President Biden is ramping up pressure on Beijing over its alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which include - according to human rights groups - warehousing the Uygher Muslims who populate the far-western region in prisons that double as reeducation centers. The CCP says the Uyghers are receiving job training under the generous supervision of the state.
But while that excuse might fly in China's state-controlled press, thanks in part to President Trump, the US no longer has illusions. Even President Biden has been forced to burnish his tough-on-China credentials by following through on his threats.
His latest round of Hong-Kong-related sanctions and the international condemnation over Beijing's alleged role in organizing massive cyberattacks including the infiltration of Microsoft Exchange has greatly irritated Beijing. The fact that they rug-pulled the Didi IPO shows how serious China is about weening its economy off of American capital and markets (while simultaneously propping up its own markets).
As Biden pushes ahead with the crackdown (much to the chagrin of those intelligence assets who partnered with Hunter Biden in that thinly -veiled influence-peddling operation) Beijing is apparently trying to convince the American public that claims of human rights abuses are overblown.
For that reason, it appears, the Chinese authorities granted reporters from the Associated Press a guided tour of Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center, one of the biggest detention centers in the country. It's located in Dabancheng, a city in Xinjiang.
According to the AP, the Detention Center is one of the largest in China, and possibly one of the largest in the world. It can hold an estimated 10K people, and many more if they are crowded in (like in American prisons). The compound itself is spread across 220 acres. The AP is the first western media outlet to be allowed inside (although the BBC and Reuters have reported from outside the facility).
That China allowed the western journalists in suggests Beijing was trying to send a message: that it isn't trying to hide the program, and expects t continue locking up and "reeducating" Uyghers (and, presumably, any other troublesome minorities) for as long as it takes.
China insists the campaign of imprisoning and terrorizing more than 1MM Uyghers over the past 4 years is a "war against terror". The campaign was preceded by a series of attacks organized by radical Uygher separatists. The prisons, which, according to China, double as "vocational training centers" soon followed. Beijing has made some changes after being confronted with international condemnation. Many Uyghers have been released over the past year. But many others have simply been moved to prisons.
China at first denied their existence, and then, under heavy international criticism, said in 2019 that all the occupants had “graduated.” But the AP’s visit to Dabancheng, satellite imagery and interviews with experts and former detainees suggest that while many “training centers” were indeed closed, some like this one were simply converted into prisons or pre-trial detention facilities. Many new facilities have also been built, including a new 85-acre detention center down the road from No. 3 in Dabancheng that went up over 2019, satellite imagery shows.
The changes seem to be an attempt to move from the makeshift and extrajudicial “training centers” into a more permanent system of prisons and pre-trial detention facilities justified under the law. While some Uyghurs have been released, others have simply been moved into this prison network.
Many Uyghers have been imprisoned for the crime of attending a religious gathering, or traveling abroad.
"We’re moving from a police state to a mass incarceration state. Hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared from the population," Byler said. “It’s the criminalization of normal behavior."
During the April tour of No. 3 in Dabancheng, officials repeatedly distanced it from the “training centers” that Beijing claims to have closed.
"There was no connection between our detention center and the training centers," insisted Urumqi Public Security Bureau director Zhao Zhongwei. “There’s never been one around here.”
One of the reporters' Chinese minders offered a telling comment.
They also said the No. 3 center was proof of China’s commitment to rehabilitation and the rule of law, with inmates provided hot meals, exercise, access to legal counsel and televised classes lecturing them on their crimes. Rights are protected, officials say, and only lawbreakers need worry about detention.
"See, the BBC report said this was a re-education camp. It’s not - it’s a detention center," said Liu Chang, an official with the foreign ministry.
However, a local contractor shared a dramatically different story with the AP.
Records also show that Chinese conglomerate Hengfeng Information Technology won an $11 million contract for outfitting the Urumqi “training center”. A man who answered a number for Hengfeng confirmed the company had taken part in the construction of the “training center,” but Hengfeng did not respond to further requests for comment.
A former construction contractor who visited the Dabancheng facility in 2018 told the AP that it was the same as the “Urumqi Vocational Skills Education and Training Center,” and had been converted to a detention facility in 2019, with the nameplate switched. He declined to be named for fear of retaliation against his family.
“All the former students inside became prisoners,” he said.
We can't help but point out that the description of the site doesn't sound like any school we have ever seen: it's surrounded by a concrete wall with watchtowers, and electric wire. In one corner of the compound, the journalists could see masked inmates sitting in rigid formation. When the "students" consult with their lawyers in special rooms, they are strapped to their seats.
The AP reported on documents showing some detainees were arrested for sharing religious texts, or even just downloading a file-sharing application to their phones - or simply just for being deemed an "untrustworthy person."
All in the name of fighting terrorism.