Written by Ond?ej Klimeš.
Academics, journalists and rights groups have recently documented the accelerating repression of the 11-million strong Uyghur population living in Xinjiang, a spacious, strategic and resource-rich northwestern borderland of China. The burgeoning security apparatus, ubiquitous surveillance, gathering of biometrics, the use of big data, and similar technological features of Chinese authoritarianism have invited comparisons of Xinjiang to an open-air prison or to the dystopian visions captured in Orwell’s 1984 or Zamyatin’s We.
The securitisation of the Xinjiang policy under Xi Jinping reveals several “new circumstances”. A stable Xinjiang is essential for China’s vital energy security infrastructure and expansive foreign initiatives, such as Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In contrast to previous administrations, the Xi leadership has resolved to treat the “Xinjiang problem” as a primarily ethnic issue stemming from insufficient integration of the Uyghur community. On the national scale, the Xi leadership’s growing concerns with maintaining the power of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have triggered a massive consolidation of the party-state apparatus and attacks on potentially subversive constituencies such as ethnic minorities, religious groups, lawyers and rights activists, and journalists. The security push is also enabled by adopting new technologies, many of which are being tested in Xinjiang on Uyghurs and which the CPC expects to turn China into a 21st century cyber-power.