By Zak Doffman
After last week’s controversial visit to Xinjiang by the head of the UN’s Counterterrorism Office, Beijing has responded to international concerns that such a trip was “inappropriate” by again claiming that the surveillance state in place to monitor the Muslim Uighur population is justified by the security context.
Russian diplomat Vladimir Voronkov was invited to the region by Beijing and reached a “broad consensus” during counter-terrorism discussions with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng.
The U.S. responded by conveying “deep concerns” about the visit. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told UN secretary-general António Guterres “such a visit is highly inappropriate in view of the unprecedented repression campaign underway in Xinjiang against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims.”
A U.S. State Department statement added that “the UN’s topmost counterterrorism official is putting at risk the UN’s reputation and credibility on counterterrorism and human rights by lending credence to these false claims.”
Now Beijing has hit back, with government mouthpiece the Global Times claiming that “people will realize how precious the Xinjiang experience is if they compare the region to Chechnya, Afghanistan and Syria… While the West plays word games and a political game of ‘go’ on the Xinjiang question, the region’s governments at all levels are pursuing peace, stability and prosperity for all people living there. Time will prove the achievements of China’s governance in Xinjiang.”
A UN Security Council diplomat told Reuters that “China will, and is, actively saying that what they’re doing in Xinjiang is good terrorism prevention.”
And this was very much the theme of the Global Times response, which asserted that the region’s “vocational education and training centers,” otherwise known as internment camps, “are a helpful tryout of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. People brainwashed by extreme thoughts can learn skills to help them return to society… These measures protect people living in Xinjiang from the dangers of terrorism, safeguard social stability and promote economic development.”
“The visit by Voronkov,” the diplomat told Reuters, “validates their narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue when we would see it more as a human rights issue… silence could be seen as implicit acceptance, at worst UN complicity.”
The Xinjiang rhetoric has materially increased between Washington and Beijing this year, with a U.S. official even likening the region’s detention centers to concentration camps. Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security, told reporters such terminology was “appropriate,” given “the magnitude of the detention – [with] at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens out of a population of about ten million, so a very significant portion of the population.”
A Chinese government spokesperson attacked those comments as “gross interference in China’s internal affairs… Once again, we urge the relevant U.S. individual to respect the fact, abandon bias, exercise prudence in words and deeds, stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs and earnestly contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between us.”
The latest response is more attack-minded and comes at a time when U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is headline news given the building tensions with Iran.
“The U.S. counter-terrorism tool is to go to war in Afghanistan and the Middle East at cost of a shocking number of innocent lives,” opined the Global Times. “That’s why the U.S. and other Western countries should learn from Xinjiang’s experience. Accusing counter-terrorism activities in Xinjiang of harming human rights is disrespecting the lives of people there. They humiliate the lofty concept of human rights… Counter-terrorism is a global challenge. The situation in Xinjiang has fundamentally improved with a large amount of work but relatively small social cost.”