Hundreds of pages of leaked Chinese state documents that were recently published implicate top members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
The documents were given to the Uyghur Tribunal, a U.K.-based non-governmental organization investigating allegations of “serious international crimes” in Xinjiang.
Called the Xinjiang Papers, some of those documents were used in a 2019 New York Times report, but not all of them were released to the public.
In response to the latest releases, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency posted an item headlined “Xinjiang residents refute Western ‘cultural genocide’ fabrications.”
That article quoted Tenna Kalimwa, a “representative inheritor” of the Saban Festival, an annual cultural festival of the Tatar ethnic group. Kalimwa reiterated the official CCP line that minorities in Xinjiang have not been persecuted.
“The country supports the protection of the traditional culture of ethnic minorities and provides us with such good conditions to carry on our traditions,” Xinhua quoted Kalimwa as saying. “Who has seen this kind of 'genocide?' The malicious lies will eventually break in the face of facts.”
The claim that the CCP protects the traditional culture of ethnic minorities is false. The newly-released documents add to a body of public evidence that the top Chinese Communist Party leadership is responsible for grave human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Polygraph.info and others have reported on alleged rights abuses in Xinjiang that critics say amount to demographic and cultural genocide.
Among the allegations:
- 1 million to 3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been interned in facilities for so-called “re-education” and other “training.”
- The CCP has used forced sterilizations, intrauterine devices and other forms of forced birth control to reduce the Uyghur population.
- Chinese authorities have destroyed thousands of mosques and other religious sites in the region, corresponding with a broader stifling of religious freedom.
- Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been subjected to forced labor under the pretext of poverty alleviation.
- Uyghurs have been forced to invite Han Chinese officials into their homes and report on their lives as a form of “forced assimilation.”
So what’s new?
Adrian Zenz, a scholar who has written extensively about the Uyghurs' situation, says the recently-released documents implicate high-ranking Chinese government officials, including President Xi Jinping.
“The big deal is that Xi Jinping really set the stage for the internment and re-education camps, and also focused on the forced labor transfers for promoting employment in factories and for population-equalizing birth control, which sounds quite innocuous on paper, but if you identify and compare the exact same phrase in policy documents in Xinjiang, you will realize that the implication is much bigger than that,” Zenz told Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
According to Zenz, the documents show that Premier Li Keqiang and others “directly and indirectly demanded policies” perpetuating the mistreatment of Uyghurs.
Citing the 2019 New York Times report, Zenz noted that Chen Quanguo, who became party secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2016, ordered local officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”
However, the Times did not show that Xi had issued a similar command in 2014: “Those who should be seized should be seized, and those who should be sentenced should be sentenced.”
In a piece published by Politico on November 27, Zenz wrote that The New York Times had only published a few transcribed pages from the Xinjiang Papers, quoting “from several but not all documents.”
Zenz said the latest document release appears to be the first time “material with ‘top secret’ statements made by a Chinese head of state have leaked into the public domain.”
Chinese state media has repeatedly accused Zenz, whose research has widely been cited in Western media reports on the situation in Xinjiang, of being “a right-wing Christian” seeking to slander the CCP.
Xinjiang authorities have threatened legal action against Zenz for telling “blatant lies” and serving as a “puppet of the anti-China forces in the West.”
Some non-Chinese critics have accused Western media and NGOs of over-relying on Zenz, claiming his research is not peer reviewed. It should be noted that the latest documents were not initially provided to Zenz, but the Uyghur Tribunal, which received them in September. The tribunal then asked Zenz to analyze them.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that the original Xinjiang Papers were peer reviewed by James Millward, a professor at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University who teaches Chinese, Central Asian and world history; and David Tobin, a lecturer in east Asian studies at Britain’s University of Sheffield.
According to Tobin, evidence supports Zenz’s argument “that targeting of Uyghurs intensified under Xi Jinping’s commands.”
Tobin, who read the official documents which make up the Xinjiang Papers, found their “content matches what we have observed in mosque demolitions, mass internment, coercive birth controls, forced labor, ‘population optimization’ as euphemism for dispersal, and ‘Sinicization (changing through Chinese influence) of religion.’ ”
He found “the documents demonstrate how policy in Xinjiang is designed, disseminated, and implementation monitored and policed by top levels of the party-state.”
Millward also said he is confident the documents he reviewed “are scans of original Chinese government documents,” which are “substantially the same” as documents obtained (but not published or made available) by The New York Times.
Following the 2019 Times expose, the Xinjiang government alleged the newspaper’s report had been “fabricated” at the behest of hostile domestic and foreign forces.
Xinjiang’s opaque media environment complicates efforts at verification.
However, the testimony of camp survivors and other witnesses, and the work of scholars, rights activists and investigative reporters, has been consistent with many of the allegations.
Satellite imagery has demonstrated the existence of internment camps and provided evidence of mosque demolitions.
In July 2019, the United Nations’ top human rights body called on Beijing to provide “meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent international observers, including for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
In October 2020, the United States joined 38 other U.N. member states in condemning abuses against the Uyghurs. The U.S. government and others say some of those abuses are tantamount to genocide.
China has denied the allegations, claiming that many of the measures target the "three evils of terrorism, extremism, and separatism" in Xinjiang.
China has denied the existence of internment camps, claiming they are part of a “vocational education and training program," and accusations of forced labor. It claims jobs programs for Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, like the vocational education and training centers, are intended to reduce poverty (and the roots of extremism).
Beijing has also denied allegations that it is attempting to reduce the Uyghur population through family planning policies, or infringe on religious rights through mosque "rectification" programs and other policies that critics say curtail traditional expressions of religious faith and Uyghur culture.
Beijing says the allegations of genocide and forced labor are aimed at halting China's development.
The United Nation Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts of killing and other measures intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.
Cultural genocide does not qualify as genocide under the U.N. Genocide Convention. But Zenz and others argue that Beijing's population control policies against Uyghur Muslims have led to dramatic population declines and fit the legal definition of genocide.