China Targets Muslim Women in Push to Suppress Births in Xinjiang

Good long and disturbing read. But given all the accounts of Chinese government repression, not all that surprising. Time for more public shaming of the Chinese government, no longer extending speaking invitations to Chinese diplomats and boycotting the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics:

When the government ordered women in her mostly Muslim community to be fitted with contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik pleaded for an exemption. She was nearly 50 years old, she told officials in Xinjiang. She had obeyed the government’s birth limits and had only one child.

It was no use. The workers threatened to take her to the police if she continued resisting, she said. She gave in and went to a government clinic where a doctor, using metal forceps, inserted an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She wept through the procedure.

“I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Ms. Sedik said, choking up as she described the 2017 ordeal. “Like I was missing something.”

Across much of China, the authorities are encouraging women to have more children, as they try to stave off a demographic crisisfrom a declining birthrate. But in the far western region of Xinjiang, they are forcing them to have fewer, as they tighten their grip on Muslim ethnic minorities.

It is part of a vast and repressive social re-engineering campaign by a Communist Party determined to eliminate any perceived challenge to its rule, in this case, ethnic separatism. Over the past few years, the party, under its top leader, Xi Jinping, has moved aggressively to subdue Uyghurs and other Central Asian minorities in Xinjiang, putting hundreds of thousands into internment camps and prisons. The authorities have placed the region under tight surveillance, sent residents to work in factoriesand placed children in boarding schools.

By targeting Muslim women, the authorities are going even further, attempting to orchestrate a demographic shift that will affect the population for generations. Birthrates in the region have already plunged in recent years, as the use of invasive birth control procedures has risen, findings that were previously documented by a researcher, Adrian Zenz, with The Associated Press.

While the authorities have said the procedures are voluntary, interviews with more than a dozen Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim women and men from Xinjiang, as well as a review of official statistics, government notices and reports in the state-run media, depict a coercive effort by the Chinese Communist Party to control the community’s reproductive rights. The authorities pressured women to use IUDs or get sterilized. As they recuperated at home, government officials were sent to live with them to watch for signs of discontent; one woman described having to endure her minder’s groping.

If they had too many children or refused contraceptive procedures, they faced steep fines or, worse, detention in an internment camp. In the camps, the women were at risk of even more abuse. Some former detainees say they were made to take drugs that stopped their menstrual cycles. One woman said she had been raped in a camp.

To rights advocates and Western officials, the government’s repression in Xinjiang is tantamount to crimes against humanityand genocide, in large part because of the efforts to stem the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression as a leading reason; the Biden administration affirmed the label in March.

Ms. Sedik’s experience, reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, helped form the basis for the decision by the United States government. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we had,” said Kelley E. Currie, a former United States ambassador who was involved in the government’s discussions. “It helped to put a face on the horrifying statistics we were seeing.”

Beijing has accused its critics of pushing an anti-China agenda. 

The recent declines in the region’s birthrates, the government has said, were the result of the authorities’ fully enforcing longstanding birth restrictions. The sterilizations and contraceptive procedures, it said, freed women from backward attitudes about procreation and religion.

“Whether to have birth control or what contraceptive method they choose are completely their own wishes,” Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, said at a news conference in March. “No one nor any agency shall interfere.”

To women in Xinjiang, the orders from the government were clear: They didn’t have a choice.

Last year, a community worker in Urumqi, the regional capital, where Ms. Sedik had lived, sent messages saying women between 18 and 59 had to submit to pregnancy and birth control inspections.

“If you fight with us at the door and if you refuse to cooperate with us, you will be taken to the police station,” the worker wrote, according to screenshots of the WeChat messages that Ms. Sedik shared with The Times.

“Do not gamble with your life,” one message read, “don’t even try.”

All her life, Ms. Sedik, an ethnic Uzbek, had thought of herself as a model citizen.

After she graduated from college, she married and threw herself into her work, teaching Chinese to Uyghur elementary school students. Mindful of the rules, Ms. Sedik didn’t get pregnant until she had gotten approval from her employer. She had only one child, a daughter, in 1993.

Ms. Sedik could have had two children. The rules at the time allowed ethnic minorities to have slightly bigger families than those of the majority Han Chinese ethnic group, particularly in the countryside. The government even awarded Ms. Sedik a certificate of honor for staying within the limits.

Then, in 2017, everything changed.

As the government corralled Uyghurs and Kazakhs into mass internment camps, it moved in tandem to ramp up enforcement of birth controls. Sterilization rates in Xinjiang surged by almost sixfold from 2015 to 2018, to just over 60,000 procedures, even as they plummeted around the country, according to calculations by Mr. Zenz.

The campaign in Xinjiang is at odds with a broader push by the government since 2015 to encourage births, including by providing tax subsidies and free IUD removals. But from 2015 to 2018, Xinjiang’s share of the country’s total new IUD insertions increased, even as use of the devices fell nationwide.

The contraception campaign appeared to work.

Birthrates in minority-dominated counties in the region plummeted from 2015 to 2018, based on Mr. Zenz’s calculations. Several of these counties have stopped publishing population data, but Mr. Zenz calculated that the birthrates in minority areas probably continued to fall in 2019 by just over 50 percent from 2018, based on figures from other counties.

The sharp drop in birthrates in the region was “shocking” and clearly in part a result of the campaign to tighten enforcement of birth control policies, said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology and expert in Chinese population policies at University of California, Irvine. But other factors could include a fall in the number of women of childbearing age, later marriages and postponed births, he said.

As the government pushes back against growing criticism, it has withheld some key statistics, including annually published county-level data on birthrates and birth control use for 2019. Other official data for the region as a whole showed a steep drop in IUD insertions and sterilizations that year, though the number of sterilizations was still mostly higher than before the campaign began.

In Beijing’s depiction, the campaign is a victory for the region’s Muslim women.

“In the process of deradicalization, some women’s minds have also been liberated,” a January report by a Xinjiang government research center read. “They have avoided the pain of being trapped by extremism and being turned into reproductive tools.”

Women like Ms. Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After the IUD procedure, Ms. Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. She later had the device secretly removed, then reinserted. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized.

“The government had become so strict, and I could no longer take the IUD,’” said Ms. Sedik, who now lives in the Netherlands after fleeing China in 2019. “I lost all hope in myself.”

The penalties for not obeying the government were steep. A Han Chinese woman who violated the birth regulations would face a fine, while a Uyghur or Kazakh woman wouldface possible detention.

When Gulnar Omirzakh had her third child in 2015, officials in her northern village registered the birth. But three years later, they said she had violated birth limits and owed $2,700 in fines.

Officials said they would detain Ms. Omirzakh and her two daughters if she did not pay.

She borrowed money from her relatives. Later, she fled to Kazakhstan.

“The women of Xinjiang are in danger,” Ms. Omirzakh said in a telephone interview. “The government wants to replace our people.”

The threat of detention was real.

Three women told The Times they had met other detainees in internment camps who had been locked up for violating birth restrictions.

Dina Nurdybay, a Kazakh woman, said she helped one woman write a letter to the authorities in which she blamed herself for being ignorant and having too many children.

Such accounts are corroborated by a 137-page government document leaked last year from Karakax County, in southwestern Xinjiang, which revealed that one of the most common reasons cited for detention was violating birth planning policies.

Those who refused to terminate illegal pregnancies or pay fines would be referred to the internment camps, according to one government notice from a county in Ili, unearthed by Mr. Zenz, the researcher.

Once women disappeared into the region’s internment camps — facilities operated under secrecy — many were subjected to interrogations. For some, the ordeal was worse.

Tursunay Ziyawudun was detained in a camp in Ili Prefecture for 10 months for traveling to Kazakhstan. She said that on three occasions, she was taken to a dark cell where two to three masked men raped her and used electric batons to forcibly penetrate her. 

“You become their toy,” Ms. Ziyawudun said in a telephone interview from the United States, where she now lives, as she broke down sobbing. “You just want to die at the time, but unfortunately you don’t.”

Gulbahar Jalilova, the third former detainee, said in an interview that she had been beaten in a camp and that a guard exposed himself during an interrogation and wanted her to perform oral sex.

The three former detainees, along with two others who spoke to The Times, also described being regularly forced to take unidentified pills or receive injections of medication that caused nausea and fatigue. Eventually, a few of them said, they stopped menstruating.

The former detainees’ accounts could not be independently verified because tight restrictions in Xinjiang make unfettered access to the camps impossible. The Chinese government has forcefully denied all allegations of abuse in the facilities.

“The sexual assault and torture cannot exist,” said Mr. Xu, the regional spokesman, at a news briefing in February.

Beijing has sought to undermine the credibility of the women who have spoken out, accusing them of lying and of poor morals, all while claiming to be a champion of women’s rights.

Even in their homes, the women did not feel safe. Uninvited Chinese Communist Party cadres would show up and had to be let in. 

The party sends out more than a million workers to regularly visit, and sometimes stay in, the homes of Muslims, as part of a campaign called “Pair Up and Become Family.” To many Uyghurs, the cadres were little different from spies.

The cadres were tasked with reporting on whether the families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior.” For women, this included any resentment they might have felt about state-mandated contraceptive procedures.

When the party cadres came to stay in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized.

Four Han cadres visited her in Urumqi, bringing yogurt and eggs to help with the recovery, she recalled. They were also armed with questions: Did she have any issues with the sterilization operation? Was she dissatisfied with the government’s policy?

“I was so scared that if I said the wrong thing they would send me back to the camps,” said Ms. Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just told them, ‘We are all Chinese people and we have to do what the Chinese law says.’”

But the officials’ unwelcome gaze settled also on Ms. Dawut’s 11-year-old daughter, she said. One cadre, a 19-year-old man who was assigned to watch the child, would sometimes call Ms. Dawut and suggest taking her daughter to his home. She was able to rebuff him with excuses that the child was sick, she said.

Other women reported having to fend off advances even in the company of their husbands.

Ms. Sedik, the Uzbek teacher, was still recovering from a sterilization procedure when her “relative” — her husband’s boss — showed up.

She was expected to cook, clean and entertain him even though she was in pain from the operation. Worse, he would ask to hold her hand or to kiss and hug her, she said.

Mostly, Ms. Sedik agreed to his requests, terrified that if she refused, he would tell the government that she was an extremist. She rejected him only once: when he asked to sleep with her.

It went on like this every month or so for two years — until she left the country.

“He would say, ‘Don’t you like me? Don’t you love me?’” she recalled. “‘If you refuse me, you are refusing the government.’”

“I felt so humiliated, oppressed and angry,” she said. “But there was nothing I could do.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/world/asia/china-xinjiang-women-births.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

US-based academic faces lawsuit for research into Uighurs

Of note:

Companies in China’s Xinjiang province are said to have filed a domestic civil lawsuit against a high-profile United States-based academic whose research into the treatment of China’s Turkic minority Uighur population, including alleged forced labour, has angered the Chinese authorities. 

The reported lawsuit, which the Chinese government has said it supports, appears to be a new way to attempt to silence scholars and critics abroad, experts said.

Chinese official media said this week “a number of enterprises and individuals” in Xinjiang “have directed lawyers to sue German national Adrian Zenz”, the official Global Times newspaper and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday without naming the companies or individuals. 

The companies and individuals are said to have filed a civil lawsuit with a local court in Xinjiang, demanding that Zenz apologise, restore their reputation and compensate them for their losses.

“Local people said that Zenz spread ‘forced labour’ and other rumours related to Xinjiang, which damaged their reputation and caused them to suffer economic losses,” official media said. 

Zenz, formerly from the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal in Germany but now a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in the US, and other academics and journalists have written several hard-hitting reports since 2018 based on satellite imagery and official Chinese documents on the treatment of Uighurs, including documenting rights violations and the detention of up to a million Uighurs in huge camps in Xinjiang.

Mass internments in Xinjiang are believed to have begun in 2017. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied such reports, referring to the camps as “re-education centres”.

Sheena Greitens, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has researched censorship and self-censorship among China academics at overseas universities, said “a lawsuit vs a researcher in a Chinese court is a new tactic” in China’s policing of the boundaries of academic research. 

Greitens said via Twitter that she was interested in who claims damages and how, “but [the] bigger issue is a potential deterrent effect on academic research”.

Forced labour

More than 570,000 Uighurs have been pressed into forced labour in Chinese cotton fields, which are a major supplier to the Western textiles industry, according to a research by Zenz published in December by the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Global Policy. Zenz said his research was based on Chinese official documents available online.

“Anybody who cares or who claims to have anything ethical in their business and supply chains has to divest,” Zenz said in December, referring to the textile industry’s sourcing of Xinjiang cotton. Xinjiang produces a third of China’s cotton.  

Zenz also published a report last week based on previously untranslated documents in Chinese including the so-called Nankai Report, written in 2019 by three academics at Nankai University’s China Institute of Wealth and Economics, including the institute’s dean. 

The Nankai Report is unprecedented in its details, according to Zenz, and implicitly reveals the impact of state coercion from the Nankai researchers’ own field work and surveys. The report talks about security guards accompanying the Uighur labourers, the labour recruitment quota set by the government, and other details in one document.

“The authors’ access to government information and relevant sites was privileged, far exceeding that which could be expected by regular academics,” Zenz noted. Zenz said his assessment on forced labour was supplemented by other reports from Chinese academics and former senior government officials.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative on 1 March said US President Joe Biden’s administration had made it a top priority to address the abuses of China’s forced labour programme targeting Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. 

The previous US administration of former president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Chinese companies acquiring US technology, saying they were complicit in human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang. Other sanctions were imposed on Chinese government officials and a major government department in Xinjiang. 

Chinese government supports legal action

In a 9 March press conference, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, indicated that the government supported the private legal action against Zenz. 

“Many companies and residents in Xinjiang suffered heavy economic losses after Zenz’s rumour of ‘forced labour’ came out of nowhere,” Zhao said, describing Zenz’s reports as “malicious smearing tactics”. China’s official media have frequently sought to discredit Zenz as a Christian “religious extremist” and “pseudo-researcher”.

“Their decision to seek legal redress against Zenz reflects a stronger awareness among the Chinese citizens to safeguard their rights through the law. We support this,” Zhao added. 

Zenz has said it “seems that the lawsuit threat is part of a well-prepared propaganda offensive”. 

He told the Washington Post newspaper this week: “It is the first admission that they really are suffering major economic losses” in China, adding that the lawsuit against him in China shows that US sanctions are beginning to bite.

Jurisdiction and arbitrary detention

Donald Clarke, a law professor specialising in Chinese law at the George Washington University Law School in the US, said in a blog post that jurisdiction for the lawsuit would first have to be established for any case involving Zenz, a foreigner living outside China with no connection to China. 

Since the lawsuit reportedly seeks damages, arguably it could only apply to Zenz’s assets in China, and he has none. But Clarke also raised important issues of arbitrary detention which could affect other academics. 

“People with their assets in the US do not, I think, need to be seriously concerned about this kind of lawsuit. They do, of course, need to be concerned about going to China, because they can be prevented from leaving the country until they pay off the judgment. But if they have already drawn the attention of the Chinese authorities to this extent, they shouldn’t be going in the first place, regardless of whether someone has sued them.

“Moreover, at least in this kind of case they’ll know they’re a target. You can be kept from leaving the country even before a judgment issues against you, merely because you have been sued. You might not even have received notice; the first time you find out is when you show up at the airport and can’t get on your plane.”

Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post-nl.php?story=20210310133012408

Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

Needed debate and action:

Parliamentarians heard from activists during hours-long committee meetings last week who were calling for the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims to be acknowledged as genocide, and a former justice minister says Parliament is uniquely positioned to have a “distinguishable role” in condemning Beijing’s alleged behaviour to build an international partnership to counter China’s bullying.

The House Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard from more than 20 witnesses over 14 hours on July 20 and July 21 about the persecution of the Uyghurs. Many said the mistreatment and abuse of Uyghurs was tantamount to genocide and called for Canada to take a stand.

“Genocide obliges us all—internationally, domestically, governments, Parliaments, civil societies—and here the Canadian Parliament has a distinguishable role to call out genocide,” said Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and now founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. He told The Hill Times that Parliament has set a precedent of playing a leading role in calling out human rights abuses and acts of genocide.

“I think it’s very important that governments act in concert, that Parliaments act in concert, as well as civil society acting in concert in calling out China,” said Mr. Cotler, who was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2015. “If we want to protect the rules-based international order—and justice for the victims in China and accountability for the violators—we’re going to have to do so in concert governmentally and in Parliament.”

“Canada can play a leading role in this,” he said, citing the work that Parliamentarians have previously done raising the issue of genocide prevention, and raising awareness of the Rohingya genocide, among other targeted mass killings.

“China has been assaulting the rules-based international order and committing these international crimes with impunity thus far,” Mr. Cotler said. “They’ve been able to do so with impunity because they have been leveraging their economic and political power, and targeting countries one by one if those countries dare stand up to them.”

“What is needed now is an inter-governmental alliance, an alliance of democracies, so China doesn’t leverage its power and bully countries one by one.”

Some witnesses told the subcommittee that it is necessary for Canada to place sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang where there are reports of mass detentions and forced sterilization of the Uyghur population.

The Associated Press reported on a systematic program to reduce the Muslim population in China, with the government enacting population control measures, which included IUDs and sterilization.

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told the subcommittee that in 2018, 80 per cent of new IUDs in China were placed in Xinjiang, which only makes up 1.8 per cent of China’s population.

The Chinese government has long held that human rights abuses aren’t taking place in Xinjiang and have called the alleged detention facilities “vocational education and training centres” that are being used to combat terrorism.

University of Ottawa international law professor Errol Mendes, who appeared virtually before the subcommittee, said Canada should apply Magnitsky sanctions on the “chief planners of the detention.” He said that should be Xinjiang regional government chairman Shohrat Zakir and Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of the politburo.

Prof. Mendes told The Hill Times that imposing sanctions would prove that Canada is not staying silent and is upholding its commitment as a party to the United Nations Genocide Convention.

He added that the sanctions will “probably not” have tangible results in the short run. In spite of that, Prof. Mendes said when countries have “sufficient proof” that a genocide is taking place, “they must act.”

Magnitsky sanctions have already been applied on Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang by the U.S., including on Mr. Chen.

Prof. Mendes said other levers can also be used, such as stopping companies from purchasing products in their supply lines from Xinjiang, which have reportedly been through forced labour.

He said that a motion of Parliament labelling the actions of the Chinese government as acts of genocide might not have impact for Beijing.

“Sending a direct signal to one of the main politburo members sends a message to President Xi [Jinping],” Prof. Mendes said.

Mr. Cotler said a parliamentary condemnation of the Chinese government’s mistreatment should include sanctions as well.

“Under the Genocide Convention, there is an obligation to act pursuant to that determination and an obligation to hold a country—that is engaged in acts that constitute genocide—accountable,” he said.

It is the responsibility of Canada and the international community to bring justice to the victims and hold criminals accountable, Mr. Cotler said.

University of Ottawa professor John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, said that it is clear that China has been committing genocide based on the Genocide Convention.

According to the convention, an act of genocide is taking place if any of the five conditions are met: killing members of a group; causing “serious bodily harm or mental harm” to member of a group; intentionally “inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”; and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Prof. Packer said it looks “quite clear” that there have been breaches of the convention, adding that “it is very difficult not to draw the negative inference that this is purposeful state policy.”

“That would mean that it is genocide,” he said. “This is not by accident.”

“If China really believes this is all mistaken, they should be entirely open to exposing to international scrutiny what is going on,” he said, adding that if there is a dispute, the convention states it should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

Prof. Packer also noted a party to the Genocide Convention has a duty to prevent acts of genocide.

“If we see something happening and we are silent then there are fundamental issues about how seriously we consider this fundamental norm of international relations,” he said.

“Where such cases [of genocide] are quite clear in terms of international exposure, such as the Rohingya, such as the Uyghurs, it strikes me as extraordinary that we would demure—that we would shuffle our feet and look the other way,” Prof. Packer said.

He added that a motion of Parliament acknowledging a genocide is taking place would set a “very big international symbol.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), his party’s critic of Canada-China relations, said the subcommittee heard “clear-cut” evidence of genocide.

“We should recognize that the Chinese state is guilty of genocide in Xinjiang,” he said, adding that Canada should respond with Magnitsky sanctions and by addressing the possible complicity of investment in Chinese companies that are involved in the oppression in Xinjiang, as well as imported products that are produced through forced labour.

“All of that flows from recognition” that a genocide has taken place, Mr. Genuis said, adding that both the Canadian government and the House of Commons should make that acknowledgement.

Echoing Mr. Cotler, he said there is a need for principled multilateralism of likeminded countries that follow their own obligations in concert with each other.

“What we’ve seen from the government is occasional words but no actions,” Mr. Genuis said. “The government has acknowledged the issue of abuses of human rights involving Uyghurs. They have not used the word ‘genocide,’ they have not used the words ‘crimes against humanity.’ In other words, they haven’t used words that carry international legal significance.”

In a brief to the International Human Rights Subcommittee, Global Affairs noted that Canada is “deeply concerned” about human rights abuses against Uyghurs by Chinese officials.

Canada is urging that Beijing release “Uyghurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily—based on their ethnicity and religion.”

“Publicly and privately, in multilateral fora as well as in bilateral dialogues, Canada has consistently called the Chinese government to address repression in Xinjiang,” the brief notes.

Mr. Genuis said the government hasn’t addressed the issue in areas that have “legal weight.”

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the International Human Rights Subcommittee, said the committee will release a statement on the meetings in early August.

“I think what we pretty universally agreed upon is that there needs to be more done,” she said. “We need to take a stronger stance to ensure that we are protecting human rights around the world. It doesn’t matter where it happens, the rule of law and the protection of human rights is vital.”

Ms. McPherson wouldn’t say whether the subcommittee meetings will lead to a recognition by Parliament that acts of genocide have taken place.

“I will say that the testimony that we heard—the very credible witnesses that we heard from, the survivors that we heard from—there’s pretty strong proof and testimony that there have been acts of genocide perpetrated against the Uyghur people,” she said.

She added that it is vital to figure out a strategy to re-engage on the world stage to jointly address China’s human rights record.

“We’re not ever going to want to do this alone. … We’re never going to want to take giant steps by ourselves. I think we want to work with our multilateral partners and we want to work with our likeminded allies and use those tools at our disposal to put some pressure on China to come back to the side of international law, to come back to the side of protection of human rights.”

Source: Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

You Can’t Force People to Assimilate. So Why Is China at It Again?

Good overview and analysis. Holding the 2020 International Metropolis Conference in Beijing hard to justify, particularly given the spin given by the Centre for China and Globalization (see Fri Jun 28 CCG to host International Metropolis Conference in Beijing in June 2020):

The Chinese government’s campaign of internment in the northwestern region of Xinjiang is extraordinary, by dint of its scale — but also, its contradictions.

Up to 1.5 million people from predominantly Muslim Turkic minorities — Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — have been arbitrarily detained in political re-education camps designed in part to make them renounce their religious beliefs.

At times, the Chinese authorities have portrayed this mass detention campaign as a “strict preventative measure” against violent extremist ideologies. At others, they have called it a benign “vocational training” initiative, comparing detainees to “boarding school students.”

But eyewitnesses — as well as the government’s own documents — reveal that these facilities are prisonlike internment camps that rely on intensive brainwashing procedures and forms of psychological torture. (There also have been reports of physical torture and rape.) Beyond the camps, the state’s social re-engineering efforts involve systematically separating childrenfrom their parents and enlisting more and more adults in forms of forced labor.

Although China has occasionally faced violent resistance from some Uighur groups, notably terrorist attacks in Beijing in 2013and Kunming in 2014, the re-education campaign in Xinjiang isn’t really about combating extremism. (The United States’ antiterrorism czar, Nathan Sales, said as much earlier this month.) Those detained aren’t just young men — the group most vulnerable to radicalization, it is thought — but also the elderly and pregnant women, as well as atheists and converts to Christianity. One can be interned for putting too much gas in one’s car, refusing to smoke in public (abstention is taken to be a sign of piety) or receiving phone calls from relatives overseas. Members of ethnic minorities who said that they had tried everything to become “model Chinese citizens” have reported that those efforts didn’t save them from internment.

Why not? And why is the Chinese government repressing entire ethnic groups when such heavy-handed tactics are likely to only promote resistance and radicalization? And why is it willing to risk alienating Muslim governments in Central Asia and beyond even as President Xi Jinping has made the grand Belt and Road Initiative his flagship international project?

Because the Chinese Communist Party cannot not try to coerce assimilation. Its ultimate goal in Xinjiang — as elsewhere in China — is to exercise complete ideological supremacy, and that also entails trying to transform the very identity of the country’s minorities. The C.C.P. lives in perennial fear that, short of having a complete grip on Chinese society, its long-term survival is in danger.

And so the C.C.P. is doubling down today on a campaign of forced assimilation in Xinjiang that has failed elsewhere in the past.

The party’s current re-education drive is an upgraded version of the Cultural Revolution. This campaign, too, seeks to achieve ideological control by eradicating alternative ideological and belief systems. But it does so in a much more sophisticated and high-tech way. In Xinjiang, reams of personal information about Uighurs and other minorities are entered into police databases after being collected at checkpoints, through feeds from surveillance systems or during house visits.

Only this effort seems to ignore that one effect of the Cultural Revolution was to create a spiritual vacuum and that in the decades since China has experienced various spiritual revivals. Many Uighurs and Tibetans, as well as members of the Han majority, have ardently embraced both traditional and new beliefs.

The number of Christians in China is thought to have increased from 3.4 million in 1950 to about 100 million today — or more than the C.C.P.’s entire membership. Even C.C.P. members have either openly embraced a major religion or have anonymously admittedthat they attend religious services, seek divination, burn incense or keep idols in their homes. Many of the devout see no contradiction between their faith and their patriotism or respect for the party.

Still, the C.C.P.’s campaign of assimilation today continues to target religion, because, in the party’s eyes, religion, which tends to represent a person’s deepest allegiance, competes with loyalty to the state and undercuts the party’s ideological foundation: materialism.

China’s spiritual revival has thoroughly confounded the core Marxist assumption that economic development would naturally extinguish religious beliefs; in fact, it has occurred even as the country has been lifted out of poverty. Increasing wealth also seems to have fueled corruption, including within the C.C.P. — undermining the party’s legitimacy and moral standing. The C.C.P. is now doubly on the ideological defensive.

The government, beyond targeting religion, has also tried to promote ethno-linguistic assimilation — again, through material incentives. Some minorities have pursued a Chinese language education in order to achieve upward social mobility. But many more have only become more entrenched in their distinct ethnic and religious identity.

Earlier this year, Tibetan nomads were told they could obtain state subsidies only if they replaced their altars devoted to Buddhist deities with images of Chinese political leaders. Likewise, Christian villagers in southeast China had previously been told to replace depictions of Jesus with portraits of President Xi if they wanted to continue to receive poverty-alleviation subsidies. Local officials then reportedly claimed, according to social media, that the initiative had successfully “melted the hard ice” in Christians’ “hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party.”