¿Chinese concentration camps? (Part 1)

¿Are there actually concentration camps in China?

The existence of the so-called “Vocational Education and Training Centres of Xinjiang” (新疆职业技能教育培训中心), as the Chinese government refers to them, was initially denied by Beijing only to be described later as programmes that aim to alleviate poverty and counter terrorism threats. However, evidence suggests otherwise. As we will see later, they are internment camps operated by the Xingjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (新疆维吾尔自治区) government and its Chinese Communist Party (CCP or 中国共产党) committee, which is made up of the top ranks of the provincial-level organizations of this party.

Map of Chinese provinces showing XInjiang in red. (https://www.silkroadtravel.com/upload/default/20200512/b9fa044c431fa70134855caab9d6a4f5.png)

To which extent could these “internment camps” receive the harsh name of “concentration camps” is something with which different countries disagree. So much so, that when on 8 July 2019, 22 countries issued a statement calling for an end to mass detentions in China and expressed concerns over widespread surveillance and repression, 50 countries issued a statement criticizing the practice of “politicizing human rights issues,” stating “China has invited a number of diplomats, international organizations officials and journalist to Xinjiang” and that “what they saw and heard in Xinjiang completely contradicted what was reported in the media. The statement also commended China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights”, claiming “Now safety and security has returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded.”

Map showing in red the 22 countries that expressed disagreement and in green the 50 which expressed agreement. (By Gaioa – Own workThis file was derived from: World map nations mono.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90866275)

We know little about these camps, but some leaks have offered us a glimpse of reality. For instance, in 2019 the BBC reported leaked Chinese government documents, which include a nine-page memo sent out in 2017 by Zhu Hailun, then deputy-secretary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party and the region’s top security official, to those who run the camps, including orders to:

  • “Never allow escapes”
  • “Increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations”
  • “Promote repentance and confession”
  • “Strict secrecy”
  • “[Ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots”

Other documents confirm the extraordinary scale of the detentions. One reveals that 15,000 people from southern Xinjiang were sent to the camps over the course of just one week in 2017. We also have plenty of images wich show the high level of control within the camps.

A guard tower and barbed wire fences around a facility in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

In the next part we will be diving in China’s perspective of the issue, taking a look at their official information, so stay tuned for part 2.

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