China is expanding its detention centers to hold Muslim minorities in its western region of Xinjiang, according to an Australian think tank.
An investigation by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified and mapped out over 380 sites across Xinjiang, including re-education camps, detention centers, and prisons that have been newly built or expanded since 2017.
China has faced growing international criticism over its persecution of Muslim minority groups, many of which allegedly remain held in internment camps.
Chinese government officials have continued to defend its indoctrination camps, dubbing them vocational training centers in which inmates learn life and job skills. Beijing has also asserted that camps are being wound down as former camp inmates rejoin society as reformed, “graduated” citizens.
However, the report undermines the notion that the camps are shrinking, finding many detainees were being sent to prisons and other facilities based on satellite images of new and expanded incarceration sites.
Because of barriers created by the Chinese government preventing close investigations into Xinjiang, the researchers for the report focused on nighttime satellite images of Xinjiang, finding new lights in low-population areas.
Without the long-distance scrutiny, Chinese officials have made it almost impossible for foreign journalists to conduct interviews safely in the region, the New York Times reported. Access to the camps is also limited to selected visitors, who are taken on choreographed tours that show inmates often singing and dancing.
James Millward, a professor of international history at Georgetown University who has been tracking the plight of Uighurs, told the Washington Post that the camps are China’s way of trying to control the population in Xinjiang.
“They exist as a threat,” Millward said. “[The authorities] can go to people and say: ‘We want you to move 600 miles and work in a factory, or your father better not object to this marriage that’s been set up for you by the party committee. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as an extremist.’”
Timothy Grose, an associate professor of China studies at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, echoed those concerns to the New York Times.
“In my opinion, we are witnessing a new stage in the crisis,” Grose said. “Some detainees have been released. Others have been placed in factories, while others still have been sentenced.”
The Trump administration has taken steps to crack down on China, recently trying to block imports from Xinjiang, which produces the majority of Chinese cotton.
“This is not a vocational center. It is a concentration camp — a place where religious and ethnic minorities are subject to abuse and forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the Homeland Security Department’s deputy secretary. “This is modern-day slavery. President Trump has been very clear: This administration will not tolerate the egregious human rights violations that are taking place in China.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the treatment of Uighurs by the Chinese government as the “stain of the century,” with the administration reportedly in the works of declaring China’s actions as a genocide.
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