China's Draconian System of Oppression Against Xinjiang's Uyghurs Revealed in Report

New research into China's ongoing "war against Uyghurs" has unraveled the vast political mechanism behind seven years of suspected oppression against the indigenous inhabitants of Xinjiang, where Beijing has installed a model of "grassroots governance" that could be exported to the rest of the country.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published its new International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) report on Tuesday, with major governments including the United States yet to announce a coordinated response to what they consider to be China's human rights abuses as the world nears the 100-day countdown to the start of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

ASPI researchers Vicky Xu, James Leibold and Daria Impiombato compiled the 60-page, fully sourced report for a project that involved a review of thousands of pages of leaked police files, the authors said in their summary. In the hours after publication, China's Foreign Ministry accused the think tank of "fabricating" reports, but it didn't address the contents of its latest research.

The study explains how anti-government demonstrations in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi in 2009 eventually led the Chinese leadership—with Xi Jinping at its core—to mobilize a Mao Zedong era-like campaign against what Beijing perceived as extremism and separatism.

According to the study, the system that spawned a regionwide counterterrorism campaign in 2014 and a mass reeducation campaign in 2017 was made possible by a seemingly irreversible multilayered bureaucracy that appears endemic to China's Marxist-Leninist one-party state, according to the study.

The report found nearly 2 million Uyghurs have been detained or subjected to the government's deradicalization work, but millions more continue to live under what ASPI has identified as "community-based control mechanisms" that seeks to mobilize the masses "to help stamp out dissent and instability and to increase the party's domination in the lowest reaches of society."

Its latest investigation reveals some 170 administrative entities that have participated in the governance of Xinjiang over the past seven years, as well as what the authors described as "the hands behind the atrocities"—otherwise ascribed to Xi or the Chinese Communist Party in general.

In detailing the "how and by whom" of Beijing's centralized campaign of oppression against Uyghurs and other minority ethnic groups in northwestern China, the researchers identify, among others, Zhu Hailun—the architect of Xinjiang's reeducation camp system—as well as Harvard-educated Yao Ning, who supervises nine new detention centers in one county in the region.

The system, which the report argues reflects "a wider pattern of authoritarian rule in China," is dominated by overseers who are Han, China's largest ethnic group. The study points to this as another sign of the government's erasure of Uyghurs in a territory nominally named the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

"The crackdown against the Uyghurs has a striking resemblance to Mao-era political campaigns," the ASPI report said. In addition to mass internment and labor assignments, Xinjiang residents are forced to take part in political theater, "such as mass show trials, public denunciation sessions, loyalty pledges, sermon-like 'propaganda lectures,' and chants for Xi Jinping's good health," the authors wrote.

This Cultural Revolution-like, campaign-style governance, they added, "is an intrinsic feature of the Chinese political system that's often overlooked in the current English-language literature."

This political architecture that includes whole-of-society campaigns to "manufacture loyalty, conformity and stability" now permeates everyday life in Xinjiang, "as the party-state seeks to alter how people act and speak," the report said. Xi has "turned to Mao's playbook" to mobilize China's bureaucratic system to manufacture stability and, in the case of its Muslim minorities, uniformity across the nation.

"For policymakers, this report will provide an evidence base to inform policy responses including possible sanctions," wrote Xu, Leibold and Impiombato.

The U.S. and others have already sanctioned a handful of senior Chinese officials believed to be responsible for what the Trump and Biden administrations both declared as "crimes against humanity" and "genocide." Tuesday's ASPI report makes it possible to assign further accountability.

New Report Details China's Oppression Against Ugyhurs
File: This photo taken on June 4, 2019, shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar in China's western Xinjiang region. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images