Reeducation Returns to China

Will the Repression in Xinjiang Influence Beijing’s Social Credit System?

A police patrol walk in front of the Id Kah Mosque in the old city of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 2017.  Thomas Peter / REUTERS

In recent months, troubling details have emerged about a sprawling network of secretive political reeducation camps in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. Both official and leaked evidence indicates that up to one million Muslims, chiefly from the Uighur minority, have been interned without legal proceedings. Ex-internees describe vast facilities that can hold nearly 6,000 persons and are heavily secured with barbed wire, surveillance systems, and armed police. Government tenders confirm these reports and provide detailed insights into the sizes and features of reeducation facilities throughout the region. Those interned are subject to intense indoctrination procedures that force them to proclaim “faith” in the Chinese Communist Party while denigrating large parts of their own religion and culture.

When asked by the international media, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it “had not heard” of this situation. Clearly, Beijing has ample reason to avoid the topic. The fact that a core region of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is littered with internment camps is not a pretty picture to convey to the global community. After all, the last memorable time that one million or more members of a particular ethnicity or religion were interned in barbed-wire-clad compounds was under Nazi Germany—even though the intention in Xinjiang is political indoctrination rather than extermination. China also just abolished its nationwide reeducation through labor system in 2013, a system instituted under Mao Zedong to reform “opponents of socialism.” Both the leadership and the population felt that sending people into such camps without legal proceedings, merely at the whims of local police authorities, was no longer appropriate in a modern society governed by the rule of law. The fact that Xinjiang’s current reeducation network might outstrip the size of the entire former national system is decidedly disconcerting.

The roots of China’s denial of the unfolding human rights disaster in Xinjiang might be deeper still. The reeducation campaign has been a profound shock even to seasoned observers of Beijing’s policies

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