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Xinjiang Leak Puts Uighurs in spotlight

Context

A leak of thousands of photos and official documents from China’s Xinjiang has shed new light on the atrocious methods used to enforce mass internment in the region.

Relevance

GS-III: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Dimensions of the Article

  • What is the leak about?
  • Who are the Uighurs?
  • Where is Xinjiang?
  • What was the build-up to the crackdown?
  • Chinese Narrative

What is the leak about?

  • After initially denying their existence, Beijing has claimed the facilities are vocational training schools, attended voluntarily and aimed at stamping out religious extremism.
  • But the leaked documents give an insight into how leaders saw the minority population as a security threat.
  • Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.

Who are the Uighurs?

  • There are about 12 million Uighurs, mostly Muslim, living in north-western China in the region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
  • The Uighurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.
  • They make up less than half of the Xinjiang population.
  • In recent decades, there’s been a mass migration of Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and the Uighurs feel their culture and livelihoods are under threat.
  • In the early 20th Century, the Uighurs briefly declared independence, but the region was brought under complete control of mainland China’s new Communist government in 1949.

Where is Xinjiang?

  • Xinjiang lies in the north-west of China and is the country’s biggest region.
  • Like Tibet, it is autonomous, meaning – in theory – it has some powers of self-governance. But in practice, both face major restrictions by the central government.
  • It is a mostly desert region, producing about a fifth of the world’s cotton.
  • It is also rich in oil and natural gas and because of its proximity to Central Asia and Europe is seen by Beijing as an important trade link.

What was the build-up to the crackdown?

  • Anti-Han and separatist sentiment rose in Xinjiang from the 1990s, flaring into violence on occasion.
  • In 2009 some 200 people died in clashes in Xinjiang, which the Chinese blamed on Uighurs who want their own state.
  • Xinjiang is now covered by a pervasive network of surveillance, including police, checkpoints, and cameras that scan everything from number plates to individual faces.
  • According to Human Rights Watch, police are also using a mobile app to monitor peoples’ behaviour, such as how much electricity they are using and how often they use their front door.
  • Since 2017 when President Xi Jinping issued an order saying all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation, there have been further crackdowns.

Chinese Narrative

  • China says the crackdown is necessary to prevent terrorism and root out Islamist extremism and the camps are an effective tool for re-educating inmates in its fight against terrorism.
  • It insists that Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest.
  • China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uighur population through mass sterilizations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.

Source – The Hindu


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