While attempts to uncover the scale of China's mass detention programme for its Muslim-minority Uighur population have been ongoing for years, a recent leak of classified Chinese government documents is the first time that such a detailed blueprint by the Communist Party for the same has come out into the open.
Dubbed the China Cables, the files were released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with 17 media outlets. The files depict the Chinese state's blueprint for the mass detentions as well as how it operates the AI-driven programme to preventively arrest Uighurs suspected of extremist activity. Among these is a manual, dating to 2017, which shows how extensively-planned the ongoing detention system was planned, with instructions on everything from how to prevent escapes to how to indoctrinate inmates using a points-based system.
According to the files, the camps are heavily guarded and surveilled, with the inmates forced to learn Mandarin and graded based on their proficiency—proving the charge that these are forced indoctrination camps.
Responding to the leaks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says these confirm that China committed human rights abuses of Uighurs and other minority groups. "These reports are consistent with an overwhelming and growing body of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is committing human rights violations and abuses against individuals in mass detention," Pompeo said at a news conference on Tuesday. He added that the human rights abuses being committed by China were not random, but deliberate and ongoing.
Over one million Uighurs are estimated to be detained in China's "vocational education and training centres".
The Uighurs are a Turkish ethnic minority who mostly reside in the country's westernmost Xinjiang province. For years, the region has seen instability and insurgency over calls for the formation of a separate country, East Turkestan. China has responded to these protests with force, with a “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism” campaign being launched in 2014.
Of late, these efforts have included the building of large “re-education” camps that the US has called concentration camps.
According to Human Rights Watch, the camps are hotbeds of human rights violations, with the state targeting ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities.
The ICIJ report sheds light on the scale of China's 'predictive policing' program—the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJIP). The IJIP uses machine learning and big data to flag thousands of Uighurs who are later picked up by law enforcement officials and sent to the detention camps.
According to the ICIJ report, the platform demonstrates "the power of technology to help drive industrial-scale human rights abuses."
The files were compiled after a joint investigation spanning 10 countries was conducted, where several exiled Uighurs and former detainees corraborated its findings.