DonateShohrat Zakir, chairman of the Government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region admitted to the existence of internment camps in the region.
According to him, Xianjiang was plagued by terrorism, extremism and separatism, however with the help of the Communist Party of China it has managed to largely overcome these challenges.
According to him the camps are part of a two-part solution. On one hand, “Xinjiang has put emphasis on strictly countering a small number of violent terrorist crimes according to law, and spared no efforts in protecting the basic human rights of the citizens from the harm of terrorism and extremism.”
On the other hand, “Xinjiang has also stressed addressing the root cause of terrorism, and moved to bring around, educate and save the majority of those who committed petty crimes, through assistance and education, to prevent them from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism.”
Despite the significant progress in the region, there are still issues related to extremism and terrorism in the four prefectures of Southern Xianjiang. Many of the people there, according to Zakir speak little Chinese and have limited knowledge of the law. Thus, they have difficulties finding a job due to their limited vocational skills.
“This has led to a low material-basis for residents to live and work there, making them vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism. There is still a long way to go for southern Xinjiang to eradicate the environment and soil of terrorism and religious extremism.”
Due to the above-mentioned, Zakir said that Xianjiang had launched a vocational and training program. The training happens in centers and its purpose is to remove the “environment and soil” that lead to terrorism and religious extremism and to stop violent terrorist attacks from taking place.
He also said that some trainees had come close or have reached the necessary standards to complete the training and are expected to complete their education by the end of the year, after which they will set out on their own to find work and live peacefully.
As reported by the South China Morning Post, Zakir is the first top Xinjiang official to speak publicly about the widely criticized camps. Media outlets have repeatedly reported of the camps, without ever receiving of a confirmation of their existence. However, they repeatedly blamed the Chinese government of creating prisons for the ethnic Uygurs.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Beijing’s “clumsy justifications” were clearly a response to condemnation from the international community but would not blunt criticism.
Zakir, however, did not mention that any of the people in the centers under detention. He did say that the centers provide “concentration training” and “boarding studies”, with security guards monitoring the entrance.
He also did not provide any information regarding education against extremism and terrorism that’s provided in the centers. It is, however, possible that it is considered that being taught a language, about the laws and a vocation would make a person fit into society.
The South China Morning Post cited Omir Bekali, a Chinese-born Kazakhstan citizen who was released from one of the camps. According to him “detainees” were made to undergo political indoctrination, lectured on the dangers of Islam and ordered to chant, “Thank the party! Thank the motherland!” before meals.
However, Zakir said that described the centers contained sports venues, reading rooms, computer labs, film screening rooms and performance venues where speech, dancing and singing contests are “frequently organized.”
“Many trainees have said that they were previously affected by extremist thought and had never participated in these kinds of arts and sports activities, and now they have realized that life can be so colorful,” he was cited by Xinhua.
The US Congress is calling for sanctions on Chinese officials, and specifically on the regional party chief Chen Quanguo, involved in what they describe as “detention camps.”
The European Parliament also called on all EU member states to mention the “detention camps” into multilateral dialogues with China, while the new UN Human Rights Representative for the EU Michelle Bachelet called for monitors to be allowed in the region.
Without any evidence that the centers are actual internment or detention camps, media hysteria over them has been increasing in past months, similarly to other narratives related to China. This is more than likely a part of the rapidly deteriorating US-China relationship. That started getting worse with the Trump-initiated trade war and has spilled into other fields of interest. Despite that, China is also not free of blame in the framework of the “liberal approaches”, which are now popular in the US and the EU. Beijing’s strategy to combat the terrorist threat in the region is effective, but it does not look very “democratic”.