“Wash Brains, Cleanse Hearts”: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s Extrajudicial Internment Campaign

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Adrian Zenz, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Women undergoing “reeducation” in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR, China) were kept in their classroom behind a gated metal fence. See Figure 16, below. Source: anonymous informant.

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 an 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.[1]

Drawing on the government’s own statements, this article seeks decisively to refute these propaganda claims. Overall, the author analyzed three types of data sources, all of which are mutually consistent and confirm the growing body of first-hand witness accounts. The first type consisted of official government documents and related media reports that are publicly accessible but not designed for international audiences. The second source consists of local government data in the form of detailed tables and spreadsheets that list the fates of thousands of minority individuals. The third source is a confidential, classified Chinese policy document issued by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Party Political and Legal Affairs Committee. This highly significant document details how Xinjiang’s so-called “vocational training centers” are supposed to be run.

In combination, these three sources provide us with unprecedented insights into the region’s re-education internment campaign. Together, they decisively refute Beijing’s propaganda claims.

In this article, 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 extrajudicial facilities function in a prison-like internment fashion.

Specifically, this article will show the following:

  1. According to government statements, VTICs “wash clean the brains” of those interned in them. Those subjected to such coerced brainwashing are referred to as “re-education persons” – the same term used for detained Falun Gong practitioners. The classified document states that detainees who show signs of resistance are to be subjected to “assault-style re-education” efforts.
  2. Specifically, those interned in VTICs are called “detained re-education persons”. Numerous documents make clear that these “trainees” are in involuntary detention. Despite extensive research, the author did not even find a single government document that supports government claims that people willingly consent to being placed into a VTIC, that they sign any kind of agreement to that end, or that they can request leave. The classified document mandates special security measures to ensure that detainees cannot “escape” while relatives visit them in the camps.
  3. VTICs are guarded by large, dedicated police units, including armed police forces. 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 and the classified document both specify that VTICs must implement “escape prevention” measures that also apply to prisons. The classified source adds that VTICs must have dedicated police stations, should employ only the “most capable security forces”, and put extremely stringent security and surveillance measures in place.
  4. 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. They are neither funded nor managed by the regular education system. The classified document mandates that every county in Xinjiang must have an ETB. Based on the new data, the author estimates that Xinjiang likely has approximately 1,300 to 1,400 extrajudicial internment facilities.
  5. VTICs represent only one of up to 8 forms of extrajudicial internment in Xinjiang. Detailed local government data sets show that the internment campaign has mostly swept up males, especially household heads. Internment shares in rural Uyghur majority regions (including those sentenced to prison) range between 10 and 30 percent of the adult population. In 2018, the Xinjiang government provided 1.6 billion RMB in VTIC food subsidies to its ethnic minority regions, enough to feed just under one million persons in this particular form of extrajudicial internment alone.
  6. Evidence shows that the internment drive has focused on removing male authority figures from families as part of the state’s coercive social re-engineering campaign. Internment shares of younger women, who often feature in propaganda videos or “model camps,” are typically very low. Consequently, interned populations feature a much higher share of adults aged 40 or higher than those who are not interned.
  7. Overall, the author suggests a new speculative upper limit estimate of 1.8 million or 15.4 percent of adult members of Xinjiang’s Turkic and Hui ethnic minority groups, and a new minimum estimate of 900,000 or 7.7 percent. These figures pertain to all minority adults in previous (since spring 2017) or current extrajudicial internment. While still speculative, the new upper limit is eminently defensible based on existing and new data sets.
  8. Official data proves that the internment campaign has pushed families below the poverty line by depriving them of their primary labor force, and that net population growth rates in southern Xinjiang have dramatically declined since the beginning of the internments.
  9. The classified document specifies that “students” can only “complete their studies” after having spent at least one year in the facilities. Only once they have fulfilled a detailed set of stringent “graduation” criteria do they actually receive an intensive 3-6 months of skills training. This would indicate a minimum term at the VTICs of 15-18 months, which is consistent with the time between the onset of the re-education campaign (April 2017) and the first propaganda videos published on Chinese media channels showing the “successful outcomes” of the camps (October 2018).
  10. According to the classified document, the Xinjiang government considers VTIC work to be “highly sensitive” in nature. All related information is “strictly confidential” and VTIC data material “must not be aggregated” even by its own staff, likely in order to conceal the scale of the internment campaign.
  11. 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, the author suggests that the term “re-education camps” (or “internment camps”) is more accurate and helpful.

As China’s internment and related propaganda campaign progresses, this article provides crucial 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.

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Genocide as Nation Building: China’s Historically Evolving Policy in East Turkistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By Rukiye Turdush, Uyhgur Research Institute

This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows a man walking past a screen showing images of China’s President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, East Turkistan (called “Xinjiang” by China). China has enforced a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang, where between one and three million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are estimated to be held in a network of internment camps that Beijing describes as “vocational education centres”. They are aimed at erasing non-Han and non-CCP identity under the guise of steering people away from religious extremism. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

At Nankai University in 2003, Chinese professor Ai Yue Jing said, “Our great culture can assimilate any other nation or culture, we can change and absorb good one torture and kill bad one”. These words ushered in the new era of China’s “nation building” project in East Turkistan. [1]

Three million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”) are incarcerated in Chinese concentration camps and face the prospect of being killed and deported to China’s secret inland prisons as a part of the country’s ongoing genocide.[2] According to the report Genocide in East Turkistan published by the Uyghur Research Institute this year, China’s ethnic policy in East Turkistan falls into at least four of the five acts defined as genocide by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [3] Eye-witness accounts, media reports, and testimonials of relatives of the victims have verified claims of the existence of torture and death in concentration camps,[4] as well as China’s policy of objectifying Uyghurs through experimentation in high–tech mass surveillance systems that make use of QR codes, biometrics, artificial intelligence, phone spyware, and big data.[5] China’s policies towards the Uyghurs have created horror and demoralization, destroying their belief in a world of right and wrong. Consequently, the deteriorated mental health of Uyghurs in East Turkistan has indirectly impacted on their relatives in the Uyghur diaspora. Many of them have already reported constant crying, appetite loss, sleep deprivation, loss of concentration, depression, and frequent nightmares.[6] Continue reading

Turkish Breakup with the U.S. and NATO: The Illogical Logics

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019 

Dr. Jahara Matisek and Dr. Buddhika Jayamaha
U.S. Air Force Academy

Change of command ceremony is held at NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey on August 03, 2018. Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Abstract: With decades of debate about Turkey leaving NATO, the Turkish purchase (and delivery) of a Russian air defense system may be crossing the Rubicon. The Syrian Civil War, combined with how the U.S. and NATO decided to back Kurdish proxies in the fight against the Islamic State, has fed into the domestic logic of survival for Turkish political elites. With President Erdoğan and his revisionist political party ruling over Turkey the last decade, they appear to have finally refashioned the Turkish state by purging secularists from the government and military since the coup hoax of 2016. This new consolidation of political power has created a Turkish state with values incompatible with the West and strategies irreconcilable with NATO. However, these efforts by Erdoğan are undermining the long-term economic viability of the Turkish state, as established norms concerning the rule of law and property rights deteriorate, risking Turkey’s status as a reliable and stable ally in the region. We make these judgements on Turkey provoking its own expulsion from NATO based on interviews and fieldwork in Kurdistan and Turkey.

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Sanction Hong Kong, For Its Own Sake

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

Silhouette of man standing on top of mountain with reflection of urban cityscape. Source: Getty Images.

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

The decision of the Hong Kong government to expel Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet from Hong Kong has already provoked widespread concern about freedom of speech and autonomy of Hong Kong in the international community. Mr. Mallet broke no law, and the Hong Kong government’s decision is obviously based on his role as moderator of an August 14 talk by pro-independence activist Andy Chan at the Foreign Correspondents Club. This unprecedented expulsion of a foreign journalist takes Hong Kong a big step closer to the status quo in mainland China.

The UK Foreign Office, US Consulate in Hong Kong, European Union, and American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, all issued statements criticizing the decision of the Hong Kong government. In particular, AmCham president Tara Joseph pertinently links the case to the concern about Hong Kong’s continuous viability as a financial center, saying that, “The rejection of a renewal of work visa for FT correspondent Victor Mallet sends a worrying signal. Without a free press, capital markets cannot properly function, and business and trade cannot be reliably conducted.”

Beijing has long said that Hong Kong is no longer important to China economically, because China’s GDP has been roaring ahead over the last two decades since Hong Kong’s sovereignty handover. But in fact, Hong Kong’s special status as an autonomous economy separate from mainland China is still serving China very well.

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Remove Duterte And Modernize The Armed Forces Philippines

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By an Anonymous Filipino

Troops pledge their allegiance to the Philippine government and constitution during a prayer rally in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City suburban Manila on May 3, 2010. Photo: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images.

This is a critical time for the Philippines, in terms of economics, politics, and national defense. Immediately at the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term the congress was already submissive to him. There were just a few dissenting Senators. But Duterte is taking them down one by one, especially the opposition stalwarts. Senator Leila de Lima was accused of a sham case, conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading (1), and is now in prison. Senator Antonio Trillanes is having his amnesty revoked [2]. Duterte is under criminal investigation, breaking the Constitution, running the Philippines into the ground, and gradually giving our sovereignty away to China. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is slowly losing its allies and competitive edge against China, the Philippines’ biggest threat. Duterte should immediately be removed, and the AFP should seek the help from its traditional allies to quickly modernize.

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China’s Targeting of Overseas Chinese for Intelligence, Influence and Drug Trafficking

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte (L), son of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and the president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio (R), take an oath as they attend a senate hearing in Manila on September 7, 2017.
Paolo Duterte and the president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio, appeared before the inquiry to deny as “baseless” and “hearsay” allegations linking them to large-scale illegal drugs smuggling. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

On June 12, Philippine protesters staged coordinated protests against China in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver. Protest organizer Ago Pedalizo said, “Duterte’s government pursues the ‘sell, sell, sell’ approach to sovereignty as a trade-off to all kickbacks he’ll get from the ‘build, build, build’ economic push of China.” His protest group, Filipino American Human Rights Advocates (FAHRA), charged that “Duterte is beholden to the $15-billion loan with monstrous interest rate and China’s investments in Boracay and Marawi, at the expense of Philippine sovereignty. This is not to mention that China remains to be the premier supplier of illegal drugs to the country through traders that include the son, Paolo Duterte, with his P6 billion shabu [methamphetamine] shipment to Davao.” 

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Duterte’s Immigration Agreement with China: Subversion by Numbers

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018 

By Demetrius Cox

A PLA Air Force (PLAAF) military transport plane (IL-76) in Davao City on 8 June 2018. Source: Philippine Plane Spotters Group (PPSG).

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On June 9, 2018 the Philippine Star published an article titled “More than 3 million Chinese allowed entry into Philippines since 2016 — Immigration data”.

In what may become one of the most remarkable subversions in recent history, the article describes how the immigration floodgates have been thrown open by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.  With a current national population of 103 million, Duterte has allowed a 3% direct population increase (3+ million) of Chinese immigrants to the Republic of the Philippines in less than three years, which is enough to keep most demographers up at night.  And there is no end in sight.

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Trump’s Unfair Ban:  An Iranian View 

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By Nabi Sonboli

On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists”. The order reflects three critical concerns regarding immigrants and those who come to the US in the new administration: Security, ideology, and contribution. These concerns are valid for any country, but the questions remain, which one of these concerns are legitimate with regards to Iran and Iranians? and what is the main target in this order?