Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Xinjiang leaks embolden critics of Chinese internment programme

Analysts say information provides documentary evidence of Beijing’s role


Two leaked caches of internal Chinese Communist party documents have emboldened campaigners against Beijing’s mass internment of Muslim minorities, with activists saying they offer the first documentary evidence that top officials were involved in the process. The documents allegedly show how the Communist party rounded up a large proportion of Uighur, Kazakh and other mostly Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang and sent them to “transformation-through-education” camps that were set up to “prevent escape”. The files — the authenticity of which have not been independently verified by the Financial Times — were published by the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last month. They include speeches and directives from top officials. Uighur activists hope the leaks will help their effort to target Chinese officials involved in Xinjiang under the Magnitsky Act, which saw Russian officials sanctioned following the death in police custody of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was investigating allegations of government corruption in Moscow.

“Previously when we were asking for [Xinjiang party secretary] Chen Quanguo and other officials in our homeland to be sanctioned, we were unable to push it through because of the lack of evidence,” said Rushan Abbas, executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, an advocacy group. “But now we have pages of evidence. Their own statements. Their own words.” In 2014, after a series of violent incidents, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a series of speeches on the need to tackle “extremism”, according to the documents published by the New York Times.

Despite not directly mentioning the camps system, he called for “a period of painful, interventionary treatment” and “no mercy” for Xinjiang minorities perceived to be a threat. Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang party secretary © AP Chinese officials have maintained that its measures are targeted at “extremists” and have dismissed the documents as a fabrication. But analysts said the leak provides the clearest link between Mr Xi and Beijing’s policy on Xinjiang. “We now have very direct evidence that Xi Jinping was aware of what was happening and was kept closely informed by Chen Quanguo,” said Darren Byler, a Xinjiang researcher at the University of Colorado. The UK, Germany and a number of western nations have called for UN human rights envoys to be granted immediate access to Xinjiang. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the documents added to “overwhelming” evidence of abuses. Human rights campaigners said the new allegations would also increase pressure on companies to stop doing business in the region and spark calls for boycotts of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. “The IOC should be nervous about this . . . There is a reputational train wreck coming down the tracks at them,” said Sophie Richardson, China head of Human Rights Watch

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