Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - China rolls out PR push on Muslim internments

China rolls out PR push on Muslim internments

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ethnic Uighurs take part in a protest march on April 27 asking for the European Union to call upon China to respect human rights in the Chinese Xinjiang region and asking for the closure of ‘re-education center’ where some Uighurs are detained. EMMANUEL DUNAND/afp

China rolls out PR push on Muslim internments

CHINA on Tuesday issued an ardent defence of the alleged mass internment of minorities in its far west Xinjiang region, with a regional official insisting that authorities are preventing terrorism through “vocational education” centres.

Beijing has sought to counter a global outcry against the facilities with a series of op-eds and interviews and a roll out of new regulations that retroactively codify the use of a system of extra-judicial “reeducation” camps in Xinjiang.

Up to one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities are believed to be held in such centres, according to estimates cited by a United Nations panel.

Former inmates have said they found themselves incarcerated for transgressions such as wearing long beards and face veils or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media, a process that echoes the decades of brutal thought reform under Mao Zedong.

The programme has come under increasing fire from the international community, receiving particular censure from the United States and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Chinese authorities initially denied the existence of the facilities. But they have changed their tune as satellite imagery and documents issued by their own government have made that position untenable.

In recent weeks the story has shifted from outright dismissal to acknowledgement that the camps exist, with the caveat that they are being used primarily for “vocational education” in a bid to halt separatist sentiments and religious extremism.

In a rare interview with China’s official Xinhua news service published Tuesday, the chairman of Xinjiang’s government, Shohrat Zakir, defended the use of the centres, saying that the region was now “safe and stable”.

The official did not say how many people were being held in the centres.

“Through vocational training, most trainees have been able to reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism,” he said.

‘Eradicating extremism’

Zakir said the facilities were intended to improve job skills and Mandarin abilities among minorities with “a limited command of the country’s common language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law”.

Those who struggled to find work as a result, he added, were “vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism”.

He said that the “free” programmes were limited in duration, “trainees” signed a contract with the centres that laid out a clear plan of study and included a stipend.

Asked about the future of the programmes, Zakir said “some trainees” were “expected to complete their courses successfully by the end of this year”.

The comments follow weeks of efforts by Chinese officials and state media to defend China’s actions in Xinjiang, where riots and attacks led to hundreds of deaths in recent years.

Op-eds by Chinese diplomats have appeared in newspapers around the world, arguing that the programme is an effective means of eliminating the threat posed to the region by religious extremism.

An editorial in the nationalist tabloid the Global Times warned foreign governments on Tuesday not to meddle in Xinjiang’s affairs.

“Obviously vocational education is a periodic and temporary plan aimed at eradicating extremism,” it said, adding that criticism was “just messing up the whole thing and creating a narrative against China”.

Taking to Twitter – a social media platform that is blocked in China – the paper’s editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said officials had told him the official figures for the number of people in “vocational education” were “much fewer than the ‘1 million or so’ speculated by the outside world”.

“Chinese officials didn’t reveal the true number to avoid falling into the stats trap, giving Western media another excuse to hype up the issue,” he added.

The positive image of the centres portrayed in the PR drive is belied by testimonies from former detainees who describe harsh treatment in the facilities.

Critics have warned that mass incarcerations and forced cultural assimilation of China’s western Muslim minorities risk further inflaming and perpetuating separatist anger.

MOST VIEWED

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Oz lauds Kingdom’s passage of money laundering laws

    In a press release published by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, the country applauded Cambodia’s stance on transnational crimes as well as its promulgation of an anti-money laundering law and a law on combating proliferation financing. The praise came after King

  • Lotus face masks designed to cover globe

    A French designer in Cambodia has produced ecological face masks from lotus fibre to supply local and international markets with an eye on preserving ancestral techniques and supporting Cambodian women in rural communities. During a trip to Asia, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, was

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Planning ministry hands out cash to 420,000 poor families in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Planning has identified 20,000 more poor families in the country, bringing the total to over 580,000, while over 420,000 of them have received the government’s cash assistance. In the meantime, many social security cards from families not deemed to be poor have been revoked.

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting