuttered to Turkic Muslims outside the country trying to locate family members – including children – from whom they have been cut off for years.
Finally, in the face of mounting international pressure, Beijing has said it welcomes a visit to Xinjiang by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet. But it’s a deceptive offer: more than 18 months after Bachelet’s request for full and unfettered access to Xinjiang – a standard component of UN country visits – the government has still not agreed. Beijing’s readiness to “welcome” the high commissioner is a dangled falsehood.
If “happiness” has “continued to increase” in Xinjiang, as Xi told Party members, there should be no reason to limit the access of independent international investigators, members of the Turkic Muslim diaspora, or anyone else. Xi’s remarks aim to thwart investigations into a powerful government’s unrepentant human rights violations. No one should fall for it.