Tue, Oct 23, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Beijing changes its language on camps in Xinjiang

DENIAL TO PRIDE:Beijing is now proudly parading its ‘humane management and care’ at internment camps for Muslims, after denying their existence for months

The Guardian, BEIJING

An image from undated video footage run by China Central Television (CCTV) via AP Video, young Muslims read from official Mandarin textbooks in classrooms at the Hotan Vocational Education and Training Center in Hotan, Xinjiang.

Photo: AP Video / CCTV

China’s state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) last week offered a look inside Xinjiang’s controversial internment camps.

In the 15-minute segment, journalists visit the Hotan City Vocational Skills Education and Training Center, where they teach students Mandarin, China’s various legal codes and job-relevant skills, according to a city official, reciting almost verbatim a description previously given in Chinese state media.

Students are shown learning cosmetology, baking, sewing, woodworking and more. The cafeteria is decorated with balloons and bunting, and all the dorms have air conditioning.

One young woman tells an interviewer woodenly: “If I wasn’t here studying, I don’t even want to imagine where I’d be. Maybe I would have followed those religious extremists into a life of crime. The government and party found me in time and saved me.”

Over the past few weeks, China has launched its most aggressive defense against international criticism of its policies in the far western territory of Xinjiang, home to about 12 million Muslim minorities. Researchers and advocacy groups say China’s campaign in the name of rooting out extremism is rife with human rights abuses, namely the use of re-education camps and the mass surveillance and detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims.

After months of denying the existence of such camps, officials appear to be trying a new tack: normalizing the camps as places for “free vocational training” that are more similar to summer camps than de facto prisons where people can be kept indefinitely without due process.

“The Chinese Communist Party is losing precious control of the narrative,” said Timothy Grose, who focuses on ethnic policy in China at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. “In a few weeks’ time high-ranking officials have gone on record to angrily deny the existence of a network of re-education centers while accusing the ‘West’ of inciting unrest ... to proudly showcasing them as an example of the party’s altruism.”

Xinhua news agency on Tuesday last week released a lengthy interview with Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir, the most any senior official has publicly spoken about the camps.

The governor said in addition to vocational training, there were basketball and volleyball courts and arts competitions.

He called this proof of the Hotan center’s “humane management and care” and avoided using the term “education,” a term that harkens back to China’s use of education through labor, a system started in the 1950s and abolished in 2013, after being declared incompatible with China’s commitment to rule by law.

State-run Global Times has published numerous editorials hailing the vocational centers.

An editorial on Wednesday said: “Since the vocational training centers were set up, the situation in Xinjiang has changed for the better. They may not operate flawlessly, but aim to stop impetuous killings and comfort people frightened by violent terrorist activities.”

On Twitter, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡錫進) said he did not believe the trainees “go there voluntarily,” but “they have been given sincere help of education and training to enable them to return to normal life eventually.”

The publicity campaign comes ahead of a panel at the UN Human Rights Council early next month when other governments can question China on its policies. Xinjiang is expected to be a major topic, especially after the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August cited estimates of 1 million Muslim minorities detained, raising global scrutiny.

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