Tensions have worsened significantly since 2009 when Uyghurs participating in ethnic unrest killed around 200 Han after previous tensions and violence in Urumqi, the regional capital. The Chinese security forces began a comprehensive crackdown. In the years that followed, Uyghur cities and some cities outside of Xinjiang were attacked and raided.
Since 2017, Xinjiang’s leaders, squeezed by Mr. Xi, have taken or intensified measures aimed at turning the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities into loyal, largely secular supporters of the Communist Party. The Foreign Ministry’s determination said that the Chinese government had committed “crimes against humanity” since “at least March 2017”.
Security forces have sent hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and Kazakhs – possibly a million or more, according to estimates – to indoctrination camps to instill loyalty to the party and break adherence to Islam. The Chinese government has defended the camps as benign vocational schools and contested the inmate estimates without ever issuing their own. Former inmates and their families who have left China have described harsh living conditions, gross indoctrination, and abusive guards.
The surge camps were increasingly condemned internationally, including by human rights experts advising the United Nations, as well as the United States and other nations. Journalists and scientists started writing articles about the camps and a sophisticated high-tech surveillance system in Xinjiang in 2017, long before foreign governments started discussing the issue.
However, the indoctrination camps were only part of the Chinese Communist Party’s broader campaign to drastically transform Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities. Other measures include labor transfers, school and cultural policy, and population controls.
Under Mr. Xi, Xinjiang has expanded and intensified long-term programs to relocate Uyghurs and Kazakhs from rural areas to jobs in factories, cities, and in commercial agriculture. The Chinese government has stated that these transfers of labor are entirely voluntary and will bring prosperity to impoverished peoples. However, some programs have set targets for the number of people being displaced to work and have prevented recruits from choosing or leaving their jobs – hallmarks of forced labor.
The schools in Uighurs have largely discarded the lessons and pushed students to learn Chinese. Uyghur academics who tried to preserve and promote their culture have been arrested and publication in Uyghur languages has been severely restricted. Officials have forced children into boarding schools, separated from their parents.