Monday, 16 September 2019


The Real Loser From the Oil Price Jump Is China
Nation is already dealing with an inflation spike and weak manufacturing margins
Unhappy ShoppersChinese consumer prices and spending data, change from a year earlierSource: CEIC
%Food price indexPork price indexRetail sales (real)2013’14’15’16’17’18’19-30-20-1001020304050Retail sales (real)xApril 2013x11.8%
Nathaniel Taplin
Sept. 16, 2019 7:44 am ET
Higher oil prices are no longer an unalloyed negative for the U.S., but they are for the world’s largest crude importer: China.
The country is already dealing with a vicious outbreak of African Swine Fever that has pushed the price of pork, its staple meat, up over 40% on the year. Inflation is running at its hottest since 2013, excluding the volatile Chinese New Year holiday period. And amid the ongoing trade war with the U.S., August data released Monday showed investment, retail sales and industrial growth all slowing further—the latter to its weakest in 17 years.
For much of the past year, cheap oil has eased the pain for beleaguered Chinese consumers and businesses. Following Saturday’s attacks on Saudi Arabia, though, the Brent benchmark on Monday has risen about 10% to $65 a barrel. And it could stay elevated for a while, even as Saudi Arabia brings some production back online—in part because investors are now reevaluating the risk of more disturbances in the Middle East. Brent futures show investors betting that oil prices won’t fully move back down to where they were on Friday until next summer, even with the global economy widely expected to weaken further.
All of this will make shoring up sagging Chinese growth even more difficult. China has managed to dull the impact of U.S. tariffs with a cheaper currency. Pricier oil, on top of out-of-control food prices, makes devaluing the yuan even riskier than it already was. 
Beijing’s recent move to exempt new purchases of U.S. pork and other agricultural products from tariffs should be viewed primarily in the context of China’s increasingly alarming domestic food prices rather than softening trade tensions.
Expensive oil makes looser monetary policy riskier too. Analysts widely expect an imminent cut to rates on a key central bank lending facility that underpins China’s new benchmark lending rate. But policymakers remain trapped between a weakening economy and too-pricey food and housing. House prices are still up over 10% on the year, and growth in housing investment actually accelerated to a four-month high in August.
The outlook for Chinese growth is weaker than ever. Given the constraints, though, modest rather than overwhelming 2015-style policy stimulus is probably the best investors can hope for.

Sunday, 15 September 2019


A Uighur professor vanished and may be executed. Yet China expects respect.

Zumrat Dawut with a sign supporting Uighurs outside the Dar Alnoor Islamic Community Center in Woodbridge. Zumrat, a Chinese Uighur, was in a reeducation camp in China. Months after her release, her family fled China and sought asylum in the United States.  (Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post)
By Editorial Board
September 15 at 4:47 am Taiwan Time
WHEN DETAINED in China, political prisoners often disappear for months at a time. Sometimes, they reappear after lengthy interrogation, having made a coerced “confession” that is then televised. Others are less fortunate, reduced to just an announcement that they were convicted without access to family or lawyers. Still others are tortured and denied medical care and die without ever resurfacing.
Given this reality, the case of Tashpolat Teyip is particularly murky and worrisome.
Mr. Teyip is an ethnic Uighur professor of geography. From 2010 until 2017, he was president of Xinjiang University, the leading institution of higher learning in the Xinjiang region in northwest China, home to millions of Turkic Muslim ethnic Uighurs. In the past two-and-a-half years, China has been carrying out a drive to corral 1 million or more Uighurs and others into the equivalent of concentration camps in order to wipe out their traditional language, traditions and mind-set in favor of that of the majority Han Chinese. China at first denied their existence, and now describes the camps as small and benign — “retraining centers” is one favored phrase.
In 2017, Mr. Teyip vanished. According to a dispatch from Radio Free Asia, on March 31, 2017, it was announced to Communist Party officials that he was being replaced as head of the university, and that he had been detained. RFA also reported that Mr. Teyip’s name was stricken from the official list of presidents of Xinjiang University. He had published five books and numerous articles and earned a PhD at Tokyo University of Science. More recently, RFA said students and faculty had been shown a police documentary film, which reported that Mr. Teyip had been sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years. The nature of the charges is not clear, but RFA said it was a lack of loyalty in supporting government policy.
Amnesty International has issued an urgent bulletin, warning that Mr. Teyip may soon be executed. The alert says he “was convicted in a secret and grossly unfair trial. Subjected to an enforced disappearance in 2017, he has been arbitrarily detained since then. No information has been made available about charges and proceedings against him and his current whereabouts remain unknown.”
Amnesty did not say why it raised its alarm, but the two-year clock on his suspended sentence may be running out. RFA quoted his brother, Nuri Teyip, as saying China is “taking swift action to exterminate scholars in the interest of rewriting history” in the Xinjiang region. “All of the intellectuals and outstanding scholars are being charged with groundless crimes, and just one of them is my brother,” he said. “I call on the international community to act and save not only my brother, but my people as a whole.”

Chinese diplomats in the West are decrying the souring of U.S.-China relations, and we agree that the governments should cooperate when they can. But China’s Communist rulers cannot behave with this sort of barbarity and secrecy, and simultaneously expect to enjoy the world’s respect.


Political Crisis Deepens in Hong Kong as Protesters Retake Streets
Thousands march in defiance of police ban on demonstration
Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters. PHOTO: JORGE SILVA/REUTERS
Joanne Chiu and 
Mike Cherney
Updated Sept. 15, 2019 6:15 am ET
HONG KONG—Political turmoil engulfing this global financial center showed no signs of abating Sunday as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched through the streets in defiance of a police ban on the protest.
People of all ages, many unmasked and some carrying children, walked more than 2 miles from a shopping district, where usually busy stores were shuttered, to downtown Hong Kong. Many chanted, “Five demands! Not one less!,” “Fight for freedom!” and “Revolution of our times!”

 · 49m

At 5:50 pm Sunday, @hkpoliceforce deployed a water cannon truck and fired blue dye to disperse demonstrators defying a police ban on a march
Embedded video

As protesters retreated from Admiralty and headed east on Hong Kong Island, at least one fire was set on Queen Road East to barricade roads
Embedded video

The demonstrations turned violent late Sunday as hundreds of protesters hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails over water-filled plastic barriers and into lines of riot police outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. Police used tear gas and water cannon to push back the group, including spraying blue dye to mark those involved and make them identifiable if they fled.
The 15th straight Sunday of demonstrations came after a day of localized clashes Saturday, a public holiday, between pro-democracy protesters and groups supporting the government inside shopping malls around the city, with police making some arrests.
The scale of the crowds Sunday evoked mass marches earlier this summer, suggesting efforts by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to weaken and divide the opposition movement are having little effect, and the crisis remains a challenge for the Chinese leadership in Beijing. Mrs. Lam on Sept. 4 withdrew an extradition bill that sparked the summer of unrest and pledged to start dialogue with the community.
The leader urged society not to support hard-core protesters who have used violent tactics. She promised to crack down hard on lawbreakers, while police banned Sunday’s proposed peaceful rally, citing the risk of violence breaking out as has happened in earlier weekends.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which had proposed the rally, has organized three earlier marches that it estimates drew at least a million each time.
The massive social unrest combined with the U.S.-China trade dispute and slowing Chinese growth are threatening to tip Hong Kong’s economy into recession, officials have warned. Violent protests have disrupted flight services and road transportation, putting a dent in the city’s image as a safe city and an international financial hub.
Some protesters carried American flags, and a sign calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to “liberate Hong Kong.” PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
On Sunday, the city’s airport authority said passenger volume dropped 12.4% in August from a year ago, mainly due to significant declines in traffic to and from mainland China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Overall tourist arrivals fell 40% last month from a year earlier, the worst decline since May 2003, when Hong Kong was grappling with the deadly SARS virus.
Early Sunday afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters streamed down major streets heading toward Central, with some of them holding big U.S. flags and carrying a banner reading: “President Trump Please Liberate Hong Kong.”
Many in the crowd sang “Glory to Hong Kong,” a new anthem of the protest movement.
Some protesters brought their families despite the fact that the march was declared illegal.
“We hope our children have a future, because now in Hong Kong, we cannot see any hope,” said Charis, 30, who had her 7-month old daughter strapped to her front. “We need to stand here, we need to walk here. We need to tell government, we need five demands, not one less,” she added.
Protesters’ five demands include an inquiry into allegations of police brutality, amnesty for arrested protesters and electoral reforms to allow Hongkongers to vote for their leaders. Only one, the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to China, has been met.
The fact that large numbers turned out for Sunday’s March, including many families and elderly residents, suggest that many in Hong Kong believe that their government’s response so far isn’t sincere, said Mr. Law, a 49-year-old who works at a nonprofit focused on engaging youth and who declined to give his first name.
“What they have done so far is window dressing,” Mr. Law said. “They just want to show the rest of the world that they are doing something. But we Hong Kong people understand that they are not doing what we want.”
Sunday’s march drew many thousands of protesters, despite an official ban. PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mr. Law, who like many other protesters didn’t wear a mask to veil his face, said he wasn’t worried that he might be identified by the authorities. “There are so many others like me,” he said. “We don’t need the government’s permission to take to the streets.”
A 57-year-old administrator in a property management office who called himself Mr. Pao, giving only his surname, said this was his fourth march—but it was the first he was able to convince his son to join. His son, a 25-year-old recent graduate with an architecture degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said he had been deterred by scenes of violence on the television but decided he had to speak up.
“We need to stand here for our future,” said the younger Mr. Pao. “The freedom to speak anything we want. The freedom to protest. I think that’s the minimum foundation of everything.”
The sentiments echoed those voiced by many who marched chanting, “Liberate Hong Kong,” and expressing concerns in interviews that China’s central government is steadily eroding the city’s freedoms. On one block small, red Chinese flags were scattered on the ground to be trampled. Many protesters carried signs on which the yellow stars of China’s flag had been rearranged to form a swastika.
Many expressed anti-China sentiment. PHOTO: VIVEK PRAKASH/SHUTTERSTOCK
The elder Mr. Pao, who said he typically attended protests after church, said the erosion of the city’s freedom by Beijing has grown day by day since the handover from British control in 1997. “I think the parents want a better future for our teenagers,” he said.
A retired married couple, who gave only their surname, Lam, said they had protested almost every weekend since the first big march on June 9.
“We are not scared. We don’t even wear a mask today.” Mr. Lam said. “We are backed by so many people here. It’s impossible for the police to arrest all.”
Mrs. Lam, who is in her early 60s, says she’d want to fight the government with her life. “I feel really sorry for the kids,” she said. “I am too old to do anything. That’s why I have no choice but to come out to show my support.”
—Chun Han Wong and Andrew Dowell contributed to this article.

Saturday, 14 September 2019


A year ago, the rallying cry among Chinese policymakers was deleveraging the economy — but now the country’s senior leadership is moving quickly to revive bank lending in a fight against flagging economic growth. The change in tactics, underlined by a Rmb900bn ($126.4bn) boost to bank lending capacity last week, is a sign that China’s policymakers acknowledge they must do more to support the country’s economy as US tariffs on Chinese goods take a greater toll than originally expected.

But investors and economists worry that China’s overall response to counteract the slowing growth trend has been too little, too late. “We believe there’s an increasing risk that the policy is running behind the curve,” said Helen Qiao, chief greater China economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Policymakers are waking up to the fact that there is no cushion left for 2020.”For more than a decade, Beijing has steered between periods of urgent demand for credit and spells when it has tried to introduce reforms to quell runaway lending and overheating stock and property markets.

Last year, China embarked on a series of reforms to combat debt-fuelled growth and risky off-balance-sheet lending known as shadow banking. But the unexpected escalation of the trade dispute with the US in recent months has forced the rollback of some of those reforms — putting Chinese lending back on to an expansionary path.The two countries have continued to slap tariffs on each other’s exports, with the latest round of levies hitting Chinese manufactured products on September 1.

And evidence is growing that the trade war is starting to bite: China’s exports dropped unexpectedly in August by 1 per cent. Many economists have lowered their growth targets to 6-6.1 per cent for this calendar year, a slower rate of expansion than China has experienced for decades and at the lower end of its target growth range of 6-6.5 per cent. The largest stimulus bid of the year so far, Friday’s announcement of a cut to banks’ reserve requirement ratios, followed the creation of a new benchmark lending rate adopted in August that is expected to lower banks’ cost of capital in the coming months. The government has also sought to spur spending on public infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. It has expanded quotas for the amount of special infrastructure bonds — whose proceeds are earmarked for specific projects — that local governments are allowed to sell by about 60 per cent this year to Rmb2.15tn.

Still, many economists say the measures will fall short of what is needed to reinvigorate China’s growth rate. “I don’t think this is enough,” said Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Group. “At this moment, there is not enough demand for credit so you have to create artificial demand in areas like infrastructure and property.”mThe government will need to push banks to lend to local government projects in order to drum up more economic activity, Mr Hu said. A more controversial option would be to loosen some shadow banking regulations that have cut local governments and property developers off from access to credit, he suggested. For more than a decade, China has relied on demand for housing to help power its economy but, over the past year, the government has taken a stricter stance on keeping housing prices under control. Policymakers have this year frequently repeated the mantra that “houses are for living, not for speculation” — signalling that they would not use the industry, which makes up about 25 per cent of Chinese gross domestic product, to drive growth.

But in order to achieve this year’s economic targets, the government may be forced to increase its support for property developers. “Right now you can’t ignore the property sector,” said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura. “The current stimulus plan is reasonable for the long term but if they want to stabilise the economy in the short term they can’t exclude the property sector.” Opening up the shadow banking taps, or allowing for speculative investment into the property sector, would be painful moves for the central government to take after more than a year of reforms in those areas. China’s banking sector is already under pressure from a build-up in non-performing loans. Increasing credit supply could deepen the bad debt problems that some banks are grappling with.

Friday, 13 September 2019


VIENTIANE, Laos — For more than two years, Lee Jin-hui, 20, was never allowed to leave a three-room apartment in northeast China. Seven days a week, she had to sit at a computer from noon to 5 a.m., performing sex acts before a webcam for male clients, mostly from South Korea.
In the apartment, Ms. Lee and other North Korean women each had to earn about $820 a week for the Chinese pimp who bought them from human traffickers. When they failed, they were slapped, kicked and denied food.
“We had to work even when we were sick,” Ms. Lee said. “I wanted to get out so badly, but all I could do was peek out the window.”
Each year, human smugglers take thousands of women seeking to flee North Korea, promising them jobs in China, according to human rights groups and trafficking survivors. But once in China, many of the women are sold to unmarried men in rural towns or to pimps for exploitation in brothels and cybersex dens.
If they are caught running away from traffickers, China sends them back to North Korea, where they face torture and incarceration in labor camps. With nowhere to turn for help in China, they remain trapped in sex slavery.
An estimated 60 percent of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade, and increasingly coerced into cybersex, the London-based rights group Korea Future Initiative said in a report in May.
“Girls aged as young as 9 are forced to perform graphic sex acts and are sexually assaulted in front of webcams, which are live-streamed to a paying global audience, many of whom are believed to be South Korean men,” the report said.

Thursday, 12 September 2019


Hong Kong’s heroic dissent might be the decade’s most important development

Students protesters at the University of Hong Kong on Sept. 9.  (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)
By George F. Will
September 12 at 5:00 am Taiwan Time
HONG KONG — The masked men who recently tossed firebombs at Jimmy Lai’s home targeted one of this city’s foremost democracy advocates. Lai, a 71-year-old media billionaire , calls this summer’s ongoing protest “a martyrdom movement” and “a last-straw movement.” It has an intensity and dynamic that bewilders the protesters’ opponents in Beijing and in Hong Kong’s Beijing-obedient city administration.
Today’s mostly young protesters will be middle-aged in 2047, at the expiration of the 50-year agreement  that ostensibly accords Hong Kong protected status as an island of freedom. Beijing attempted to whittle away that status with a proposed 2003 law against “subversion.” And by devaluing suffrage via the 2014 requirement that candidates for the chief executive receive approval from a Beijing-loyal committee. And by this year’s extradition bill that would have facilitated sweeping Hong Kongers into the maw of China’s opaque criminal-justice system.
Monday’s New York Times carried a full-page ad paid for by “the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.” Which means, effectively, by the Chinese Communist Party. The ad said: “We are resolutely committed to ‘One Country, Two Systems’ which provides the constitutional guarantee for Hong Kong’s continued development and success as a free and open society.” The ad pledged “dialogue to talk through differences and look for common ground with no preconditions.”
But the “one county, two systems” formulation — agreed to in 1997 , when British authority ended — as a 50-year framework for Hong Kong’s relations with the PRC is an inherently menacing precondition. And Beijing’s consistently sinister behavior reveals a determination, as implacable as it is predictable, to incrementally nullify “one nation, two systems” by reducing Hong Kong to just another jurisdiction wholly subservient to China’s deepening tyranny.
For Leninists such as Xi Jinping wielding a party-state, nothing is more important than the party’s unchallenged primacy. Another “Tiananmen Square” — a Hong Kong massacre — would be calamitous for China’s Leninists, but less so than weakening the Communist Party’s primacy. The party is, Lai says, “detached from reality” and “will always make the wrong decision” as it tries to become “the most absolute dictatorship in human history.”
In 1940, Winston Churchill warned against “a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” That is China’s aspiration with “digital Leninism,” an application of science through manipulative technologies that neither Churchill nor his contemporary, George Orwell, anticipated. With a steadily refined repression apparatus, aptly called “cyber-totalitarianism ,” China’s surveillance state is enmeshing everyone in a “social credit” system. Individuals’ cumulative commercial and social media transactions give them a score that determines their access to education, housing, clinics, travel and more — even pet ownership. Although China’s published statistics are as untrustworthy as the regime itself, there are reasons to believe that in this decade China has spent more on “stability maintenance ” than on its military. Hong Kong is watching this.
And Hong Kong is reading Ma Jian’s dystopian novel “China Dream,” which is banned in mainland China but not here. The protagonist is Ma Daode, director of the fictional (so far) China Dream Bureau , which aspires to “replace all private dreams ” with one communal dream. Ma Daode hopes to develop “a neural implant,” a device whereby “just one click of a button  and government directives will be transferred wirelessly into the brains ” of the governed. This is not much more Orwellian than China’s evolving reality.
In her 1951 “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt argued that a tyrannical regime, wielding bureaucracy and mass media, could achieve permanence by conscripting the citizenry’s consciousness. This echoed Orwell’s foreboding: “Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” In 1956, Arendt thought her theory had been refuted by a fact — the Hungarian Revolution, which demonstrated that no state can interrupt “all channels of communication .” Hong Kong sees Beijing using new technologies in the service of an evil permanence.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” wrote Orwell, “needs a constant struggle.” Belatedly, the world is seeing. The Economist recently editorialized: “The West’s 25-year bet on China has failed.” The wager was that “market totalitarianism” is an oxymoron. Embedding China in the global economy supposedly would open it to the softening effects of commerce, which would be solvents of authoritarianism. The West’s tardy but welcome disenchantment is, as the Economist says, “the starkest reversal in modern geopolitics.” If Hong Kong’s heroic refusal to go gentle into Beijing’s dark night is accelerating this disenchantment, the summer of dissent has been this decade’s grandest and most important development.


When Gulruy Asqar first heard that her nephew Ekram Yarmuhemmed had been taken away by the Chinese police, she feared it was her fault. It was 2016, and she had recently moved to the US from Xinjiang, the region in north-west China that is the traditional homeland of her people, the Turkic-speaking Uighurs. Her nephew’s family had loaned her about $10,000 towards the move, and Asqar had just transferred the money back to Yarmuhemmed when police came to his home in the regional capital of Urümqi and detained him. “I felt so guilty and I cried . . . I thought I was the reason for it,” Asqar told the FT by telephone from her home in Virginia.  Asqar, an elementary schoolteacher, knew that as part of the Chinese Communist party’s security crackdown on Uighur Muslims, receiving money from relatives outside the country was a red flag that could attract the authorities’ attention. It took her months of cautious messaging with relatives in the region — switching between different accounts on Skype and the WeChat app to avoid being tracked by the region’s police — to discover that her bank transfer was probably not the trigger for her nephew being arrested.  In fact, a former classmate had reported Yarmuhemmed’s family as being overly religious, resulting in a police search of the family home.

 Earlier that year, the authorities had ramped up scrutiny of all Muslim groups in the region, encouraging individuals to report their neighbours if they behaved “suspiciously” — which could mean anything from failing to socialise to fundraising for a local mosque. From left: Gulruy Asqar as a child, with her uncle and Husenjan Asqar, her brother, who was detained in 2018. As a translator, he had worked on several Uighur-Han Chinese dictionaries Behram Yarmuhemmed, Gulruy Asqar’s nephew, shown here playing the dutar, a traditional Uighur musical instrument. He was forced into an extrajudicial internment camp in 2016 In Yarmuhemmed’s family apartment, the police found an MP3 player with recordings of Koran recitations, and Rmb30,000 in cash (about £3,400). Yarmuhemmed, 28, was arrested, tried and jailed for 10 years. Asqar never found out what he’d been charged with. His 29-year-old brother Behram was taken to an extrajudicial internment camp a month later.  What happened to the Yarmuhemmeds — police searches, sudden detentions, the separation of families — has been repeated across hundreds of thousands of households in Xinjiang in the past few years, as China’s Communist party has placed the entire region in lockdown. The Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim, make up nearly half of Xinjiang’s 24 million population. Scholars estimate that about 1.5 million Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui and other mostly Muslim minorities have been interned in camps that the government describes as aiming to “transform through education”, while hundreds of thousands more have been arrested and jailed.

 During the crackdown, it has become almost impossible for Uighurs to leave Xinjiang to study or live abroad, due to a rigorous process of checks by the police before they can be granted a passport. Uighurs who have fled Xinjiang fear being deported back to China, as governments have come under pressure from it to return overseas Uighurs to Xinjiang. Most western governments have said they will not send anyone who would face abuse in the Xinjiang camp system back to China, giving Uighurs like Asqar some safety to speak out about their relatives’ fate. Testimony from former internees and government procurement documents suggests that camps such as the one Behram is being held in are run like prisons. Beatings, solitary confinement and other harsh punishments are meted out if internees do not follow orders. Satellite imagery confirmed by visits from western journalists has shown that the camps are sprawling facilities, often surrounded by high barbed-wire walls and guard towers.

Former detainees have described how the facilities run ideological indoctrination courses, where they must learn Mandarin Chinese, recite laws banning unapproved religious practice and sing songs praising the Chinese Communist party.  Satellite photography has been vital in exposing the existence and scale of the detention camps, thanks to the work of researchers such as Shawn Zhang. In March 2017, the site marked with the yellow pin is empty In this satellite photograph from December 2017, the detention camp is almost complete The Chinese government has said these measures are necessary to put an end to sporadic violent attacks in the region and describes the facilities as providing “vocational training” for undereducated Uighurs who are at risk of succumbing to “extremism”.

 But this explanation of why her nephews would have been targeted makes little sense to Asqar. “Both of these boys are very well educated and have no need for vocation training or forced brainwashing,” she says. The two brothers had run a private publishing business that sold books by their father, Yarmuhemmed Tahir Tughluq, an author of popular Uighur-language books on parenting, education and self-empowerment, with titles such as Life and Morality,
Our Tradition and Culture and Grandpa Told Me So. The texts celebrated Uighur culture and emphasised its unique philosophies, history and traditions — a message at odds with the Communist party’s attempts to assimilate Uighurs into Han Chinese cultural traditions. Asqar suspects that the family’s business and religiosity ultimately led to Ekram and Behram being taken away. After her nephews were arrested, Asqar began to worry about her brother, Husenjan Asqar. He worked as a translator at the official Xinjiang Ethnic Language Committee and had published a number of Uighur-Han Chinese dictionaries, as part of Xinjiang government efforts to standardise translations between Uighur and Mandarin Chinese. She hoped that her brother’s position would protect him. She felt comforted by the fact that he had been sent to southern Xinjiang to help with “social stability” efforts, an important government programme.

 Then, in late 2018, Asqar found her brother’s name on a list of more than 300 detained, jailed or missing Uighur intellectuals gathered by overseas activists. A former colleague of her brother confirmed that Husenjan had been arrested along with six others from the translation committee. “I think the Chinese government arrested him because he was contributing to keeping [the] Uighur language alive,” she says. “Why would he be viewed as someone against the Chinese government when he was devoted to bridging between [the] Chinese language and Uighur?” For overseas Uighurs, China’s de facto outlawing of core parts of Uighur culture has become an alarming sign of the government’s underlying intention. Those on the list alongside Husenjan make up the backbone of Uighur intellectual life: doctors, computer scientists, musicians, anthropologists and authors. Many are moderate and non-religious. Some held positions at state institutions where they had previously won plaudits for promoting Uighur culture and fostering understanding between minority peoples and the Han Chinese majority.

 Following a series of violent incidents in Xinjiang in 2013-2014, which Chinese authorities said were carried out by Uighurs, Xi launched his ‘people’s war on terror’ Scholars of the region argue that China’s Communist party is attempting to “re-engineer” minority society to make Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang ever more like the Han Chinese majority. Some experts have even begun to call for the campaign to be labelled “cultural genocide”, a term usually defined as the forced assimilation of an indigenous group with the aim of eliminating its cultural distinctness.  “For [the campaign] to fit the definition of [cultural] genocide, it would need to be a premeditated systematic effort orchestrated by the state,” James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, told the FT.  “I think it’s important that we start to call it what it is. Re-engineering, rewiring, remoulding all work, but the evidence suggests that cultural genocide fits.” 

 The Alaska-sized region known today as Xinjiang has historically been home to a multitude of ethnic groups, many of them closer culturally to Central Asia than to eastern China, from skiing hunter tribes in its mountainous north to the desert traders of the ancient Silk Road in its south. China’s Qing dynasty claimed the region as its “new frontier” — the literal translation of Xinjiang — in the 18th century, following a series of bloody military campaigns that wiped out the local Tibetan Mongal Dzungar rulers. During the 20th century, as China’s governments fought invasions and each other, local warlords repeatedly wrested control of parts of the region, including setting up a shortlived Republic of East Turkestan — a name hated by China but still used by many Uighur activists. Historians believe that a group of Turkic Muslims using an Arabic script have been the dominant ethnic people along a string of oasis communities in the Taklamakan desert for at least 500 years. The group developed a distinct linguistic, literary and cultural tradition, centred around Kashgar, the largest oasis town of the region, and mostly practised forms of Sunni and Sufi Islam. In the 20th century, the rise of China as a nation-state compelled the group to adopt the Uighur ethno-national identity and when the Communist party took control of the region in 1949, it recognised the Uighurs as the dominant ethnic group there, labelling it the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

  In practice, Xinjiang has only ever been autonomous in name, and the Communist party has never granted significant political power to Uighurs or other minority groups in the strategically important region, which is China’s main gateway to Central Asia and a key source of coal, oil and cotton. Xinjiang is central to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road plan to build a network of roads, railways and ports to bolster trade between China and Eurasia. Today, Xinjiang is the front line of China’s experiments to build an all-encompassing surveillance state, powered by both technology and a rapid increase of police boots on the ground. On a recent trip to the region, I was trailed continuously by state-security agents, who stopped and questioned each person I spoke to, even shopkeepers and waiters. The old town of Kashgar, shown here in 2017, is the traditional capital of Uighur culture. But many of its bookshops are shuttered now; when asked what Uighur literature or history books he had, one owner replied: ‘We only sell novels, cookery or self-help books’ Every time I took a taxi, the driver would receive a call from local police, usually within 10 minutes. Once, a talkative Han Chinese driver answered the call on loudspeaker. After being told that the caller was from the ministry of public security, the driver immediately replied: “Where would you like me to take him?”  On that occasion, the police said it was OK for me to be dropped off at my destination, the train station. At other times, the police asked that I be immediately ejected from the car. In Turpan, a city three hours’ drive south-east of Urümqi, I ended up walking more than 10km in scorching midday heat, only to be stopped from approaching a known internment camp by heavy-set men, who told me there was a driving test ongoing in the cordoned-off area.

 This appeared to be news to the instructors and pupils from the local driving school, who kept approaching the makeshift barrier and asking why they could not continue on their normal route. In Xinjiang, what is missing can be more telling than what is there. While the People’s Park in the heart of downtown Urümqi is packed with Han Chinese, the gates of the parks in the more Uighur areas of southern Urümqi are padlocked shut, including those of the so-called Ethnic Unity Park. The streets near Xinjiang University are quiet, with most shops shuttered amid extensive construction work. At one point, the silence was broken by a young man shouting at patrolling police in Uighur. Within seconds, he was surrounded by a team of helmeted officers carrying automatic rifles, who wrestled him to the ground, forced his T-shirt over his head and marched him away to one of the “convenience” police stations that have been erected on every major intersection of the city. It is almost as hard to find out about missing persons from within Xinjiang as it is from outside. While in Urümqi, I visited the offices where Gulruy Asqar’s brother had previously worked, to try to confirm that the department had been closed. I was told that the committee had moved to the education department. At the department, the guards, who operated a set of facial-recognition gates, told me that no one from the committee was in. Follow-up phone calls were answered with replies of “don’t know” or a suggestion to contact Xinjiang’s foreign affairs office.  In September last year, Shohret Hoshur, a Uighur journalist for Radio Free Asia, a non-profit broadcaster based in Washington DC, received an email titled “Cry from the Homeland”. It described a documentary being screened to students, teachers and education officials in Xinjiang. Called The Plot Inside the Textbooks, the film revealed for the first time the alleged “crime” that Chinese authorities were using as a reason to detain and jail hundreds of Uighur intellectuals. 

 According to an audio recording reviewed by the FT, the documentary warns viewers to be on guard against “two-faced people” who “secretly acted to split the motherland”. With dramatic music and sotto voce narration, it tells the story of 88 individuals who “with malicious intent” had compiled and edited school textbooks in Uighur. As punishment, the narrator explains, the main compilers were investigated, stripped of their official positions and jailed. The ringleaders were sentenced to life in prison or given suspended death sentences. Such a “shocking” crime must never be repeated, viewers are warned. “The whole region, from top to bottom, must absorb the profound lessons of this case.” Kamaltürk Yalqun, left, with his father Yalqun Rozi, a prominent writer. In October 2016, he rang his father for a chat: ‘It’s not a good time. I’m about to be taken away,’ Rozi said When Kamaltürk Yalqun, a Uighur who lives in exile in Philadelphia, read about the film on the Radio Free Asia website, it confirmed his worst fears about the fate of his father, Yalqun Rozi. A prominent Uighur intellectual, Rozi had been an editor for the official Xinjiang Education Publishing House and one of the main editors for the textbooks.  Among Uighur literati, Rozi is best known for his sharp but fair essays on Uighur art and culture. According to Yalqun, his father’s essays were, more often than not, critical of Uighur lifestyles. “My father wanted Uighur society to become intellectually strong, a critically thinking society,” Yalqun told the FT. Rozi would take aim at what he saw as bad habits, such as extravagant spending on luxurious clothes or constant partying.  On October 6 2016, Yalqun had telephoned his father for a regular catch-up, but the call ended abruptly. “It’s not a good time. I’m about to be taken away,” he recalls his father telling him. “That was the last time I spoke to my father.” He would later discover that Rozi had been jailed for 15 years on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”.

The narrator of the film described the textbook compilers’ crimes in percentages and keyword frequencies: 30 per cent was the upper limit for minority-language sources; the texts were 60 per cent Uighur materials. In 200,000 words of text, “China” appeared only four times. The case served as a cautionary tale for the future, the documentary’s narrator said. “Schools are the principal front in an ideological struggle against separatism that is long, recurring, intense and at times extremely fierce; it is a conflict without smoke.” Yalqun describes the charge as “completely made-up nonsense”. His father had been mandated to compile the books as part of the Chinese authorities’ attempts in the 2000s to improve minority-language education. Rozi and other Uighur intellectuals wanted the books to promote Uighur culture, but Yalqun rejects the idea that they had any political goals or had attempted to undermine the government; they had instead tried to make the books about literature, culture, heritage and humanism. “For a Uighur intellectual, a Uighur writer living in Xinjiang, writing about politics is suicide,” he says.  “We wanted to give the younger generation an understanding of their identity, their language, their way of life,” says Eset Sulaiman, a Uighur writer who was involved in the textbook compiling process and who now lives in the US. They had decided to promote more original Uighur literature, instead of using mainly Uighur translations of Han Chinese works, as was the case in previous textbooks, he adds. For more than a decade, the textbooks were used, without major incident, in schools across Xinjiang. Then, in 2014, the authorities’ attitude suddenly shifted.

 An investigation was launched into the books and the content was rewritten. One of Sulaiman’s essays, entitled “Ego and Identity”, was removed, alongside many by other Uighur writers. Chinese works, mostly on Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, replaced them. After the investigation, the authorities began detaining and arresting those involved, Sulaiman says. In August 2018, at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Hu Lianhe, a slight Chinese official with a buzz cut, mounted China’s first international defence of the security campaign in Xinjiang. “There are no such things as so-called ‘re-education’ centres in Xinjiang,” said Hu, an ethnic policy specialist at China’s United Front Work Department. China had simply taken measures to crack down on “terrorism” in Xinjiang, he claimed, arresting a number of criminals and providing “mentoring” to people guilty of minor offences in “vocational education and employment training centres”, where they were “rehabilitated”. Scholars argue that the rise of Hu, from policy wonk to international defender of the Xinjiang crackdown, reflects a radicalisation of China’s ethnic policy. Since it was founded, China’s Communist party has swung between support for and repression of minority groups. In its early years, the party cast itself as an active defender of ethnic-minority rights; its 1931 constitution recognised self-determination and “complete separation from China” for each minority, should they want it.

 Such statements have been rolled back in the decades since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. But on paper, the commitment to ethnic diversity and regional autonomy remained, allowing a robust policy debate between ethnic-assimilation hardliners and liberals who promoted greater autonomy for minority groups. Hu Lianhe defends the security campaign in Xinjiang before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August last year Alongside Hu Lianhe, professor Hu Angang has argued for the mixing of different ethnicities to dilute minority groups’ identities Under Xi, however, that discussion has largely disappeared. It has been replaced with a trend towards minority assimilation, often by force, in line with Xi’s vision of a unified Chinese nation.  The roots of this pivot can be traced back to an academic debate on ethnic policy following violent protests in Tibetan regions of China in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics of 2008. Then, on July 5 2009, protests by Uighurs in Urümqi over two Uighurs killed in a factory brawl in eastern China escalated into bloody clashes between Han and Uighurs that killed about 200 people.

The incident cemented government resolve to tackle ethnic tensions in Xinjiang.  “After 2009, there is a growing chorus of scholars and officials who say China is in danger of losing its grip over Tibet and Xinjiang and needs a radical reset of its ethnic policies,” says Leibold of La Trobe University. Among the loudest voices calling for a “new generation” of ethnic policies was Hu Lianhe.  Alongside a professor from Tsinghua University called Hu Angang — the two are not related — Hu Lianhe suggested that attempts to promote multi-ethnic states elsewhere in the world had failed and China should push different ethnicities to “blend together” into a single “state-race”. “Any nation’s long-term peace and stability is founded upon building a system with a unified race (a state-race) that strengthens the state-race identity and dilutes ethnic group identity,” the two wrote in a 2012 paper. At the time, this argument was met with fierce opposition from many Chinese scholars of ethnic policy. But in the years that followed, violent incidents, which Chinese authorities said were carried out by Uighurs, helped draw support for hardline policies. In late 2013 a van mounted the pavement near Tiananmen Square and ploughed into pedestrians, killing two. In March 2014, 31 died in a knife attack in Kunming train station in southern China. The following month, when Xi was wrapping up a visit to Xinjiang, another apparent suicide attack and knifing took place at Urümqi railway station, killing three.

 That year, Xi formally launched the “people’s war on terror” and vowed to strike hard against the “three evil forces of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism” in Xinjiang. The battle has mostly been waged by Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo, who took office in 2016 following a five-year stint in neighbouring Tibet, where he rolled out similarly hardline security measures. Unlike his predecessor in Xinjiang, who had professed the need to balance economic development with safety measures, Chen declared that “social stability and long-term peace is the overall goal” for Xinjiang. He introduced a system of “grid” policing developed during his tenure in Tibet, hired thousands of additional officers and rapidly expanded the size and number of “transformation-through-education” camps in the region.  Chen Quanguo has been waging President Xi Jinping’s ‘people’s war on terror’ in Xinjiang since he took office in 2016. He rolled out similar hardline security measures in his previous role in Tibet The camps were not his invention, however. China’s Communist party has for decades operated a system of various “re-education” camps across the country, used to reshape the thinking and behaviour of groups seen as dangerously different from the leadership’s preferred social norms. Leibold sees the most recent camp system in Xinjiang as a direct descendant of the former. “The system evolves and changes through time . . . But I do think it’s part of the party’s DNA, this desire to transform.” 

 China’s officials deny that there has been any significant shift in its ethnic policies. However, Vanessa Frangville, a professor of Chinese studies at the Université libre de Bruxelles, argues that the reality on the ground — from camps to restrictions on language and education — shows that the assimilationist arguments of thinkers such as Hu Lianhe have won out. Frangville gives the example of ethnic intermingling. Hu Lianhe and Hu Angang argued that the government should orchestrate the mixing of different ethnicities, to dilute minority groups’ identities. Since 2014, the government in Xinjiang has built “unity villages” where Han and minorities live side by side, at the same time as ramping up efforts to support marriages between Han and Uighurs. Another theme of the two Hus’ work that fits with current practice is the desire to “normalise” and “standardise” behaviour and cultures in the name of creating a supposedly more stable society, Frangville says. “When you look at the discussion of the camps in China, it’s about making people ‘normal’ again.” The list that Gulruy Asqar found her brother’s name on in 2018, confirming that he’d been detained, had been put together by Abduweli Ayup, a linguist, poet and Uighur-language activist who lives in exile in France. Ayup has been updating the list of missing, detained or arrested intellectuals since 2017. Of the more than 300 names on his list, about a third relate to the Uighur-language textbooks.

 Aside from Rozi, there is Satar Sawut, the former director of Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau, and former Xinjiang University president Tashpolat Teyip, alongside dozens of other writers, editors and illustrators. For Ayup, the targeting of Uighur intellectuals threatens a project he has pursued for over a decade: the promotion and preservation of the Uighur language. He launched a “mother tongue movement” of private language schools which he says gained a huge following in Xinjiang in the 2010s. But then the authorities arrested him in 2013 on charges of “illegal fundraising”. He was released in 2014 after his lawyers appealed, but his schools were closed shortly after.  Ayup suspects that the popularity of this movement spooked officials, who were starting to view the Uighur language as a serious threat. “Language is the main difference between Han and Uighurs. It’s the core element of Uighur identity,” he says. After his arrest, a professor at the official Xinjiang Communist party school wrote an article that described the Uighur mother tongue movement as “the fourth evil force”, alongside those of “separatism, religious extremism and terrorism”. Together with a handful of other linguists and teachers in the Uighur diaspora, Ayup is working on ways to keep the Uighur language alive, but he worries that without an immersive learning environment, it could become almost impossible. He says that Uighur children really need about 30 hours of exposure to learn the language, but often only get a tenth of that. “For me, the words in their mouths are not very stable, just like a raindrop on a rose – when there is a gust of wind it will disappear,” he says.

 The next generation of Uighurs in Xinjiang are increasingly excluded from their language and cultural heritage, not by accident of their environment, but by dint of Chinese government education policy. Since the 1990s, the use of Uighur and other minority languages has been pared back in favour of greater use of Mandarin Chinese, says Timothy Grose, an assistant professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology who researches education policy in Xinjiang.  Mandarin is now introduced to minority children earlier and takes up more weekly classroom time. In the “bilingual” schooling system in the region, almost all classes are in Chinese. Every year, tens of thousands of Uighur and other minority students are offered fully funded places at boarding schools in majority Han areas of inland China. Although the courses are often seen by Uighur families as a way of improving opportunities for their children, they are also a means of inculcating mainstream Han Chinese values, scholars say. “The Chinese Communist party is aware of the valorisation that Uighurs place on their mother language,” Grose says. “They see it as a threat to the crystallisation of a Han culture.” Evidence is mounting that the Xinjiang government is no longer content simply to encourage assimilation, but is forcing it by separating children from their families. The mass internment programme has left many minority children without their parents; the authorities have built a network of de facto orphanages and boarding schools that can hothouse the children in Han Chinese environments. 

 In an analysis of government documents released in July, the independent German researcher Adrian Zenz concluded that, since 2017, the Chinese state had created “a vast and multi-layered care system that enables it to provide full-time or near full-time care” for children from as young as one or two years of age. The facilities were likely to be part of “a deliberate strategy and crucial element in the state’s systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide in Xinjiang”, Zenz wrote.  A ‘vocational skills education centre’ in Dabancheng, Xinjiang, still under construction in this picture from September last year, with high barbed wire walls and guard towers Evidence of curbs on the Uighur language can be found across Xinjiang. The outline of recently removed Uighur script is faintly visible on the walls of some schools. Signs inside the gated playgrounds warn that only the “national language” is permitted. Even the language used by Chinese authorities has shifted. The term “Han language”, once the most common way of describing Mandarin Chinese, has been replaced by “national language”.  In Xinjiang’s state-run Xinhua Bookstores — which fall under the management of the government’s propaganda department — the shelves are half empty. In each store I visited, the only Uighur-language book was a copy of Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China. In Turpan, a local official first denied that there were no Uighur books, then, after 15 minutes of a fruitless search, said “market demands” meant that customers only wanted to buy Han Chinese books.  In Kashgar, the traditional capital of Uighur culture, only five remained out of 16 independent Uighur-language bookstores listed in a 2014 article on cultural preservation by a Kashgar University professor. When asked what books on Uighur literature or history they sold, one store owner said: “We only sell novels, cookery or self-help books.” 

All the bookstore owners I spoke to said they had no Uighur-language textbooks or copies of Yalqun Rozi’s essay collections. In one store, the owner asked: “How do you know about Yalqun Rozi?” I said that his son was trying to find out exactly what had happened to him. After a pause, she asked: “Did you find him?” I said we had good reason to think he had been arrested, but that the government had not confirmed the details of his case. “Have you heard anything?” I inquired. She shook her head and asked me to leave, her eyes filling with tears.  

Christian Shepherd is the FT’s Beijing correspondent. Additional reporting by Yuan Yang