The grim story in the “China Cables”


THANKS to leaked documents, there now seems no doubt that the Chinese authorities are holding upward of a million Muslims in detention camps in the supposedly autonomous Xinjiang region in the far West of the country. Within these forbidding installations, with multiple high walls and concrete watch towers inmates are being “reeducated”.

Beijing has always pretended that all those in these high-security prisons were there voluntarily for education and training. A bundle of official documents that has found its way into the public domain now proves these claims are false.

The majority of the detainees come from Xinjiang. Earlier this year, the government allowed strictly-controlled access to foreign media. The journalists were shown happy Uighur inmates, singing and dancing and protesting that they were entirely content to be there and learning how to be good Chinese citizens. The so-called “China Cables” tell a very different story. A nine-page 2017 memo from a top government official makes it clear that what he called “students” should be rigorously controlled in every aspect of their life. This included having a “bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed. ” Rigorous discipline was to be enforced even when it came to closing doors or going to the toilet.

None of the detainees has undergone any form of trial and their detention will last for as long as they do not repent, confess and understand the “deeply illegal, criminal and dangerous nature of their past activity”.

A leading British civil rights lawyer has warned it is hard to see Beijing’s actions as anything other than a mass brainwashing scheme: “It's a total transformation that is designed specifically to wipe the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang as a separate cultural group off the face of the Earth."

The authenticity of the “China Cables,” some of which were marked “Top Secret” is being vigorously denied by the Chinese government. It is however interesting to speculate how this leak came about. For those who know China and the close control kept on the flow of information and public comment, the Uighur detention camps should be no surprise. This is a country where the wise take care to self-censor what they say and even think. In return the Chinese Communist party offers them a steadily-improving standard of living and urges them to take a nationalistic pride in the remarkable achievements of what is now the world’s second-largest economy. It is also a country which thinks big. The idea of rounding up more than a million Muslims and “reeducating” them in vast, oppressive camps is hardly something at which the authorities would balk. The essence of Communist rule is conformity. The religious rites and identities of minorities count for nothing. Indeed Beijing is positively proud of enforcing a standard pattern of behavior.

This leads to the suspicion that the leak may have actually been a deliberate demonstration, to domestic as well as international audiences, of the uncompromising lengths to which Beijing will go to ensure that all its citizens toe the line. The emergence of the “China Cables” come at the very moment that the people of Hong Kong are demonstrating a noisy independence that is absolute anathema to President Xi Jinping and his government.