Huge leaks are exposing Xinjiang’s re-education camps. But don’t expect Beijing to back down

CNN News
Date: November 27, 2019
Analysis by: Ben Westcott, CNN

(CNN)The Chinese government's carefully constructed narrative around its Xinjiang detention centers appears to have been shattered by hundreds of pages of leaked documents published by Western media over the last two weeks.

Beijing has long insisted that its vast camps are voluntary "vocational training centers," where people learn job skills and are then free to leave.

Yet the leaks paint a grim picture of heavily fortified re-education centers, designed to turn Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities into good Chinese citizens who also speak Mandarin.

And the students can't leave until they have become just that.

There has been nothing yet to indicate the documents are fake — both the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have published the original versions or verbatim copies on their websites. Even China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not directly disputed their authenticity.

"For all its efforts at secrecy, the Chinese government can no longer hide the extent, and the reach, of its campaign of repression in Xinjiang," regional expert Adrian Zenz wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times this week.

The leaks are hugely embarrassing for Beijing, and there is almost certainly a hunt for the culprit happening now.

But don't expect the Chinese government to demolish the camps and apologize.

The crackdown followed a series of terrorist attacks in the far western region, which has a long history of unrest and protests. Beijing often states that there hasn't been a major incident in the region since 2015, something it attributes to the government's highly controversial policies.

And as far as Beijing is concerned, the world is on its side. By its numbers, more countries have publicly voiced support for China's controversial anti-radicalization policies than opposed them