In recent weeks, members of the U.S. Congress across party lines have called for sanctions on the basis of the Magnitsky Act against those responsible for the mass internment in Xinjiang. This law permits the confiscation of possessions in America belonging to persons targeted by sanctions. The representatives have cited, among others, Xinjiang's party leader, Chen Quanguo, under whose administration the region has been transformed since 2016 into a police state. The outgoing American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, speaks of "the largest internment of civilians in the world today".

Sanctions are also demanded against Hu Lianhe, who is regarded as the leading ideologist of the new minority policy. He advocates creating stability by "standardising human behaviour". Behind this plan is the conviction that independent minority identities contributed to the decline of the Soviet Union, which is regarded in China as a cautionary scenario. After his only visit to Xinjiang, in 2014, President Xi Jinping himself called for fostering citizens' identification with the Chinese nation and promoting ethnic mixing. He is moreover demanding with increasing fervour a "sinicisation" of all religions in China, which must be brought in line with socialist values.

China increasingly under pressure internationally

The founding of the post-Soviet republics in Central Asia in the 1990s encouraged Uighurs in Xinjiang to strive for autonomy as well, which the Chinese authorities fought against with all their might. China justifies its harsh anti-terror campaign with individual terrorist attacks for which the authorities blame Uighur perpetrators. The campaign was intensified significantly after the launch of the New Silk Road initiative, as the planned route runs through Xinjiang on its way to Europe.

Infographic showing geographical position of Chinaʹs Xinjiang province (source: Deutsche Welle)
Chinaʹs modern-day adaptation of the Silk Road: the Peopleʹs Republicʹs latest economic initiative forsees a revival and extension of the ancient routes across Central Asia to Europe. The last thing Bejing needs is a rebellious province blocking its path. Hence the repression and forcible assimilation of Xinjiangʹs Uighur Muslim population – naturally for the "greater good"

Criticism of the situation in Xinjiang is also growing in several Islamic countries, among them some of China's major trading partners. Beijing is thus attempting to quell the swelling debate. As a case in point, the Pakistani minister of religion, who had been quoted as voicing critical remarks about the re-education camps, was compelled to retract his comments, claiming he had never said anything of the sort. The Pakistani army chief had previously rushed to Beijing to apologise.

Now, however, the new propaganda campaign on the alleged educational offensive in Xinjiang suggests that Beijing has recognised that such methods alone are no longer sufficient. Zakir's statements to the Xinhua news agency were accompanied by detailed reports on the state television channel CCTV and in the party newspaper "Global Times". The date chosen for publication may have something to do with the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva at the beginning of November, which will again deal with Xinjiang.

Friederike Boge

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2018

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

More on this topic