A Uighur woman china dream
© Tom Phillips for the GuardianA Uighur woman passes a poster celebrating the ‘China Dream’ of President Xi Jinping in a photograph from May 2017.
There's no question that suspected Uighur radicals are being preemptively detained in re-education facilities before they ever have a chance to commit acts of terror, which is being portrayed by the Western Mainstream Media as a criminal act of "cultural genocide" against this ethno-religious minority, but the truth of the matter is that the situation isn't as black and white as Beijing or its many detractors might make it out to be.

The world's been wondering what's really going on with the Xinjiang's Uighur all year long ever since the Western Mainstream Media made it a point to give plenty of attention to their situation, which is being portrayed as the communist government's "cultural genocide" of this ethno-religious minority. According to the prevailing narrative, China is "overreacting" to the latent terrorist threat in this region by locking up "as many Uighurs as it can" in newly constructed detention facilities far away from the prying eyes of the public where detainees are then forced to undergo "rigorous brainwashing" for months at a time until the authorities deem them "secular enough" to be safely released back into society. This would amount to a severe violation of the Uighurs' human rights if it was true, but there's actually a lot more to it than what the West is saying.

Hybrid War Motivations & Weaponized Double Standards

Before getting into the specifics of what's going on and why this is such a sizzling news story, it needs to be objectively recognized that there are ulterior geostrategic motives for propagating the aforementioned storyline, the most obvious of which is the intention of Western intelligence agencies to provoke the international Muslim community ("Ummah") into committing militant acts in support of their co-confessionals in Xinjiang. This could take the form of either trying to travel to the autonomous region to wage jihad or sabotaging Chinese projects in their home countries. Ultimately, the end goal is to turn the Ummah against China and in doing so sabotage the mainland portion of its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which travels through a host of Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, it shouldn't be forgotten that Xinjiang is BRI's mainland hub, hence why stability there is so important for Beijing.

Another point to keep in mind before proceeding is that China's critics are very disingenuous because they ordinarily don't care about the living standards of Muslims elsewhere in the world unless there's a politically convenient reason to do so. In this case, people who are normally afraid of Islam or have even come to hate it all of a sudden show sympathy towards the Uighurs, but this seemingly inexplicable development is due to them believing that these people don't pose a security threat to their own but are rather a latent one to the Chinese, which they regard as being the main strategic threat to the West for geopolitical and economic reasons. Accordingly, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", so it logically follows that they have an interest in propagating this Hybrid War narrative to incite worldwide Muslim animosity against China.

Shortcomings And Speculation

Having put the Uighur topic into its proper infowar context, it's now time to talk about what's happening in Xinjiang. To cut to the chase, the Chinese are indeed implementing an ambitious socio-cultural reengineering initiative with far-reaching consequences that simultaneously aims to deradicalize the Uighurs alongside more effectively integrating and assimilating them into the People's Republic. The general opacity surrounding internal developments in China, especially those related to national security concerns such as this one, naturally cultivates a conspiratorial environment that fosters external speculation about the true state of affairs there. This is expectedly the case when it comes to claims that members of an ethno-religious minority are being "arbitrarily" picked up off the streets and shipped to remote re-education facilities in the desert for indefinite periods of time, during which they're supposedly subjected to "forced secularization" practices such as eating pork and other actions forbidden by their religion.

It's impossible to know exactly what goes on in these re-education centers and there's always the possibility that some abuses have happened, but it would be extremely counterproductive if China systematically carried out the actions that it's been accused of by the Mainstream Media because of how self-defeating it would be for the country's soft power abroad, to say nothing of the chance that it could backfire by entrenching extremist views, which in and of itself suggests that these allegations are largely untrue. China publicly acknowledged that radically inclined or outright indoctrinated individuals were undergoing government-provided re-education and also being taught valuable job skills as well, which is sensible enough because the state has the right to take preemptive action against at-risk citizens for the benefit of everyone else's safety, even if it does so in a dramatic way designed to serve as a deterrent to others.

China's Re-Education Model vs. Muslim States' De-Radicalization One

Truth be told, what China's doing isn't all that different in principle from the deradicalization programs that many majority-Muslim countries carry out, and it might even be more effective in some respects. All states engage in various degrees of socio-cultural reengineering efforts for what they either say or imply is the collective interest (irrespective of whether it truly is or not), but the difference is that China's initiative is evidently more overt than the others' and has become a lightning rod for international attention because of the optics of the mostly atheist Han-majority government deradicalizing the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, which is where the accusations of "cultural genocide" stem from. This isn't so noticeable in majority-Muslim countries where there usually aren't any visible identity differences between the state and its subjects in the sense that it's Muslim-on-Muslim deradicalization that's taking place unlike in China's atheist-Han-on-Muslim-Uighur case.

Apart from the superficial contrast between the two models that implicitly tilts towards the Muslim states' soft power favor, there are other dissimilarities as well, albeit those that tend to suggest that the Chinese one is much more effective. De-radicalization is oftentimes ordered after an armed militant surrenders as part of a ceasefire agreement or general amnesty and is therefore reactive in most regards. China's initiatives, however, are proactive and aim to prevent the detainee from ever bearing arms against the state in the first place. Furthermore, China has to work extra hard to reintegrate these deradicalized individuals into society because they almost seem to have a preexisting cultural predisposition to remaining on its margins and consciously choose not to assimilate into the country's majority-Han culture, hence the self-interested incentive in teaching them Mandarin and the state's communist ideology. The government also teaches them valuable jobs skills so that they can work on Silk Road projects and tighten their economic integration into the country, thereby making them stakeholders in its success.

Muslim-majority states, meanwhile, usually don't do any of this because the detainees are (somewhat naively) assumed to naturally reassimilate into society upon release, though not necessarily reintegrate into it. It's taken for granted that they probably speak the same language as the majority of the country's citizens and obviously believe in the same religion, with the original problem being that they do so with a different intensity. This makes it so that these states don't have any need to teach deradicalizing individuals socio-cultural skills on the same level that the Chinese do, but the fundamental flaw to their approach is that they usually overlook just how important it is to invest in the detainees' future economic integrational prospects in order to sustain the social gains that they believe they achieved through their re-education. Think whatever else one will, that's one mistake that the Chinese don't make.

Constructive Criticisms & Positive Proposals

Reflecting on everything that was just discussed, a few valid criticisms of the Chinese approach come to mind. The first is that the country has practically no effective means of employing soft power and perception management except repeating the win-win slogan and defensively denying whatever claims are made against it. That has to change, and urgently, so China would do well to consider the proposal made by geopolitical analyst Adam Garrie to cooperate with Pakistan in jointly debunking the Western Mainstream Media's weaponized disinformation about Xinjiang. If successful, then this initiative could also be expanded to include other influential countries in the Ummah such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Another point is that the suspected Uighur radicals are detained against their will instead of voluntarily submitting to state-supported socio-cultural reengineering programs like billions of people do daily when they turn on their TVs.

This controversial component of the Chinese model could be partially improved upon by rolling out a trial program that incentivizes some at-risk Uighurs to voluntarily participate in these courses. They would be located in their hometowns and taught by their Muslim Uighur peers, likely program "alumni" themselves under government supervision, instead of being in a remote desert facility and taught by never-before-seen government employees who are probably more often than not atheist Han. The proposed program would logically be limited to those Uighurs who aren't deemed to be an imminent security risk and may or may not have on-site boarding. The successful completion of these socio-cultural reengineering courses would allow the "student" to "graduate" to its second phase where they'd learn all manner of job skills and then be guaranteed employment in a Silk Road-affiliated company in order to sustain the socio-economic achievements of this program.

Concluding Thoughts

The Western Mainstream Media's infowar on Xinjiang is an important part of its overall Hybrid War on BRI and builds off of the country's opacity to concoct conspiracy theories about the communist government "forcibly secularizing" its Muslim minority in "concentration camps". Like with all weaponized perception management campaigns, there's a kernel of truth to it all that makes everything partially believable to the passive information consumer, but China's failure to properly wield soft power instruments on the world stage has led to the most provocative but unverified accusations taking on a life of their own. China is indeed preemptively detaining suspected Uighur radicals and then putting them through socio-cultural re-education courses and job training programs in remote desert facilities, but it's not forcing them to eat pork or commit other "haram" acts. Beijing's anti-terror policies, however, could be improved upon if the country endeavors to debunk the fake news narratives about it.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.