Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019
By Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher
In the wake of growing international criticism, the Chinese government has sought to counter human rights accusations over its re-education and internment campaign in Xinjiang through an elaborate propaganda campaign. This campaign portrays the region’s network of so-called “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (zhiye jineng jiaoyu peixun zhongxin 职业技能教育培训中心) as benign training institutions that offer persons who committed minor offenses a gracious and beneficial alternative to formal prosecution. Since late 2018, the state has invited media and official representatives from other nations and even from the western media to participate in official and closely-chaperoned tours of a select number of “showcase” centers.
Based on the government’s own statements, this article seeks to decisively refute these propaganda claims. Official documents and related media reports that are not designed for international audiences paint a very different picture of these “centers” – a picture that confirms the growing body of first-hand witness accounts.
Below, Xinjiang’s “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” are referred to as “Vocational Training Internment Camps” (VTICs). This terminology acknowledges that these facilities offer some form of vocational training, although this “training” only constitutes a relatively small part of the whole indoctrination package. At the same time, this terminology clarifies that these facilities function in a prison-like internment fashion.
Specifically, this article will show the following:
- According to numerous Xinjiang government websites, VTICs “wash clean the brains” of those interned in them. Those subjected to such coerced brainwashing are referred to as “re-education persons”, which is the exact same term used for detained Falun Gong members.
- Specifically, those interned in VTICs are called “detained re-education persons”. Numerous documents make clear that these “trainees” are in involuntary detention. The author never found a single government document that supports government claims that people willingly consent to being placed into a VTIC, they sign any kind of agreement to that end, or they can request leave.
- VTICs are guarded by large, dedicated police detachments. In one case, the number of security guards was over twice as high as that of the camp’s teaching staff. In another county, the wages of the designated VTIC police force were budgeted to be nearly three times as high as this county’s entire regular vocational education budget. Government regulations specify that VTICs must implement “escape prevention” measures that also apply to prisons. Also, VTICs frequently have their own police stations on their compounds.
- VTICs are administered by newly established “education and training bureaus” (ETBs) that fall under the authority of the criminal justice system and are funded from domestic security budgets.
- VTICs represent only one of up to 8 forms of extrajudicial internment in Xinjiang. In 2016, prior to the large-scale internment campaign, one Uyghur population majority area had already placed nearly 10 percent of its adult population in dedicated re-education facilities. In 2018, the Xinjiang government gave about 1.6 billion RMB in VTIC food subsidies to its minority regions, enough to feed several hundred thousand or more persons. Overall, the author suggests a speculative upper limit estimate of 1.5 million, corresponding to one in six adult members of these minority groups.
- Chinese claims that Xinjiang has no “re-education camps” are simultaneously true and false. They are superficially true in that such denials use a Chinese term for “re-education” that the government itself never employs. However, they are also manifestly false, given there is abundant evidence from government documents that there are several types of dedicated re-education facilities in Xinjiang, and that the officially-stated primary goal of the VTICs is not vocational training but “transformation through education”. Government claims that Xinjiang has no “concentration camps” are both semantically and technically false, and contradicted by the state’s own terminology. Even so, using this term as the primary phrase to describe the camps is ultimately not helpful.
Being aware of this, the Chinese state has been using varied and ingenious terms for VTICs in its online publications, some of them evidently designed to obstruct or even prevent targeted keyword searches. For example, some government documents conceal the term “Education Training Center” (教培中心), a common short form of the full term, with an asterisk or other ASCII characters, as in “职业技能*”, or “◇◇◇◇”, or else through a mix of Latin and Chinese characters (“JP 中心”) that appear to serve no other logical purpose than obfuscation. The first method is very effective for preventing keyword searches, because Google and other search engines cannot actually search for the asterisk character itself.
As China’s propaganda campaign progresses, this article urgently seeks to disseminate crucial and potentially incriminating evidence about the real nature and purpose of the region’s VTIC network. The empirical evidence discussed below should suffice to support significant, concrete actions by the international community against this unprecedented atrocity. Continue reading