The Speaker
Sunday, 19 May 2024 – 18:26

The controversy surrounding China to close down its re-education centres in Xinjiang

What is condemned as a concentration camp, China is starting to receive backlash on their re-education centres in Xinjiang.


China’s far Western Xinjiang region is one of the most tightly controlled areas in the country, home to the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority. The Uighurs make up 11 million of Western China and make up 45% of the population in Xinjiang. They identify themselves as ethnically and culturally similar to the people of Central Asia. The current plight has become increasingly divisive since the onset of the July 2009 Ürümqi riots which involved 1,000 Uighurs escalating from a protest to an attack on the Han Chinese leaving thousands dead. The Uighurs resentment of the Han Chinese also comes from them obtaining the most jobs in the cities created by Beijing and government policies advocating Chinese cultural unity disproportionate to the Uighurs.

Police power now permeates through in Xinjiang and is constantly growing with more than 7300 police monitoring stations shielding the region. Xinjiang is in a virtual lockdown following the several attacks that Chinese authorities allege have ties with extremist groups like al-Qaeda. This has led to China responding to the breakdown in strict ways, and thus implementing harsh provisions increasing their state surveillance in Xinjiang.

China’s state surveillance in Xinjiang varies in multiple forms, from forbidding their citizens giving their children Muslim names, downloading monitoring apps, acuminate samples of DNA/biometric samples when being identified, banned from using applications that involve cross-border communication, they must express loyalty to President Xi Jinping and renounce or criticise their own faith. The aim is of the Chinese state is to remove any devotion to the Islamic faith.

These camps however, continue to grow throughout. In terms of construction the New York Times has reported a 2469.29% increase in a camp facility in Hotan since 2016 to 2018.  Furthermore, anyone with a reported ‘ideological virus’ must be sent to these ‘educational camps’ before the virus ‘infects’ the person further.

Outsider response

Many have reported these strict conditions having escalated into psychological and physical torture within the camps. Journalists have struggled to gain insider information as citizens either do not know or are forbidden to give any information on what really happens inside the camps.  

The international community condemn the behaviours of China imposed on the Uighurs where they are subjected to propaganda that intense routines violating their human rights.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director at Human Rights Watch contends that nations must not allow China’s economic power escape its accountability.

However, we have yet to see a more interactive response involving sanctions on China from the international community, especially from Muslim-majority countries as they fear political and economic retaliation from China.

China’s response

China is surprisingly greatly expressive in response to the negative criticism it has gained from the creation of these camps. In fact, China denies any arbitrary detention policy and says that people at these ‘’vocational centres’’ are guilty of minor offenses and are being taught skills to reintegrate them into society.

Beijing is also quick to defend their proposed policies, correcting these camps as ‘benign’ in Xinjiang as they help individuals reintegrate themselves back into the community.

Similarly, Chinese officials including Hu Lianhe in the UN meeting in Geneva August 2018 argues the alleged millions of Uighurs being detained in these centres are “completely untrue”. 

However, it must be remembered that it is very unheard of for China to give public expressions and defence in its situations, particularly in Xinjiang. Due to its strict surveillance in the area, it is difficult to measure and receive impartial intel on the true extent the activities are torturous for the people confined to these conditions. Governors in Xinjiang say the classes are not compulsory and people are fed nutritious foods whereas reporters condemn it as early starts to violence if someone acts out of line in the simplest ways.

Turkey’s recent involvement

Turkey has recently started to become vocal in the issue emphasising it as a ‘great cause of shame for humanity’. Their critical stance make Turkey allege these centres as concentration camps in Xinjiang.

Furthermore, many have reported that detainees have fled to countries such as Turkey and Kazakhstan which has led to a public response from Turkey as it is circulated from them that this is a “a great embarrassment for humanity” to continue operating these camps.

Following the death of renowned Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit, Turkey has hit directly towards China, despite having a soft rhetoric during UN meetings with them. They now demand the UN takes the rightful steps to end the human suffering in these camps.

It is to the extent that Hami Askoy, Turkish diplomat requests a closing of these camps before the suffering escalates further into backlash, describing the camps as “torture and political brainwashing”  

Similar behaviours are not unheard of as this form of separatism is also found in Kashmir India, Chechnya in Russia, the Rohingya in Myanmar. The extent to which China will go remains unclear for now.

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