“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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Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

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

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

Greenpeace Working to Close Rare Earth Processing Facility in Malaysia: the World’s Only Major REE Processing Facility in Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Michael K. Cohen

Partial screenshot from the Greenpeace website, taken on 10/3/2019, detailing Greenpeace’s leading role in the ‘Stop Lynas’ campaign. Source: Greenpeace.

Rare earth – the colorful metals derived from 17 extraordinarily hard-to-mine chemical elements – are a little-known part of all of our lives. They are crucial elements of mobile phones, flat screen televisions and more than 200 other consumer electronic devices that we use every day.

But these exotic elements are needed for more than just phones and televisions. Their lightweight properties, and unique magnetic attributes, are indispensable to military assets that use sonar, radar or guidance systems, lasers, electronic displays, and myriad other mechanisms.

The vast majority of rare earths that countries need to protect themselves are produced by one country: The People’s Republic of China. And it does not appear that the situation will change in the near future. China has in recent years worked to monopolize the production of these elements as a strategic resource.

China has made rare earths available to countries around the world that need them, but that could abruptly change. Chinese state-controlled media has warned that sales of rare earths to the United States could be restricted as part of a new front in the ongoing trade war. Continue reading

The China Dream Collides with Reality

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Douglas Black, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong, September 2019. Photo: Douglas Black.

Carrie Lam has been allowed to withdraw Hong Kong’s maligned extradition bill after three months of continuing protests, but the situation continues to escalate. Protesting children are being taken from their families. There are allegations that protesters may have been killed by police and subsequently covered up. Both Beijing and the millions who live in the semi-autonomous territory are in need of real solutions, yet any solution to the current gridlock must include a serious look at the remaining demands represented by the protesters: remove Carrie Lam from her position, meaningfully investigate police misconduct, release activists and others in police custody, and safeguard Hong Kong’s nascent democracy.

Rather than the de-escalation Beijing intended by allowing the bill’s withdrawal, the situation is now made more precarious through two factors: (1) extreme pressure on Xi Jinping from both within the Party and beyond to quell the unrest before the PRC’s national day on October 1 and (2) a fundamental schism between the way the Party and many in the Chinese state see reality through their “China Dream” and the reality of the lives of millions of Hongkongers.

In essence, Beijing has backed themselves into a corner, but their worldview denies them visibility of the right solutions. Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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What is the Evidence of ‘Forced Organ Harvesting’ in China?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Matthew Robertson, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Tianjin First Center Hospital, right, and the Oriental Organ Transplant Center, left, seen in Tianjin, China on December 1, 2016. Data from official records about the hospital, and admissions by medical staff, suggest it performs thousands of transplants annually. Simon Denyer/ The Washington Post via Getty Images

On June 17 in London a “people’s tribunal” chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, issued a judgement stating that “forced organ harvesting” has taken place in China for over 20 years, and continues to this day. It concluded that practitioners of Falun Gong have been “probably the main” source of organ supply, adding that the violent persecution and medical testing of Uyghurs make it likely that they too are victims, or at least are highly vulnerable targets for organ harvesting now and in the future. The findings have been widely reported.

The tribunal has thus reaffirmed a long-standing allegation: that the Chinese security services and military, working with transplant surgeons in hospitals, use prisoners of conscience as a living organ bank — blood and tissue-typing them, entering their biometric data into databases, and killing them on demand (or removing their organs before they die, as some Chinese medical papers suggest, and as testified to by the Uyghur former surgeon Enver Tohti) for paying recipients. Transplant surgeries typically cost hundreds of thousands of yuan (or hundreds of thousands of dollars for tourists), and recipients then take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives. Depending on the scale of the practice, this would make it a multi-billion dollar industry. Continue reading

East Turkistan Needs You

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

East Turkestanis and their supporters demonstrate in front of the White House, calling for US support for an independent East Turkestan, currently occupied by China. The demonstration occurred on November 12, 2018, the anniversary of the founding of the First and Second East Turkestan Republics. Photo: ETNAM

By Salih Hudayar

Few Americans have ever heard of “Xinjiang”. Even fewer have ever heard it called by its proper name (the name its oppressed inhabitants use): “East Turkistan”. This strategically-significant region, my ancestral Homeland, is home to an ethnically Turkic, Muslim population of people called the Uyghurs. On official maps, it borders eight countries, but most Uyghurs will count China and Tibet as separate, independent countries and tell you that it borders ten. And therein lies the issue.

The vast majority of Uyghurs, like the vast majority of Tibetans, don’t see themselves as part of China. They see China as an occupying force, and rightly so. Up until late 1949 — when the Chinese Communist Party invaded the region and overthrew our government — it was an independent Republic. Most Uyghurs feel no connection to Beijing. Imagine for a moment that the United States Army invaded the Canadian province of Alberta. Surely the residents of Alberta would feel no connection to Washington, D.C.

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State Sponsorship of Uyghur Separatists: the History and Current Policy Options for East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

A 1922 map of China. Source: John Bartholomew, The Times Atlas, London, 1922.

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 25, 2019, in Oxford, England. The associated university is not named at the request of the host organization’s president, who was concerned about possible repercussions.

I would like to thank the Terrorism Research Society (TRS) for kindly hosting this event. 

The historical map shown here is from 1922, and shows what China looked like when the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai. It shows East Turkestan and Tibet in the west as autonomous regions — much more autonomous than they are today.

East Turkestan is now occupied militarily by China and officially called the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. In Chinese, “Xinjiang” means “new frontier”. But Xinjiang has an ancient history as a culturally diverse crossroads of trading on what the Chinese call “the silk road”, but which was actually more Iranian than Chinese. It was central to the ancient Persian trading areas called the Sogdian network by historians. It has been home to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, to Mongolians, Indians, Greeks, Koreans, Buddhists, and Christians. Since at least the First East Turkestan Republic of 1933 is has been called East Turkestan by Turkic Muslim residents. The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has indiscriminately labeled Uyghurs who support an independent East Turkestan today, as separatist and terrorist in their goals and means. The acronym of the Chinese Communist Party is the “CCP”. The CCP seeks to colonize and extinguish all linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity in Xinjiang today, in order to assimilate the territory under its own preferred Han Chinese race, and their own atheist communist ideology.

In the face of such extreme repression, some Uyghurs have indeed advocated separatism and utilized terrorism and violence, including street riots, as a means.

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THE BATTLE FOR WEST PAPUA

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Ben Bohane


Supporters carry West Papuan leader Benny Wenda through Port Vila, Vanuatu, during a visit on December 1, 2016. Pacific island countries across the region are growing in solidarity with the West Papuan independence movement, according to the author. Credit: Ben Bohane.

Reports of the Indonesian military using white phosphorous munitions on West Papuan civilians in December are only the latest horror in a decades-old jungle war forgotten by the world. But new geopolitical maneuvering may soon change the balance of power here, prompting regional concern about an intensifying battle for this rich remote province of Indonesia. It is time for the US and Australia to change policy, complementing Pacific island diplomacy, or risk a major strategic setback at the crossroads of Asia and the Pacific.

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Boycott the Chinese Language: Standard Mandarin is the Medium of Chinese Communist Party Expansion

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

These urban traffic signs in English and Mandarin are located in the Chinatown district of Seattle. Consciously preferring the use of traditional characters and Taiwanese Mandarin in the U.S. would be a statement against the Chinese Communist Party and its usage of Standard Mandarin and simplified characters. Interestingly, the characters in these street signs are the same in the traditional and simplified sets.

China is one of history’s most dangerous countries. In August, the United Nations reported that China is holding approximately one million minority Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. China supports anti-democratic regimes and terrorist groups worldwide. Its military is seeking to expand its territory in: Japanese and South Korean areas of the East China Sea; Philippine, Malaysian, Bruneian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese parts of the South China Sea; and Indian and Bhutanese territory in the Himalayan mountains. President Xi Jinping has since 2013 increased military spending, hyped China’s nationalism, repressed minorities and human rights activists, eliminated term limits on his increasingly personal form of rule, and extended the geographic reach and individual depth of state surveillance.

Average citizens in democracies who see this trend can feel powerless in response. But there are tools at the disposal of empowered citizens and social movements to encourage, complement and accentuate actions taken by our democratic governments. Both citizen and government action is essential to encourage democracy and democratic elements in China, history’s most powerful totalitarian state.

These tools include consumer boycotts and protests at Chinese embassies, for example. But there is an additional social movement tactic that could powerfully communicate the world’s criticism: a boycott of mainland China’s national language, Standard Mandarin, a combination of the Putonghua dialect spoken in Beijing with simplified characters. Putonghua is also called Modern Standard Chinese, which was promoted since the 1940s, and which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have zealously promoted since 1956 as a form of increasing state control beyond Beijing. I here call the combination of simplified characters and Putonghua, “PRC Mandarin” or “CCP Chinese”. Taiwan uses traditional characters and speaks a slight variant of Mandarin called Taiwanese Mandarin (Guoyu).

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