Leaked Documents Detail Xi Jinping’s Extensive Role in Xinjiang Crackdown
A panel of lawyers and activists in the U.K. has published what it describes as leaked Chinese government documents that shed additional light on the role leader Xi Jinping played in directing the Communist Party’s campaign of forcible assimilation against religious minorities in the country’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Copies of the documents, some marked top secret, describe internal speeches delivered by Mr. Xi and other senior party leaders regarding circumstances in Xinjiang between 2014 and 2017, the period when the assimilation campaign was conceived and launched.
The documents show Mr. Xi warning about the dangers of religious influence and unemployment among minorities, and emphasizing the importance of “population proportion,” or the balance between minorities and Han Chinese, for maintaining control in the region.
The document copies were posted on Tuesday to the website of the Uyghur Tribunal, a nongovernment group that has convened hearings in London about allegations of human-rights abuses committed against Ugyhurs, the largest minority group in Xinjiang.
Adrian Zenz, a Minnesota-based researcher of Chinese ethnic policy, said he was tapped by the Uyghur Tribunal to authenticate the documents, which he did with the help of two peer reviewers.
The documents are likely among a cache reported on by the New York Times in 2019, Mr. Zenz said. The New York Times published the text of roughly a dozen pages, but did not fully reproduce any one document. Mr. Zenz said that while the New York Times report showed Mr. Xi’s direct involvement in planning the party’s campaign in Xinjiang, the complete collection of documents paints a fuller picture.
“The personal influence of Xi on many details of this atrocity is significantly greater than we realized,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry accused Mr. Zenz and the Uyghur Tribunal of spreading rumors, adding that the tribunal had no legal standing. “No matter how these anti-China clowns perform, the development of China’s Xinjiang will only be better and better,” it said.
The source of the leak couldn’t be determined. A spokeswoman for the New York Times confirmed that the documents released by the Uyghur Tribunal were reported on by the newspaper in 2019, adding that the newspaper didn’t leak them to the tribunal.
Xinjiang, located on the doorstep of Central Asia, is home to roughly 14 million Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities. Human-rights activists and scholars say Chinese authorities in the region have locked up a million or more Uyghurs and other minorities in internment camps as part of a sweeping ethnic-assimilation campaign that also includes restrictions on religious practices, political indoctrination, forced labor, family separations and strict imposition of birth-control measures.
The Communist Party’s policies in Xinjiang have led to sanctions from the U.S. and other Western countries and helped drive calls among human-rights activists to boycott the coming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Chinese authorities describe the camps as vocational training facilities and portray their campaign in the region as an innovative approach to confronting religious extremism. For decades, Beijing has battled a small and sporadically violent separatist movement in Xinjiang, which occupies a central place in Mr. Xi’s trillion-dollar infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.
Scholars trace the party’s campaign in Xinjiang to a series of attacks by Uyghur separatists, including one in Beijing and another in the southwestern city of Kunming, in 2013 and 2014. Mr. Xi visited Xinjiang shortly after the Kunming attack, kicking off what he called a “people’s war on terror.”
Most of the documents published Tuesday date to the spring of 2014. In an accompanying overview, Mr. Zenz wrote that he authenticated the documents in part by comparing their contents against state media reports about the party’s campaign in Xinjiang and other government documents later made public.
The Uyghur Tribunal decided not to publish the original documents in order to protect the source of the leak, according to Mr. Zenz. Instead, it published transcriptions of the originals that reproduce their appearance and content, minus any markings that might reveal their origin.
In numerous instances, Mr. Zenz noted, phrases first uttered by Mr. Xi in the 2014 speeches later appeared in government policy documents or were repeated by and attributed to other senior officials.
A transcript of a speech Mr. Xi gave at a meeting on Xinjiang in May 2014, for example, quotes him saying the Communist Party “must not hesitate or waver in the use of the weapons of the people’s democratic dictatorship and focus our energy on executing a crushing blow” against the forces of religious extremism in Xinjiang.
The official Xinjiang Daily newspaper attributed virtually the same quote to the region’s then-top official, Zhang Chunxian, the following month.
Mr. Xi’s May 2014 speech also foreshadowed a sweeping labor program for Uyghurs in textiles and other industries that labor activists allege often involves coercion, and which has led to a U.S. ban on imported products made using Xinjiang cotton.
“Xinjiang’s employment problems are prominent. Large numbers of unemployed people left to idle about are liable to provoke trouble,” Mr. Xi said, according to the document. Work in enterprises, by contrast, is “conducive to ethnic interaction, exchanges and blending.”
In another previously unpublished speech, Mr. Xi argued that “population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability.” The phrase was repeated word-for-word six years later by a senior Xinjiang official in warning that the Han Chinese share of the population in Uyghur-dominated southern Xinjiang was “too low” at 15%.
“One sentence by Xi is enough to influence an entire policy,” Mr. Zenz said.
The documents show Mr. Xi drawing a distinction between “the pure spirit of religion” and religious extremism, arguing that “normal religious activities and the legal rights of the religious world must be protected.” But the Chinese leader also rails against what he describes as religious interference in matters of “secular life,” such as marriage, funerals and the finding of spouses, according to the documents.
In practice, as The Wall Street Journal has reported, Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been threatened with detention or sent to camps for engaging in a variety of commonplace religious practices such as praying daily and owning a Quran.
“Where religion impinges on matters of the state—and of course ‘matters of the state’ is everything, nearly—then that’s religious extremism and is to be combatted,” Mr. Zenz said.
The leaked documents also contain the text of a 2017 speech by Xinjiang Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo, in which he directly links the internment camps to orders from Beijing, listing them alongside the region’s mass surveillance platform as an example of efforts to “fully implement the central goal” laid out for Xinjiang by Mr. Xi.
The Uyghur Tribunal received 11 document files totalling 300 pages, according to Mr. Zenz. They don’t include a question-and-answer script prepared by Xinjiang officials laying out what to say to returning Uyghurs about detained family members that was part of the 2019 New York Times report.
The tribunal published transcripts of only three of the 11 documents on Tuesday, with other transcripts to be released in the future, Mr. Zenz said.
David Tobin, a Xinjiang scholar at the U.K.’s University of Sheffield, and James Millward, a Georgetown University historian, reviewed the original documents and Mr. Zenz’s analysis. While many of the ideas about religion and management of ethnic minorities have appeared previously in China, Mr. Tobin said, the leaked documents mark a shift because they come from the center of power.
“It’s not an ideology for you to study or ponder, it’s an order,” he said of the message Mr. Xi is sending to officials. “You can’t resist or object.”
Author: Josh Chin, The Wall Street Journal