US criticises China for Xinjiang abuses revealed by leaked cables

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges the repression "is intentional and it is ongoing".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges the repression "is intentional and it is ongoing".

WASHINGTON • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said a cache of leaked documents proves that the Chinese authorities are engaged in massive repression of Muslims and other minorities in western China, as a number of foreign governments expressed serious concern about the scale of the campaign.

Mr Pompeo said the documents underscored "an overwhelming and growing body of evidence" that China's leaders are responsible for gross human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.

"They detail the Chinese party's brutal detention and systematic repression of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang," Mr Pompeo told reporters at a State Department news conference on Tuesday.

"We call on the Chinese government to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained and to end its draconian policies that have terrorised its own citizens in Xinjiang."

Notably, his criticism was not accompanied by a warning about possible sanctions for the mass detentions, although US lawmakers are pressing for penalties to be imposed.

"There are very significant human rights abuses," Mr Pompeo said. "It shows that it's not random. It is intentional and it is ongoing."

The leaked classified documents were provided to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which worked with The Associated Press and news organisations around the world to publish the material.

The documents, which include guidelines for operating detention centres and instructions on how to use technology to target people, reveal that the camps in Xinjiang are not for voluntary job training, as Beijing has claimed.

They show the camps are used for forced ideological and behavioural re-education. They also illustrate how Beijing uses a high-tech surveillance system to target people for detention and to predict who will commit a crime.

Voluntary job training is the reason Beijing has given for detaining more than a million ethnic minorities, most of them Muslim.

The documents lay out the Chinese government's deliberate strategy to lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, and to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak.

The papers also show how Beijing is pioneering a new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence. Drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology, computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it was calling on China to uphold its "international obligations and to respect human rights, including when it comes to the rights of persons belonging to minorities especially in Xinjiang but also in Tibet".

A TikTok post by a young woman, pretending to give eyelash curling advice while actually condemning China's crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang, has meanwhile gone viral on the Chinese-owned app that has been accused of censoring anti-Beijing content. The clip by US teen Feroza Aziz, who describes herself as "17 Just a Muslim", had millions of views across several social media platforms by yesterday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2019, with the headline 'US criticises China for Xinjiang abuses revealed by leaked cables'. Subscribe