Washington: As China is keenly engaged to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), that will link Chinese economy with major continental and maritime zones of the Eurasian continent, the people in its own Xinjiang province are living in dismay.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the hub of three of the six “economic corridors” at the heart of BRI.
“Rather, China has constructed a dystopic vision of governance in Xinjiang to rival that of any science-fiction blockbuster”, wrote Michael Clarke, an associate professor at the National Security College, Australian National University in The National Interest – an American bimonthly international affairs magazine.
Clarke, who is an internationally recognised expert on the history and politics of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region wrote, “The Chinese Communist Party has since 1949 pursued a strategy of tight political, social and cultural control to integrate Xinjiang and its people into the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This has periodically stimulated violent opposition from the Uyghur population who chafe against demographic dilution, political marginalisation and continued state interference in the practice of religion”.
“Stability” in Xinjiang is however now a major strategic imperative for the party, driven by periodic terrorist attacks in, or connected to, Xinjiang by Uyghurs that Beijing blames on an externally-based organisation, the “Turkestan Islamic Party” (TIP) and the region’s role as hub of key elements of the BRI.
“This obsession with “stability” in Xinjiang has seen the regional government’s expenditure on public security balloon, with provincial spending on public security in 2017 amounting to approximately $ 9.1 billion — a 92 per cent increase on such spending in 2016″, wrote Clarke.
Much of this expenditure has been absorbed by the development of a pervasive, hi-tech “security state” in the region, including use of facial recognition and iris scanners at checkpoints, train stations and gas stations, collection of biometric data for passports, and mandatory apps to cleanse smartphones of potentially subversive material.
“This system is not only reliant on technology but also significant manpower to monitor, analyse and respond to the data it collects. Its roll-out has thus coincided with the recruitment of an estimated 90,000 new public security personnel in the region”, Clarke wrote in The National Interest.
This is consistent with the party’s move toward tech-driven ‘social management’ throughout the rest of China. However, in Xinjiang it has become defined by a racialised conception of “threat” in which the Uyghur population is conceived of as a “virtual biological threat to the body of society.”
From government officials describing Uyghur “extremism” as a “tumour” to equating religious observance with a virus, the party’s discourse frames key elements of Uyghur identity as pathologies to be “cured.”
He concluded by saying, “The party’s “cure” for such pathologies is a programme of mass internment of Uyghurs – perhaps up to one million people according to some estimates – in prison-like “re-education” centres based on analysis of the data harvested through its system of predictive policing.”