Making Political Risk More Politically Relevant

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

Alicia N. Ellis, PhD, Arizona State University

Ukraine’s Independence Square in Fall 2013, taken only months before it erupted into violent protests culminating in the overthrow of the sitting government. A busy commercial and tourist hub that day, there was no sign of the war zone it would soon resemble. Photo: Alicia Ellis.

Executive Summary

This report assesses the state of the academic literature on political risk and evaluates its contribution to understanding and mitigating risk for both business and political professionals. This assessment concludes that policy-relevant research has been in some cases limited and, in most cases, ineffectively communicated. Several major problems contribute to the persistent disconnect between policy, industry, and academia. Political scientists do not approach their research questions in a communicable way, nor do they often take the necessary step of connecting their research to an end use. Risk rating organizations have become overly reliant on cross-national aggregate models. Mixed methods research has been applied inappropriately and thus, ineffectively. Systematic biases have been introduced to models at a structural level, and conceptual difficulties plague some of the most basic questions for risk analysts.

Despite these problems, opportunities do exist for bridging the gap between research and practice, and producing policy-relevant research. This article proposes some recommendations for moving forward. Research questions must be structured in new ways to reflect the needs of end consumers that include non-academic professionals. Several research agendas in need of a practical-minded researcher are put forth, including the rise of China and what it means for global trade patterns, the ‘buy local’ movement spreading across the United States, and the problem of democratic consolidation. For each problem identified, the article makes suggestions for how we might reframe the questions in a way that produces more useful research on political risk. Continue reading

Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s Long-Term Scheme of Coercive Labor, Poverty Alleviation and Social Control in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

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

1.0 Introduction

442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, Xinjiang China, are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”.

After recruiting a hundred or more thousand police forces, installing massive surveillance systems, and interning vast numbers of predominantly Turkic minority population members, many have been wondering about Beijing’s next step in its so-called “war on Terror” in Xinjiang. Since the second half of 2018, limited but apparently growing numbers of detainees have been released into different forms of forced labor. In this report it is argued based on government documents that the state’s long-term stability maintenance strategy in Xinjiang is predicated upon a perverse and extremely intrusive combination of forced or at least involuntary training and labor, intergenerational separation and social control over family units. Much of this is being implemented under the heading and guise of “poverty alleviation”.

Below, the author identifies three distinct flow schemes by which the state seeks to place the vast majority of adult Uyghurs and other minority populations, both men and women, into different forms of coercive or at least involuntary, labor-intensive factory work. This is achieved through a combination of internment camp workshops, large industrial parks, and village-based satellite factories. While the parents are being herded into full-time work, their children are put into full-time (at least full day-time) education and training settings. This includes children below preschool age (infants and toddlers), so that ethnic minority women are being “liberated” and “freed” to engage in full-time wage labor. Notably, both factory and educational settings are essentially state-controlled environments that facilitate ongoing political indoctrination while barring religious practices. As a result, the dissolution of traditional, religious and family life is only a matter of time. The targeted use of village work teams and village-based satellite factories means that these “poverty alleviation” and social re-engineering projects amount to a grand scheme that penetrates every corner of ethnic minority society with unprecedented pervasiveness.

Consequently, it is argued that Beijing’s grand scheme of forced education, training and labor in Xinjiang simultaneously achieves at least five main goals in this core region of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): maintain the minority population in state-controlled environments, inhibit intergenerational cultural transmission, achieve national poverty reduction goals, promote economic growth along the BRI, and bring glory to the Party by achieving all of these four aims in a way that is ideologically consistent with the core tenets of Communist thought – using labor to transform religious minority groups towards a predominantly materialist worldview, akin to the Reform Through Labor (劳改) program. Government documents outline that the transformation of rural populations from farming to wage labor should involve not just the acquisition of new skills, but also a thorough identity and worldview change in line with Party ideology. In this context, labor is hailed as a strategic means to eradicate “extremist” ideologies.

The domestic and global implications of this grand scheme, where internment camps form only one component of a society-wide coercive social re-engineering strategy, are dramatic. Government documents blatantly boast about the fact that the labor supply from the vast internment camp network has been attracting many Chinese companies to set up production in Xinjiang, supporting the economic growth goals of the BRI.

Through the mutual pairing assistance program, 19 cities and provinces from the nation’s most developed regions are pouring billions of Chinese Yuan (RMB) into the establishment of factories in minority regions. Some of them directly involve the use of internment camp labor, while others use Uyghur women who must then leave their children in educational or day care facilities in order to engage in full time factory labor. Another aspect of Beijing’s labor schemes in the region involve the essentially mandatory relocation of large numbers of minority workers from Xinjiang to participating companies in eastern China.

Soon, many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, may contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labor from Xinjiang.

The findings presented below call for nothing less than a global investigation of supply chains involving Chinese products or product components, and for a greatly increased scrutiny of trade flows along China’s Belt and Road. They also warrant a strong response from not only the international community in regards to China’s intrusive coerced social re-engineering practices among its northwestern Turkic minorities, but from China’s own civil society that should not want to see such totalitarian labor and family systems extended to all of China. Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

How Much Does Your Internet Service Provider Spend On Lobbying?

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

By Paul Bischoff

Comcast Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Wikimedia/Smallbones.

When people think of lobbying, they often picture backroom deals made by big pharma executives. In reality, though, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are one of the largest lobbying groups in the US. With this in mind, we analyzed publicly-available data to see just how much money your ISP spends on influencing legislators and regulators every year.

Why do ISPs lobby?

ISPs might provide a valuable service but they are, first and foremost, businesses. As such, they tend to lobby against anything which could impact profits. This might mean opposing bills that stop the sale of customer data, for instance, or scrapping rules that make it easier for competitors to get up and running.

Of course, this cuts both ways; if there’s the potential to make more money via lobbying, ISPs will almost always try. If your ISP has been trying to push through a massive merger or looking to scrap industry regulation so it can charge you for an inferior service, you can bet huge amounts of money has changed hands to expedite the process. Continue reading

What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

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

By Sannie Evan Malala

A Philippine flag flutters as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen anchored off Manila bay on June 26, 2018. – A US aircraft carrier visited the Philippines on June 26, the third such call in four months, as its admiral hailed America’s “enduring presence” in a region where China’s military build-up had raised tensions. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images.

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading

As MENA States Grow Increasingly Repressive, Businesses Should Lead Reform

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

By Dr. Ramy Abdu

Female arabic manager is showing the engineer what should be done next. Getty

Nine years after the so-called “Arab Spring” protests swept the Middle East and North Africa, with mostly young people calling for the end of autocracy and respect for their human rights, civil and human rights are more at risk than ever. Governments across the region engage in vicious, factional wars for control (Syria, Yemen, Libya); are more dictatorial than ever (Egypt, Saudi Arabia); or continue to colonize and control populations with fewer means to defend themselves (Israel of Palestinians and Morocco of Western Sahara). When new civil uprisings do occur (Sudan, Algeria), the entrenched elites fight to fend off popular democracy.

The resulting instability and repression have left the civil-society organizations that normally advocate for human rights fragile and fractured. The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was chartered to serve as the global watchdog, calling out governments that abrogate the conventions adopted to protect the people. But that work, in which it has engaged intensively since 2002, has yielded only minor victories. Continue reading

Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump

The US Constitution and flag. Photo: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Dear President Trump,

Over America’s exceptional history, successive generations have risen to the challenge of protecting and furthering our founding principles, and defeating existential threats to our liberties and those of our allies. Today, our generation is challenged to do the same by a virulent and increasingly dangerous threat to human freedoms – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the nation it misrules:  the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Chinese Communists’ stated ambitions are antithetical to America’s strategic interests, and the PRC is increasingly taking actions that imperil the United States and our allies. The past forty years during which America pursued an open policy of “engagement” with the PRC have contributed materially to the incremental erosion of U.S. national security.

This cannot be permitted to continue.

Continue reading

Break Their Roots: Evidence for China’s Parent-Child Separation Campaign in Xinjiang

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

By Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher [1]

Introduction

A Uyghur woman holds her son in Kashgar old town, northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, July 8, 2017. Over 10 million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims live in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has for decades eroded the Uyghur language, traditions, and cultural identity, leading to civil unrest. The CCP cracked down harshly, including through detention of up to 1.5 million Turkic Muslims in reeducation camps. Children of detained parents are often kept in highly secure facilities for children as young as infants, as detailed in this article. Photo by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In spring 2017, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under its new Party secretary Chen Quanguo embarked on an unprecedented internment campaign. Subsequently, up to 1.5 million predominantly Turkic minorities (notably Uyghur and Kazakh) were swept into different types of political re-education, detention and “training” camps.[2]

About half a year after the onset of this horrifying campaign, first reports started to emerge that the children of so-called “double-detained” parents were being placed in state care. Due to a complete lack of official reporting and the state’s denial that this internment campaign is even taking place, it has been extremely difficult to ascertain the scale and exact nature of such intergenerational separation. Some informants claim to know that these children are kept in orphanages. Others, including some of the affected parents, were told that they are being sheltered in regular public schools with boarding facilities. This includes boarding preschools that can care for children who are younger than the regular school age.

The possibility that the Chinese state is implementing a larger-scale or even systematic policy of intergenerational separation of parents and children is a highly emotional topic among the affected exile communities. Few issues have the potential to inspire more concern about cultural or physical state-sponsored genocide than this one. Notably, Xinjiang’s government appears to be as nervous about the children’s situation as they are about the internment camps. When Associated Press (AP) reporters went to Hotan City’s “Kindness Kindergarten”, which reportedly shelters four children of one of their Uyghur informants and photographed the facility, they were immediately surrounded by armed police and ordered to delete their visual evidence.[3]

In the context of this urgent human rights crisis and challenging research context, this article attempts to systematically present and analyze all available evidence regarding state-initiated intergenerational separation in the context of Xinjiang’s political re-education and internment campaign. This evidence consists of government policy and implementation directives, different kinds of official reports and related state or private media articles, educational statistics, public construction and procurement bids, village-based work team reports, and official propaganda pieces that extol the benefits of the so-called “vocational training”.

Government documents provide clear evidence that there are large numbers of children with one or both parents in some form of internment. These documents specifically refer to “couples where both partners are detained in re-education” (夫妻双方被收教), or “couples where both partners are in vocational training center” (夫妻双方在教培中心).[4] They also testify to the fact that this has developed into a concrete and urgent societal issue. From early 2018, the state began to issue urgent directives on how to deal with the virtually orphaned children of single or “double-detained” parents, be it through special care institutions or the regular education system. Local governments began to require schools to provide one-on-one “psychological counseling” and to proactively scan the state of mind of students with parents in detention in order to preempt trouble. Schools must now be prepared to mobilize entire teams of teachers, staff and other students to deal with such students when they are in distress, as well as taking measures for making up for their loss of family ties. Other evidence shows that schools have developed “emergency response plans” that include dealing with students with detained parents in a timely and effective manner in order to prevent violent incidents.

Additionally, the state has issued very detailed forms that are to be used by local authorities to log the situation of children with one or both parents in extrajudicial internment or prison. This data, which is fed into extensive databases, indicates that in some Uyghur majority regions, significant numbers of children are without the care of both parents. Government data shows that just in one particular township in such a region, well over 400 minors have both parents in some form of internment, with many others having one parent interned.[5] Children whose parents are in prison, detention, re-education or “training” are classified into a special needs category that is eligible for state subsidies and for receiving “centralized care”. This “care” can take place in public boarding schools or in special children’s shelters.

This does not mean, however, that these children are well taken care of. The real-life report of a Han Chinese volunteer teacher, posted on the Jiangxi Teacher’s College website, paints a harrowing picture of the consequences of systematic intergenerational separation.[6] The young man taught in an impoverished rural primary school in southern Xinjiang, where pupils were mostly without parents due to seasonal work or internment in vocational training camps. The young teacher wrote that these Uyghur children were in an extremely pitiful state, wearing thin clothes despite freezing December weather. The classroom was filled with an unbearable stench because the children neither washed nor changed their clothes.

In addition, the government has issued propaganda pieces that argue that the children of detained parents derive significant benefits from this separation, that both parents and children need to “study”, or that the “left-behind children” of parents who “work” are “happily growing up under the loving care of the Party and the government”.[7]

Overall, this article presents several key areas of evidence that in combination provide significant and potentially incriminating evidence for a coordinated state campaign to promote different forms of intergenerational separation. Xinjiang has not only created most of the necessary preconditions for systematically creating varying and substantial degrees of intergenerational separation; when placed in the wider context of Xinjiang’s securitization drive, the combined available evidence tells a story of the state’s dramatic race against time to create a vast and multi-layered care system that enables it to provide full-time or near full-time care for all children from a very young age (in several instances for infants that are only a few months old). In some Uyghur majority population regions in southern Xinjiang, preschool enrolment more than quadrupled in recent years, exceeding the average national enrolment growth rate by over 12 times.

In particular, this state care is taking place in highly secured, centralized boarding facilities, independently of any guardianship that these children may or may not have. Driven by multi-billion dollar budgets, tight deadlines, and sophisticated digital database systems, this unprecedented campaign has enabled Xinjiang’s government to assimilate and indoctrinate children in closed environments by separating them from their parents. This separation can take various forms and degrees, including full daycare during work days, entire work weeks, and longer-term full-time separation. When taking into account the threat that Xinjiang’s education system makes children report on their parents, it is safe to assume that parental influence in general, and intergenerational cultural and religious transmission in particular, are being drastically reduced. In some instances, parental influence is quite possibly almost completely eliminated.

The available evidence presented in this article can be viewed from four angles. Firstly, existing witness accounts from former detainees and their relatives indicate quite consistently that children whose parents are in some form of internment are put into either orphanages or boarding schools, with the latter case being more prevalent. Secondly, government plans show that the state is requiring local authorities and schools to comprehensively deal with children whose parents are in some form of internment. Thirdly, official documents testify to an entire set of policies, most of them initiated within the first six months of Chen Quanguo’s deployment to Xinjiang, that are designed to systematically boost the ability of the state to house children of all ages in increasingly centralized and highly securitized educational boarding facilities. Fourthly, government reports and construction bids give evidence of the construction of such highly secured boarding facilities in the public education system and through special child protection centers. All this took place in the second half of 2018, at a time when Xinjiang’s internment campaign was affecting more and more population segments, and when re-education and other detention facilities were expanding significantly in both number and size.[8]

It is only with what I refer to as the weaponization of education and social care systems that the region’s hair-raising political re-education and transformation drive is achieving its terrifying degree of seamless comprehensiveness. Increasing degrees of intergenerational separation are very likely a deliberate strategy and crucial element in the state’s systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide in Xinjiang. Continue reading

Celebrating Independence In Al Anbar, Iraq

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

By Heath Hansen

Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in Summer 2007. Photo: Heath Hansen.

Even though it was only 0500, the heat was already approaching the high 90’s and I could feel my sticky uniform only too well, sandwiched between skin and body armor. The Humvee engines were idling and the smell of JP-8 fuel stung my nostrils. “Hansen, 2nd platoon’s electronic warfare vehicle is down. We’ll need you in the lead element for the mission. You’re truck commander.”

“Roger, sir,” I replied to my platoon leader, “My truck’s ready, I’ll let the crew know.” More than four years had passed since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and we were still trying to secure independence for this country. It was the summer of 2007, in Anbar Province, and my company was headed out for another assignment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Continue reading

Brainwashing, Police Guards and Coercive Internment: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s “Vocational Training Internment Camps”

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

By Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher

Introduction

The women were kept in their classroom behind a gated metal fence. From Figure 6, 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 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.[1]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.[2] 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