Order from ChaosUnderstanding China’s ‘preventive repression’ in XinjiangSheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, and Emir YaziciWednesday, march 4, 2020
Editor's Note:What is happening in Xinjiang is deeply concerning and also abhorrent. Trying to adjust it, however, is difficult. Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, and also Emir Yazici create that any type of attempt to do so requires a full and clear understanding of the danger perceptions that space driving China’s behavior in the region, an especially this many recent strategy of intensified cumulative repression. This item originally showed up on Lawfare.

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) crackdown top top Uighur and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region (XUAR) has actually attracted intense scrutiny and also polarized the international community. At least 1 million people, maybe as plenty of as 1.5 million, have been detained in a huge network that recently created camps, wherein they undergo forced reeducation and also political indoctrination.

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Sheena Chestnut Greitens

Nonresident senior Fellow - international Policy, center for east Asia policy Studies


These developments have shaped not only Chinese residential politics but also international politics and debate. Chinese authorities have actually put push on Uighur diaspora networks, enhancing surveillance and pressuring other countries in i beg your pardon Uighurs live come repatriate them to China. Beijing has additionally attempted to build an worldwide coalition in assistance of that policies: When 22 nations sent a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council asking China to prevent its involuntary internments in Xinjiang, that letter was countered by an additional letter from 37 countries defending the government’s “counter-terrorism, deradicalization and also vocational training policies.” The concern has also fueled U.S.-China tension and resulted in U.S. Sanctions against Chinese individuals and also companies.

What is happening in Xinjiang is deep concerning and abhorrent. Make the efforts to readjust it, however, is difficult. Any attempt to carry out so needs a full and also clear understanding of the risk perceptions that are driving China’s actions in the region, specifically this many recent strategy of intensified collective repression.

Understanding China’s Repressive Strategy in Xinjiang

CCP plan in Xinjiang escalated sharply in spring 2017, after ~ XUAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo returned native a large, publicly reported main National defense Commission symposium in Beijing. The time of this escalation is puzzling, offered that public defense officials had actually been speak for some time that their strategy to be working and that there had actually been much less reported violence involving Uighurs in Xinjiang, or anywhere in China, in the duration just prior to the CCP changed strategies.

A variety of domestic determinants have added to China’s long-standing defense buildup and also repression in Xinjiang: political violence and contention involving the ar Uighur population; the CCP’s rotate toward much more assimilationist “second-generation” minority plans under chairman Xi Jinping; and also the an individual leadership that XUAR Party Secretary Chen. The increase in repression the took ar in early 2017, however, was likewise motivated by China’s external insecurities — many notably, the belief that the CCP had to act to avoid terrorist networks from diffusing ago into Xinjiang indigenous abroad.

Two intersecting trends added to that heightened insecurity. First, the CCP listed with concern a grasp of contacts between Uighurs and also Islamic militant organizations in Southeast Asia and the Middle eastern in 2014-2016 — including arrests in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, and also up to 5,000 Uighurs fighting alongside assorted militant teams in the Middle east (numerical estimates of Uighur participation over the past 5 years have differed widely). Objectively, the ability of Uighur groups abroad, and also their actual connection to events of violence in Xinjiang, are questionable. Western professionals are skeptical, and also even the many generous approximates of Uighur militant capability do not indicate that insurgency inside Xinjiang is present, or also imminent. Moreover, the contacts that occurred in 2014-2016 were limited to a dozen or so individual cases. Nevertheless, these contacts shifted the possibility of cooperation in between Uighurs and Islamic militant teams in southeast Asia and also the Middle east from completely theoretical to an arising operational possibility. In 2015 and 2016, leaders of militant teams in the middle East, consisting of some affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, likewise made statements indicating a desire to target China.

These advances appear to have obtained the CCP’s attention. Leaked documents published in November 2019 by the new York time quote chairman Xi together saying, “East Turkestan’s terrorists who have received real-war cultivate in Syria and Afghanistan could at any type of time start terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.” Thus even if the Chinese party-state provides the rhetoric that terrorism to deflect or reduce international pressure and justify repressive action (which we think they do), interior documents show up to confirm that an elderly party leaders, including Xi himself, do are afraid terrorist risks from abroad destabilizing their preeminence at home.

The various other trend that added to the CCP’s strategy transition was a change in how the party assesses the nature of domestic threats to regime stability. In 2014, Xi promulgated a new “comprehensive security” framework, i m sorry warned that occasions abroad can threaten security at home and called because that heightened vigilance. Working under this framework, party officials focused on Xinjiang concluded the a much bigger percentage that the population was delicate to jihadist infiltration than previously estimated. They compared it come a virus: Even world who showed no sign of radicalism could be “infected” by an extremist virus unless castle were properly “inoculated.”

Together, this two developments reshaped just how China conceived the counterterrorism and its connected domestic security policies. Globally, China increased the counterterrorism activities abroad, including visits by military delegations come the middle East and regional counterterrorism cooperation with Southeast asian countries. The CCP additionally focused on targeting diaspora networks to cut off a vector through which terrorist threats can reenter China; meanwhile, lock proposed, detention and reeducation have to make the population psychologically and politically durable to jihadist infiltration.

As a result, the CCP is imprisoning and also involuntarily reeducating substantial numbers of human being who have shown no inclination towards anything various other than normal Uighur social or Muslim religious practice, on the basis of threat perceptions that might or may not be accurate. (Nondemocracies often get risk assessments wrong, because they have trouble obtaining good information to start with.) The very metaphor of vaccination, ironically, makes the clear: world who room demonstrably “symptom free” are however being brushed up up in detention and also reeducation ~ above a massive, intensive scale.

China’s plan of “preventive repression” in a counterterrorism context took a threat that was most likely at a really low level to start with and sought come ensure that it would never ever materialize right into anything an ext significant. The results of this method have reverberated inside China and also around the world.

Implications for current Policy

U.S. Plan with respect come Xinjiang have to balance 2 principles: acknowledging that there is some actual concern around terrorism on Beijing’s part, and pushing back on the usage of that worry to justification indiscriminate repression and collective punishment. These ethics are not contradictory, however combining them will require careful action on the part of U.S. And also international policymakers.

Engaging through the CCP’s awareness of the terrorist hazard does not typical uncritically accepting how the CCP has actually chosen come respond. Nor does it imply — as a recent foreign Affairs piece said — the the United says should administer domestic security aid to China to assist it fight terrorist threats “without resorting come repression.” because that both moral and also practical reasons, that would certainly be unwise: The United claims would be acquisition on some duty for China’s domestic security habits without the capacity to control, or also have complete knowledge of, what is being excellent in America’s name.

U.S. Rhetoric and policy can and should emphasis on the huge number of innocent people who are recorded up in China’s counterterrorism dragnet. The is crucial that policymakers connect to the human being who have suffered from these policies, and also their loved ones in China and also abroad, the the joined States and also the international ar see the the CCP’s policies are targeting and punishing innocent people who are not “terrorists” in any type of reasonable an interpretation of the word. And also it is crucial that the international ar continue to uncover ways to use pressure to China end the person rights aftermath of its current approach, and also limit its do the efforts to alter existing international human being rights norms in a direction favorable to Beijing.

At the same time, American policymakers and other proponents have, end the previous year, shifted toward a simplistic “it’s not counterterrorism” argument that dismisses CCP insecurities out of hand. Saying over whether what is keep going in Xinjiang is counterterrorism might not it is in helpful, especially when it shows up that the CCP in reality perceives it (at least partly) the way. The joined States can not have actually a great shot in ~ persuading the CCP to change course by engaging on a counterterrorism basis, yet the chances of success are probably greater than if the concern is framed solely as a matter of person rights.

Moreover, even if the CCP’s emphasis on counterterrorism is greatly instrumental, there are dangers to the present approach. Dismissing China’s delinquent of security comes to sets up the CCP to dig in and display graphic photos of violence to prove the it encounters a real threat. If the CCP’s presentation is convincing come (non-Uighur) residential audiences in China and/or to audiences in various other countries, U.S. Dismissals could backfire. This approach also risks reinforcing narratives that Uighurs space dangerous, the Western critics are one of two people naive or don’t take dangers to Chinese stays as seriously together they take dangers to your own, and also that the CCP has actually an obligation to ensure safety and stability that Western critics are dismissing unfairly. No one of this is a useful narrative for U.S. Foreign policy, or because that the vital objective that minimizing human rights violations in Xinjiang.

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One different is because that the united States and also other democracies to collectively say the terrorist threats, no matter how real the CCP consciousness them to be, are not a blank check for huge human civil liberties violations. The way, the U.S. — and European democratic counterparts, whose actions on Xinjiang have actually thus much been more restricted than those that the United claims — could continue to press China top top the human rights violations arising from Xinjiang yet do for this reason without gaining bogged under in one unhelpful “is that counterterrorism” debate.