To blunt criticism about its policies in the Xinjiang region, the Chinese Communist Party has adopted a set of measures ranging from denial to opinion management.
A cursory scan through Chinese State media talks about the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as a place that’s becoming more secure, where tourism is booming, infrastructure is getting upgraded and poverty is reducing. That’s the Xinjiang that Beijing wants the world to talk about. Unfortunately for the Chinese leadership, that hasn’t been the case over the past few months.
In mid-August, experts from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination questioned the policies adopted by the Chinese Party-state with regard to the Uighur population in Xinjiang. Members of the committee argued that there had been credible reports that, “upwards of a million people were being held in so-called counter-extremism centres and another two million had been forced into so-called ‘re-education camps’ for political and cultural indoctrination.” All this, of course, is being done in the name of stability and combating extremism and terrorism.
Situated in northwestern China bordering the stans to the west, Xinjiang is home to over 11.3 million ethnic Uighurs. These are largely Muslims of Turkic origin, who have their own language and culture. The region is also home to roughly one-third of China’s natural gas and oil reserves, along with key mineral deposits. In addition, Xinjiang is the Belt and Road Initiative’s gateway to the West. Given this, stability and integration i.e. policing and sinicization, have been key planks of the Communist Party’s policies in Xinjiang. These assumed greater significance as the security situation in the region deteriorated early in President Xi Jinping’s first term and in the backdrop of the escalating conflict in Syria.