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Our Concentration Camps Are Like U.S. ‘Community Correction Centers’

Chinese state media continued its efforts to deflect criticism of human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang province on Wednesday, as the state-run Xinhua news service wrote a furious editorial denouncing all accounts of oppression against the Uyghurs as a “string of lies” fabricated by “anti-China forces in the West.”

“They have invented these lies through methods including, but not limited to, data abuse, distortion of information, fabrication of cases, cherry-picking of source materials, and logical contradictions,” Xinhua shrieked, insisting the widely-cited estimate of a million Uyghurs held in concentration camps is based on phony studies concocted by Beijing’s fanatical enemies:

The first “study” was done by the U.S. government-backed Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) with interviews from only eight people. The CHRD applied the estimated ratio shown in this absurdly small sample to the whole of Xinjiang, drawing a crude conclusion that one million people were detained in the “re-education detention camps” and two million were “forced to attend day/evening re-education sessions.”

The second “study” was authored by far-right fundamentalist Christian Adrian Zenz, who based his “just over one million” estimate on a single report by Istiqlal TV, a Uygur exile media organization based in Turkey that instigates separatism while playing host to an assortment of extremist figures. It is also noteworthy that Zenz is a religious fanatic who has said he is “led by God” to crusade against the Chinese government.

His many so-called sources of information, including three women who had claimed to be under “unlawful detention” and forced to undergo compulsory sterilization by the government, have been debunked.

Xinhua called the BBC’s bombshell report on “systematic rape” in the Xinjiang camps a “fiasco” based on “one-sided claims,” and raged against the growing allegations of genocide by insisting the Uyghur population grew between 2010 and 2018 — a conveniently-chosen timespan given that the Uyghur concentration camps were ramping up right when it ends. 

Contrary to Chinese state propaganda, the Uyghur concentration camps are very real — they can be seen from orbit — and they are getting much larger. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) reported in September that the network of Uyghur prisons has grown about 40 percent larger than initial estimates, even as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was claiming all of the happy Uyghur “students” at those “vocational centers” were graduating and finding rewarding employment with Chinese firms.

ASPI researcher Nathan Ruser demolished that CCP storyline in a September piece for the UK Guardian, noting that the largest of the concentration camps is over three and a half times the size of Disneyland, and even after years of scouring satellite data, his organization believes it has not found them all:

Using official population figures, the 380 camps equate to at least one new or expanded detention facility for every 37,000 people of non-Han nationality in Xinjiang. This would be the equivalent of New York City building more than 55 prisons only for black Americans in just over three years.

The reality on the ground in Xinjiang differs dramatically from claims by the region’s government. Xinjiang’s governor, Shohrat Zakir, in December last year said that “all the trainees … have completed their studies”, and “returned to society”. This is directly contradicted by the satellite evidence. Dozens of camps have been significantly expanded in the months leading up to, and since, Zakir’s assertion. At the time of writing, more than a dozen detention facilities remain under construction. The largest detention camp in Xinjiang, south-east of the capital, Urumqi, expanded by an entire kilometre in 2019. These renovations, which added about 20 new buildings, were not complete until November 2019, weeks before Zakir’s claim that everyone had been released.

In the months preceding and since Zakir’s claim we have seen more than 60 detention facilities expand in total.

Ruser noted that despite China’s laughable claims that these gigantic camps are voluntary training centers, they have all the distinctive features of prisons, including watchtowers and prison walls. A new camp was constructed in January 2020 right next to an actual vocational school partly funded by the World Bank, and no observer would mistake one facility for the other. The new facility was big enough to hold 10,000 detainees.

Ruser pointed out that so many Uyghurs are stuffed into these camps that Xinjiang is now filled with ghost towns. The international visitors Xinhua and other CCP organs tout as eyewitnesses to the cheerful lifestyle of the Uyghurs are not allowed to leave carefully controlled parts of Xinjiang’s cities. The few who slip past their Chinese minders find themselves walking through empty streets, past abandoned homes, in districts that were teeming with people just a few years ago.

Another Chinese state media outlet, the Global Times, quoted China’s ambassador to Germany claiming the camps of Xinjiang are no different from correctional facilities in the Western world. Ambassador Wu Ken walked the same party line as Xinhua’s editorial, claiming that all reports of physical and mental abuse at the camps are fabrications:

Wu emphasized that the so-called “forced labor” is a label invented by anti-China forces in the West to smear China, and that there are no so-called “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.

China legally established vocational training centers, which have no difference in essence from the “anti-extremism centers” in France and community correction centers in the US, said Wu, noting these institutions are all beneficial attempts to prevent terrorism and de-radicalize people.

Through education and training, China has eradicated the breeding ground for extremism and helped those who suffer from it secure a better future, Wu said. 

“The measures have greatly improved the situation in Xinjiang. There had been no terrorist attacks for four years in 2019, and participants in the courses at the vocational training centers have graduated and found jobs,” he said. 

As the ASPI asked, if the Uyghurs are voluntarily embracing these “vocational” programs, why are the “training centers” built like prisons — and if everyone is graduating to find great jobs, why are the camps getting bigger? The Chinese Communist Party has provided no clarification on these points.

Resistance to China’s slave labor is growing and spreading around the world, despite all of Beijing’s efforts to pretend otherwise. Japan’s Kyodo News reported this week that at least 12 major Japanese firms — including Toshiba, Sony, and Hitachi — have canceled business deals with Chinese companies suspected of using Uyghur forced labor, even as some of the Japanese corporations publicly claim they cannot confirm the allegations of forced labor against their Chinese suppliers.

Kyodo sensed a sea change in Japanese corporate policy, as managers learn they can no longer trust Chinese companies to answer honestly when asked if they employ forced labor. One Japanese retail company that formerly advertised using “Xinjiang cotton” said it now employs third-party services to certify its Chinese cotton was not harvested with forced Uyghur labor.

Also contrary to disingenuous claims by Chinese officials and outlets like Xinhua, the reports of forced labor are not based on dubious and unverified hearsay; the practice has been confirmed by reviewing Chinese government documents.

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