China Says People of Xinjiang Happier Despite Condemnation Over Camps

A Chinese government report into conditions in Xinjiang claimed Uyghurs and other minorities are living in an "optimal period of development" thanks to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.

The white paper produced by China's State Council on Wednesday offered a conflicting narrative to the one put forward by rights groups and the striking testimony of survivors and family members. Beijing says reports about human rights violations in the country's northwest have been fabricated.

The report, carried by China's Xinhua official press agency, appears to be part of a consistent and coordinated effort to deny allegations of abuse in the autonomous region and to actively reshape the public's understanding of human rights, freedom and democracy.

The document, titled "Respecting and Protecting the Rights of All Ethnic Groups in Xinjiang," begins by claiming Xinjiang has been a part of China since the year 60 BCE. It also notes the region was liberated from "invading imperialist forces" in 1949, with the founding of the People's Republic of China.

It places special emphasis on the Chinese government's seemingly successful efforts to combat "religious extremism" in the region, which it blamed for a series of riots and deadly attacks in the decade leading up to 2015.

Besides mentioning the drafting of "counter-terrorism" laws and regulations to "strike hard at terrorist activities," the white paper also references the "re-education camps" human rights organizations say are mass detention facilities that have housed at least a million Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic minorities in recent years.

China's cabinet report calls the facilities "vocational education and training centers," but it doesn't elaborate on their internal workings, noting only that they have been successful in preventing terror attacks in Xinjiang since 2016.

"The infiltration of extremism has been effectively curbed, and the right to life of people of all ethnic groups has been fully protected," it declares. The document describes religious extremists as forcing women to wear burqas and men beards, as well as forbidding activities such as watching TV, listening to the radio, reading newspapers, crying at funerals, laughing at weddings, singing and dancing.

Heightened Attention From the West

Released at a time of heightened attention on Chinese policies in Xinjiang, especially from Western governments, the report praises the region's reformed judicial system, which includes 74 new circuit courts, where more than 90 percent of cases are decided at the first instance.

Along with the rest of the country, Xinjiang managed to eliminate "absolute poverty" by the end of 2020, the paper said, lifting many rural residents above the poverty line, which China defines as 2,300 yuan ($356) a year. President Xi led celebrations in the capital and declared "complete victory" over absolute poverty in the country in February.

Among other striking statistics to emerge in the report are numbers about the area's higher education system. Of the 2.1 million Xinjiang university graduates in 2020, only about one-third belonged to ethnic minority groups. The remainder were presumably Han, the country's largest ethnic group.

The white paper concludes with a rejection of what it called "rumors, distortions, and complete fabrications" by foreign media and politicians. "Their goals are to discredit China, interfere in China's internal affairs, restrict China's development, and destroy stability and prosperity in Xinjiang," it said.

The final paragraph reserves special credit for the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its leader, Xi, who has made Xinjiang "stable and orderly."

Human Rights Concerns

"It is experiencing an optimal period of development," the report said. All the people of Xinjiang will happier and more prosperous for it, the government concluded.

While Beijing is repeating its claims, it refuses to allow an independent assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Governments led by the U.S. are seeking to ensure China doesn't benefit from any exploitation of the Uyghurs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which will bar all products made in Xinjiang unless importers can prove they were acquired from a clean supply chain. The bill still needs to go through the House as well as President Joe Biden before it can be enforced.

Irreconcilable differences over human rights in Xinjiang and the crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong have led lawmakers in the West to call for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

On July 8, a cross-party group of parliamentarians in the United Kingdom called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson encourage a diplomatic, business and fan boycott of the event next year.

The same day, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling on European Union member states to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games by declining invitations from Beijing.

China Denies Xinjiang Uyghurs Subject to Detention
File photo taken on June 4, 2019, showing the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images