China: re-engineering the Uighur

BY Louisa Lim
7 November 2018 15:30 AEDT

These chilling words are stated in an internal document, reported by news agency AFP, and encapsulate Beijing’s policy towards its ethnic Uighur minority. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, Beijing rejected criticism of its practice of interring ethnic Uighurs in indoctrination camps in the Xinjiang province as “politically driven”.

But accounts from exiled Uighurs and Xinjiang scholars point to one chilling fact: those internment camps – hidden from view except to satellites far above – represent one of the more visible planks of an overarching attack on Uighurs.

Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.

Beijing’s strategy of breakage is also happening outside of the re-education camps, using tactics ranging from city planning to intrusive homestay visits that have atomised Uighur communities. “Uighur people use ‘we’ more than ‘I’,” says Nury Turkel, co-founder of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, describing how communal life is integral to Uighur identity.

Accounts point to one chilling fact: the re-education camps represent one of the visible planks of an overarching attack on Uighurs.

To break the lineage is to forbid communication with overseas family members. In interviews I conducted along with ANU’s Graeme Smith, every family we spoke to among the Uighur community in Adelaide had been forced to cut off ties with family members inside China.

“My husband is struggling at the moment to deal with everything,” Meyassar Ablat told us, as her husband, Dolkun, sat beside her, tears flowing down his cheeks. When he rang his family inside China, they would hang up. The couple had started tabulating names of those they knew in camps; there were already 28 names on the list.

In an Orwellian twist, the state is effectively replacing Uighur family members with state-approved “uncles” and “aunties”. These are one million government workers, many of them Han Chinese, “assigned as relatives to Uighur villagers for [an] ethnic unity campaign”, in the words of the Global Times.