The government of China has a longstanding tradition of religious persecution that can be traced back to the 1949 expulsion of foreign missionaries under the Communist party. This tradition continues today under President Xi Jinping, who in recent years has ramped up the surveillance and “reeducation” of regional Muslims in the northwestern part of the country. This is largely due to the economic and demographic growth of the Asian superpower and is putting allies of the nation in a precarious humanrights quandary. The conflict is centered in the XinJiang region of China, a provincial-level autonomous region at the northwesternmost edge of the nation, whose name loosely translates as the “New Frontierland.”
The region is heavily populated with Uighurs, Sunni muslimmajority Central Asians who are similar in cultural background to the Turkish, according to BBC. The region is becoming more densely populated by the Han Chinese, the main ethnic makeup of China. As more Chinese people move into the region and the frontier becomes closed, they have brought skepticism and political oppresion to this group, labelling them as a politically “sensitive” people prone to extremist thinking. This has resulted in the early stages of what could be considered a police state, an internment camp or, more dramatic, a gulag.
The region is undergoing electronic surveillance, including facial recognition, DNA analysis and biometric testing. Those who contact the outside world or are said to have deviant beliefs are especially likely to be required to undergo “reeducation.” This involves the forceful learning of Mandarin, praising of Xi Jinping and his party officials and in some cases the renunciation of the Islamic faith. These measures are taken straight from previous examples of former totalitarian prison camps, including routine brainwashing and torture with everything from batons to needles. The policies are not just anti-Muslim, but stem from an ingrained and culturallyprominent skepticism of religion that stems from the establishment of Communism in the country.
The Chinese government is quick to denounce and crack down on what it sees as a threat to its way of life. China has indeed suffered terrorist attacks, including a July 2014 assault on police headquarters and offices that killed 96. Other wellknown acts of terrorism have included a crowd-ramming in Beijing in Oct. 2013 and a knife attack in Xinjiang in early 2017. These incidents have lead to a massive overreaction that hardly justifies recent countermeasures. Human rights efforts have failed to address the problem because of the China’s economic prowess and its recent measures. such as the Belt and Road Initiative. These evolving transportation and trading routes stretch through several countries, with one of the most important routes stretching through Xinjiang.
Saudi Arabia is even supporting China’s response, claiming that China has every right to “carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security,” as quoted in The Telegraph. The situation is still developing and doesn’t seem likely to resolve soon.