China explicitly acknowledges, tries to justify concentration camps in Xinjiang


The South China Morning Post reports that Xinjiang “has revised its legislation to allow local governments to ‘educate and transform’ people influenced by extremism at ‘vocational training centres,’” where a significant proportion of the Uyghur and Kazakh populations is being interned.

  • “Governments at the county level and above can set up education and transformation organisations and supervising departments such as vocational training centres, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism” is the new language in the “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Regulation on Anti-Extremism.”
  • The amendments took effect yesterday. The earlier version of was passed in March 2017. It banned “a wide range of acts deemed manifestations of extremism, including wearing veils or having ‘abnormal” beards, refusing to watch television or listen to radio, and preventing children from receiving national education.” You can read the amended law here (in Chinese).
  • The amendments mark a new phase of official explanations: Beijing is no longer denying the existence of the camps but explicitly attempting to justify them for counter-terrorism purposes and emphasizing “vocational training” and even “psychological counseling.” The Global Times made it clear:

The institutions will offer instruction on Putonghua, laws, regulations and vocational skills training. They will also provide counter-terrorism training, and psychological counseling to people affected by extremist thoughts to help them return to society and their family.

Administrative departments have been established that will be responsible for organizing and coordinating the institutions to promote the legalization and standardization of the “education transformation system,” said the regulation.

Zhu said that while other countries have criticized Xinjiang’s anti-extremism measures, extremist activities and radical movements are on the rise in their own countries.

  • “China legalizes Xinjiang ‘re-education camps’ after denying they exist” is how CNN headlined their story on the amendments, and the BBC ran with “Xinjiang legalises ‘reeducation’ camps.” But human rights activist Maya Wang tweeted: “The original rules already made provisions to ‘educate’ people concerning extremism, so the correct analysis of these revisions would be that they’ve made further clarifications about these facilities. The characterization that these camps have thus been ‘legalized’ is misleading.”
  • The propaganda effort is intensifying: “A campaign for liberating thought is unfolding across the vast land of Xinjiang… This extraordinary vituperative essay on Chinese websites defends policies in Xinjiang as ‘a great tide of emancipation of thinking,’” New York Times reporter Chris Buckley tweeted. The article was first published published yesterday by Tianshan, a state-owned website based in Xinjiang. Sina and dozens of other popular Chinese news sites have republished the piece.
  • Editor of nationalistic rag Global Times Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 tweeted, in response to the South China Morning Post article on the camps: “It was in line with the spirit of law to begin with and fits the reality of Xinjiang. The tumultuous situation there has been brought under control, many lives being saved and peace/stability recovered. This is the greatest of all human rights.”

The Party has admitted that the camps exist and produced legal sophistry to explain them away: This is not going to end soon. Which makes me question if the time has come to call these camps what they are: concentration camps.

This is how the American Heritage Dictionary defines “concentration camp”:

1. A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable.

2. A place or situation in which extremely harsh conditions are imposed by those in authority.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a similar definition. Both accurately describe what is going in right now in Xinjiang.  

Some scholars and many journalists are reluctant to use the phrase “concentration camp” because of the strong association with Nazi death camps. But the phrase was first popularized in English by the British in my native land of South Africa: The colonial government put Afrikaners in camps during the second Boer War of 1900–02. Their justification was very similar to the Chinese Communist Party’s war-on-terror rhetoric about the mass imprisonment of Uyghurs and Kazakhs.

It’s also worth noting that the word for “concentrated” or “to concentrate,” 集中 jízhōng, features on the signposts of some of the camps, such as the one pictured in a front-page New York Times article last month.

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