‘Stability is the best human right’

Access Archive

1. Potemkin tour of Xinjiang camps

Nearly half a year ago, Beijing vehemently denied that “re-education” camps existed in Xinjiang. This occured in the context of an increasingly high pile of evidence from scholars and foreign media that a mass detention program targeting Muslim ethnic minorities in the region was under way. Under international pressure, that denial quickly turned to defense of the system, and by October, officials had settled on framing the centers as for “vocational training” and “anti-extremism.”

In November, 15 Western ambassadors took the unprecedented moves of requesting a meeting with Chén Quánguó 陈全国, the top Communist Party official in Xinjiang. They wanted to raise their concerns about the “treatment of ethnic minorities” in the region, and sought to “better understand the situation.”

That request was met with derision and was never accepted, and further requests to visit the “vocational training” facilities in Xinjiang by the German Human Rights Commissioner and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights were likewise rejected or ignored. More recently, the “Foreign Ministry…said that all parties, including the UN, were welcome, as long as they respected appropriate travel procedures.”  

Reuters and a handful of other media organizations got a close — and closely managed — look at three facilities in Kashgar, Hotan, and Karakax in recent days. The Reuters report is titled: China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps. A key passage:

There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.

Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials. Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.

All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.

Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”

Other key quotes:

  • “In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.”

  • “Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called ‘slanderous lies’ about the facilities.”

  • “Residents said they can ‘graduate’ when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalisation and legal knowledge. They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones. They are provided halal food.”

  • “Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that ‘all of the reports are fake’ when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang.”

  • “Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that ‘stability is the best human right.’”

More on Xinjiang and the broadening repression of Muslims in China:

  • The campaign to “sinicize” Islam
    China passes law to make Islam ‘compatible with socialism’ / Al Jazeera
    Global Times on Twitter: “#China passed a five-year work plan to sinicize #Islam at a meeting on Saturday with representatives from 8 Islamic associations in China. They agreed to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to sinicize the religion.”
    Gina Anne Tam 譚吉娜 on Twitter: “[The use of the term ‘sinicize’] is by design. They are asserting that the CCP has control over what can, and cannot, represent Chinese-ness, both as a national and an ethnic identity. The language is meant to make that normative.”
    China’s Muslims brace for attacks / Foreign Policy (porous paywall)
    James Palmer writes, “First, it was the Uighurs. Now, other Muslim minorities are being threatened — and the worst may be yet to come.”

  • More on Xinjiang
    China targets prominent Uighur intellectuals to erase an ethnic identity / NYT (porous paywall)
    “As the guardians of Uighur traditions, chroniclers of their history and creators of their art, the intellectuals were building the Central Asian, Turkic-speaking society’s reservoir of collective memory within the narrow limits of authoritarian rule. Their detention underscores the party’s attempts to decimate Uighur identity in order to remold the group into a people who are largely secular, integrated into mainstream Chinese culture and compliant with the Communist Party, observers say.”

  • An interesting photo of (very weak) confiscated guns
    James Palmer on Twitter: “This Potemkin tour is a vile lie, but notice that there’s interesting info to be gained here. Look at these ‘confiscated weapons’ – all handguns, and mostly very old to the point where one is literally a flintlock pistol.”
    Joe Moschella on Twitter: “Several of those semi-automatic handguns (the ones with magazines) are FN pistols, likely made in Belgium between WWI and WWII, perhaps even made during the Nazi occupation in the early 40s. They are easy to ID from the grip – the FN logo has not even changed.”

  • Management of religion broadly — co-opting rather than crushing?
    How the state is co-opting religion in China / Foreign Affairs (porous paywall)
    Ian Johnson writes, “China is not retreating to the era of high communism under Mao Zedong but lurching toward a messy future shared by many authoritarian states. Today’s China seeks not to marginalize competing groups and belief systems, the way Beijing did during the Mao era, but to co-opt them. Indeed, the events of the past two years show that for the first time in a century and a half, religion is firmly ensconced in the center of China’s social and political life.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. Trade war, day 186: Liu He attends first day of negotiations in Beijing

The first of two days of trade negotiations in Beijing has been completed, and not much news has yet been reported.

But a picture (above) did leak, and it showed something interesting: Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤, the top economic official who last May brokered a trade agreement with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, only to have it rejected by Trump, is apparently back at the table. SCMP also notes a “second leaked picture,” which “provides a wider view, showing at least 100 Chinese officials seated in the room – a delegation twice as large as the US team.”

We’ll update you tomorrow on the outcome of negotiations.

More trade-war-related links:

—Lucas Niewenhuis


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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief




  • Trendy (and probably illegal) smoking spots
    Chinese start-up’s new smoking space on Beijing shopping street sparks an outcry from health campaigners / SCMP
    “A company that set up a shared smoking space in one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets has triggered a debate about public health as campaigners warned the new facility may be against the law. Yanker [烟客 yānkè], which means smoker in Chinese, is a start-up that has already opened 12 smoking rooms in major cities and airports with air-filtering systems to provide a comfortable environment for smokers.”

  • Ice Boy, a year after he became a celebrity
    How the life of China’s #IceBoy has changed one year on / BBC
    “Pictures of a young pupil arriving at school with frozen hair and swollen hands renewed discussion of child poverty in China when they were posted by his teacher in January 2018… Wang and his family have moved out of the mud hut they shared into a two-story home just 10 minutes’ walk along a paved road from his school.”

  • Eating: Hotpot in Shanghai
    4 great hotpot restaurants you must visit in Shanghai / SCMP


Viral on Weibo: When a haircut is infused with art!

Some hairstylists can not only do good haircuts, but also draw “paintings” on the back of your head! The hairstylist Hanhan from Hubei, China, is one of them — watch him use clippers to make all kinds of interesting pictures.


The Venezuela-China relationship, explained (Part 1 of 4)

This is the first of a four-part series that spotlights the Venezuela-China relationship. On April 18, 2001, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez sang with Spanish pop star Julio Iglesias fragments of the song “Solamente una vez” in Caracas. In the audience was Jiang Zemin 江泽民, then-president of the People’s Republic of China, who attended the signing of cooperation agreements, credits, and treaties that sealed the beginning of a trade relationship between China and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Thus began a relationship of 17 years that continues with the current Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro.

Kuora: How rice vs. wheat shaped Chinese personality differences

To even casual observers, there are quite pronounced differences in the personalities and mannerisms, broadly speaking, of northern and southern Chinese. According to one theory, differences in geography and climate — and the agriculture that could be supported, wheat vs. rice — gave rise to the observable psycho-cultural differences that are apparent today. It’s something to chew on, anyway.

Friday Song: Beijing punk band Demerit

Formed in 2003, Demerit gained a following in Beijing’s punk scene through consistent high-octane performances, fueled by politically charged lyrics and a disregard for social norms. One of its tracks, “Do You Smell It / Sink or Swim,” is featured in a new compilation album released by Maybe Mars, which can be downloaded for free.


Sinica Early Access: Huawei and the Tech Cold War

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy speak with Samm Sacks, Cybersecurity Policy and Chinese Digital Economy Fellow at New America, and Paul Triolo, Geotechnology Practice Head at the Eurasia Group. The two are among the best positioned to discuss the implications of the shocking arrest of Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 in Vancouver on December 1. The discussion focuses primarily on technological and national security aspects of the clash between Washington and Beijing, how Meng’s arrest fits into that clash, and the realities of fragmentation in the global telecommunications industry.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. Listen by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app (ask us on Slack if you need help with this!).

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 73

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: Upcoming talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators in Beijing this week, Chang’e 4’s historic mission, weak demand for the iPhone in China, the spread of Chinese-made apps in India’s tech scene, and more.


Wedding day

A bride and groom welcome guests with plates of cigarettes and candy on their wedding day in Yunnan Province. The couple are Lisu, one of China’s 56 officially recognized ethnicities. They rented their wedding outfits from a shop at the village plaza, where bonfires and circle dances are held nightly. Chinese tourists also rent ethnic outfits to join in the nightly dancing. Photo by Matthew Chitwood. His Instagram account is @theotherchina.