Xi Jinping Makes Direct Order to Repress the Uyghurs

An unidentified source hacked into police servers in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and obtained the Xinjiang Police Files, which were then delivered to Dr. Adrian Zenz. The Liberty interviewed Dr. Zenz about the leaked documents from the Xinjiang internment camps.


Adrian Zenz
Senior Fellow and Director of China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Adrian Zenz


Dr. Adrian Zenz’s research focus is on China’s ethnic policy, Beijing’s campaign of mass internment, securitization and forced labor in Xinjiang, as well as China’s domestic security budgets. Dr. Zenz is the author of “Tibetanness Under Threat?” and the co-editor of “Mapping Amdo: Dynamics of Change.” He has played a leading role in the analysis of leaked Chinese government documents including the China Cables, the Karakax List and the Xinjiang Papers.


—You’ve analyzed tens of thousands of documents provided by anonymous people including photographs showing the actual conditions of the Uyghur camps and the inmates, list of names and records of statements made by Communist Party officials. You published them as the Xinjiang Police Files. How did you feel when you first saw these documents?

Dr. Zenz: I was very surprised when I received the evidence because it was very substantial and very significant. Of course, in many ways, the image material was most impressive and most significant since we have never had images from within an internment camp before.

But at the same time, I also slowly discovered some documents of particular significance. For example, I was very shocked when I discovered the speech by China’s former Minister of Public Security, Zhao Kezhi, where he quite openly spoke about Beijing’s support for the internment camps. So these were all very significant findings.

But I think the image material is very moving and emotional, very emotionally intense, seeing the images of people who were photographed. Many of them were in detention. You could find out which ones were in detention — some young girls, some very old people, a wide age range. It just really brings across the nature of this atrocity more so even than important government documents.

—The Xinjiang Police Files show that the facilities that China calls “vocational training centers” are no different from prisons, with armed police guarding, handcuffing and shackling the detainees. Could you elaborate on your viewpoint?

Dr. Zenz: Yes. The Xinjiang Police Files provide important new evidence on multiple levels. We have the higher level. We have former Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo giving clear orders saying that the internment camps must be guarded at any cost, that fire must be opened on those who try to attack them or resist the state in general.

Then, we have mid-level directives that speak of the paramount nature of internment camp security. We have these very specific instructions for two particular camps. We had very specific materials, which is quite important because they clearly said, “How do you guard a camp, how many people do you need, what weapons are being used?” For example, machine guns and sniper rifles were to be used in the watchtowers. They specified the number of armed guards to be used and what to do when a detainee tries to escape. You can fire a warning shot, and then you start to shoot at them. You give a verbal warning. Heavily armed strike teams have a very clear strategy in place. When there’s an escape, you sound the alert, you shut down the gates, you lock down the building, the strike team rushes out, the police station at the entrance immediately blocks off the surrounding roads, and the guards on the watchtowers go to their machine guns.

These instructions were very closely reflected in the images of an actual police drone from the detention center. These are the images that you see on many of the magazine covers and newspaper front pages, the images of the heavily armed guards with military helmets, military gear, bulletproof vests, machine guns at the ready, and then the lower guards with different weapons, some with huge wooden clubs, and then with handcuffs. They were practicing. They were handcuffing detainees.


It Took Exactly Four Minutes From Restraint to Torture

Dr. Zenz: In one scene, I could look very carefully at the metadata from the cameras. It was taken with a Canon SLR camera with a certain lens. And it showed exactly what time, what date, what minute the picture was taken. It took exactly four minutes, a sequence of about seven or eight photos — four minutes, according to camera metadata between the beginning when the police came on the scene and then handcuffing detainees, putting a hood on them, and walking them into a tiger chair, to be strapped into a tiger chair (a restraint device for interrogation).

There are multiple ways to verify the material. So with multiple levels of evidence showing the situation and also with the images of detainees, you can look at the time they were taken. The timestamp is coded in the file name. You look at the background. You can play it back in different ways. So it’s just very, very significant.


The image of a drill in an internment facility in Tekes County in September 2018. A detainee is restrained and interrogated in a so-called tiger chair that blocks the detainee’s movements with a SWAT officer standing at the ready. (From the Xinjiang Police Files)

—I was shocked to know the police were given permission to kill Uyghurs who resisted. What are your thoughts on this?

Dr. Zenz: We have, for several years now, watched the ruthlessness. We’ve heard the testimonies of camp survivors and witnesses who spoke on much of this. In my research paper, I would often combine witness testimony with an analysis of the documents.

So in many ways, a lot of this was not a huge surprise, but at the same time, reading it in black and white, seeing it in black and white, perceiving it so clearly in this bureaucratic text, is another matter. I think working with this kind of data is very traumatizing for the researcher. It’s a very intense kind of material. It’s not an easy research topic.

Certainly, with the Xinjiang Police Files, I was sort of shocked at first. It was a first level of shock and disbelief and grief, even though much of it was not unexpected. But some of the language choices and the whole attitude that emanated through the speeches of Chen Quanguo and Zhao Kezhi were quite stunning, I think.

—Your paper states that in 2017 and 2018, more than 23,000, or 12% of adult Uyghurs, were detained in Konasheher county in Xinjiang. Could you please elaborate on what this means?

Dr. Zenz: Among the files were several hundred spreadsheets with information about people. There was information about every person in the county, which is not surprising because the data is from county police computers. As a result, we could create a computer script that compiled the different information and made an assessment of whether somebody was in a camp or prison or not. That is how we got to the calculation that at least 12% had at least two indicators of internment. These figures are quite consistent with previous estimates done by me. In particular, on the estimates of internment, we’ve estimated that over 10%, or between 8-15% of adults were in camps at one point, and this was basically corroborated.


What Is IJOP?

—Your paper states that over 10,000 had been recommended for detention or closer examination by the Integrated Joint Operation Platform (IJOP). Also, according to the Japan Uyghur Association, 23% of the 2,884 male and female detainees listed in the Xinjiang Police Files were detained as a result of accommodation instructions by IJOP. Could you elaborate on what this means, along with an explanation of IJOP?

Dr. Zenz: Yeah. The Integrated Joint Operation Platform is a real-time database system whereby any sort of clues, any information from any police organ, including from surveillance cameras and checkpoints, anything that would be found by police on a person’s smartphone, would be entered into this database.

The IJOP generates real-time push notification. For example, it will trigger a push notification from the Xinjiang government in Urumqi to a local police authority, which would basically say, “This person needs to be arrested,” and it creates lists. Everybody who’s on the push list will be taken in by police. They would have daily and weekly push lists with hundreds of names. Then every day, the police would have to go out and get these people, get these names.

This system has come up many times. It’s come up in the China Cables, in the other internal leaked documents that have been analyzed in the past. It’s not surprising that a significant percentage of those in detention would have been linked in some way to the IJOP system.


Did You Turn Off Your Cell Phone? If So, You’re Under Arrest

—About 100 of the detainees listed in the Xinjiang Police Files were detained because they turned off their cell phones or set up VPNs that could block censorship by the authorities. What are your thoughts on this point?

Dr. Zenz: There were all kinds of reasons why people were being taken in or arrested. Indeed, one of them was that the people turned off their cell phones, which was interpreted by the authorities as “They don’t want to be followed,” “They don’t want to be detected,” “They don’t want to be checked,” because if you have a cell phone on, the government basically knows where you are. At certain sensitive times, in particular, this was being interpreted as an act of evading state authority, possibly in combination with another clue, I would imagine, but who knows. I mean, a lot of this is fairly arbitrary.


Using AI Algorithm for Arrestment

—Chinese authorities have created the original algorithm to sort out “potentially dangerous figures.” We assume this algorithm was designed arbitrarily, which is beneficial to the CCP. According to the Xinjiang Police File, it is stated that they arrested people based on AI’s judgment. What are your thoughts on this?

Dr. Zenz: You mean artificial intelligence?


Dr. Zenz: Okay. Yes, the state developed a whole range of indicators by which it tried to measure extremism. You have to understand that the internment camps are mainly designed to be preventative, they’re designed to take people who could potentially become terrorists or be influenced by extremism.

The authorities have to make a guess. “Who could this be?” “Who is a potential terrorist who might need to be re-educated so that we can prevent something from happening?” These people haven’t done anything, so then you need indicators. The authorities developed a whole range of indicators based on religious behavior and all kinds of other behavior.

Again, this is fed into the database together with real-time information, like who had connection with whom. So if you had connection with somebody who had been noticed by the authority in the past, you will also automatically be suspicious.

There’s the sort of guilt by association, which is one of the really major dynamics by which this whole internment campaign was implemented. The problem with artificial intelligence is, it’s only as good as the assumptions that are being programmed into it. They are simply then being applied in various scenarios. The algorithm can learn but it learns based on the initial starting assumptions.

If you program an AI algorithm that includes this racial or religious discrimination bias, that’s what you’re going to get out of it. These are the dynamics that we’re looking at here.

—It was reported in 2019 that the Japanese company, Sony, is supplying image sensors to Hikvision, a major Chinese surveillance camera company sanctioned by the U.S. What actions should be taken by Japanese companies that maintain relationships with Chinese sanctioned companies?

Dr. Zenz: Unfortunately, companies are mainly there to make money, and they often also pretend that they care about something like the environment or humans because it’s good for customers. Maybe some of them really care. But companies ultimately make money.

If you stop selling something to Hikvision, will China retaliate against you? Then you can’t sell in China anymore?

One of the big problems here is the technological supply of forced labor, imported products made with forced labor, or selling technology to companies that are directly implicated in a campaign of mass internment, the atrocity, the surveillance state. These are measures I think that need to be taken under consideration by the Japanese government.

Companies should look out if they have the capacity, and actively prevent the sale. They should also prevent intermediaries from doing so, which is often a problem. The United States government has taken active steps to prevent the sale of technology. The Japanese government should really do the same and set up the resources to investigate supply chains and to put related measures in place.


Uyghur Repression, a Direct Order From Xi Jinping

—From the records of statements made by Zhao Kezhi and other Communist Party officials, we have learned that the policy of Uyghur repression is a direct order from President Xi Jinping. What should we make of this?

Dr. Zenz: The Xinjiang Police Files, together with the Xinjiang Papers, a set of lead documents published in December last year, shows the extent to which this was directed from Beijing from the central government and the central government’s support.

Chen Quanguo and Zhao Kezhi said in their speeches something to the effect that “President Xi himself has been personally aware of the details of the incarcerate campaign.” “President Xi himself ordered regional authorities to implement practical measures such as expanding the number of employed [staff in detention facilities] and increasing investment [in these facilities] .”

It’s a very significant document, very significant evidence, and it shows that China’s not just going to give up.

Firstly, this was not just a local initiative. This was closely planned together with the Chinese government. This is really indicative of the extent to which Beijing is behind the initiative and they will not easily give it up. That’s also why they’re pushing back against sanctions so hard.

That means the international community, counties like Japan, western countries, other countries, Australia, etc., need to come together and do something against it. Otherwise, one country against China is not going to be powerful enough.


The UN Is Neither Neutral Nor Capable

—The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of the Uyghur and predominantly Muslim groups may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity. But it does not mention genocide, and there was no name of Xi Jinping. Why do you think the report by the OHCHR stopped short of referring it “genocide” and holding Xi Jinping accountable?

Dr. Zenz: The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, was clearly trying to not offend Beijing too much. There are some reports that the report was watered down and that she didn’t want the word “genocide” in it.

There was quite a bit of appeasing going on of Beijing, which is really shocking because it shows that even the United Nations is not neutral, not capable.

Of course, we’ve been noticing that she hasn’t said anything. She didn’t criticize hardly anything. She had the report published the night after she had already abdicated, after she had stepped down, and she made no comment on the report. She didn’t say anything about it, which is a huge abrogation of responsibility for a Human Rights Commissioner. It’s shameful, utterly shameful.

This is a weakness of the report that we all need to take into account. The report did notice that crimes against humanity may have occurred, which is a good statement, it’s a helpful statement. But the report was not fully complete and strong as it should have been or could have been. That’s something we need to keep in mind about it. Holding China accountable really is not going to be up to individual countries, including at the UN, to push for the kind of review that is necessary.

—Thank you. What do you think will be the impact of not referring to it as genocide in the UN report?

Dr. Zenz: That’s a good question. I don’t know that the OHCHR would have had the power to make a genocide determination, but it could have mentioned the risk of genocide and the need for such a determination. I think this unfortunately reduces the pressure on individual countries to then go and push for such a determination.

Genocide determination requires a country or government to act. So genocide determination comes with a strong requirement to actually do something about it and an obligation. Unfortunately, the lack of framing it as a potential genocide means that there’s probably less pressure on the international community to make these appraisals and effort to do something about it.

On the other hand, the report still makes a number of strong statements, and there’s hope that there will be measures against forced labor, and that there will be diplomatic measures that will mean China will face more pressure at the United Nations.

But yes, I think there will be consequences. The case is not going to be as strong, and action may not be as strong as a result. But it always depends on somebody to take it up, to take the report and use it. You can ignore the report. You can still, like many Muslim countries, you can still fail to do things that should be done. Even with this report, even if there was genocide in it, you can still fail to do things. It really depends on individual governments and political leaders to do something about this.

—Thank you. What are your thoughts on the danger of international organizations being manipulated by the Chinese government?

Dr. Zenz: We’ve seen this in real time. And with the whole UN report, we see the influence of the Chinese government in manipulating Michelle Bachelet over the last several years. I think the consequences are very serious.

China now actually has a seat on the Human Rights Commission. China is a member of the Human Rights Commission, and China is pushing to change the definition of human rights, that human rights should no longer be the rights of an individual but they should be the right of a community towards economic development, which, of course, eliminates a lot of human rights. So I think it’s a severe danger.

—Dr. Tomoya Obokata, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, spoke out about this case in the middle of August to put pressure on Bachelet. I think there’s a rift inside the UN. What do you think about Dr. Obokata picking up on this issue?

Dr. Zenz: He made a stronger appraisal on forced labor. He basically determined that forced labor is present in Xinjiang. The UN report talked about the risk and possibilities using weaker language, but it still pointed towards forced labor. But you can tell the special rapporteurs were much stronger. They wrote several letters even after the publication of this report, calling for action. So now something needs to be done about this.

So yes, there are elements of the UN that have been much weaker such as Michelle Bachelet and her office, but there are special rapporteurs like Mr. Obokata who are more forceful. We can only hope that overall there’s now a momentum that’s going to be ceased and played out this year because I think a momentum can get lost. We’ll see what’s going to play out over the next several weeks and months on the subject.


‘I Feel Used by God as an Instrument to Shed Light on an Atrocity’

—I hear that you’re a dedicated Evangelical Christian and that you are “led by God” to work on the Uyghur issue. In what ways do you feel led by God?

Dr. Zenz: I think my personal belief in God gives a lot of purpose to my life.

It also means that being used by God means that God works towards justice. God really exists in my opinion. He’s not just an abstract thing, or something that is only relevant after death, but there’s something going on now already.

Our lives can make an impact for the better or for the worse. I feel used by God to help uncover an injustice, to help uncover a truth. It may just be one small part of it. Many others, then, have to do something with this information. But just bringing out information can be very powerful, already, and it’s a very necessary first step.

In the Bible, we see God speaking out that “that which has been the evil will be brought to light.” That’s the necessary first step, that evil is brought to light, so that an injustice can be stopped or uncovered or countered, mitigated or reduced. Or at least something can be done about it.

I feel used by God as an instrument to bring light, shed light, on an atrocity. I think God empowers us who are willing to be used by Him. He helps us. He gives us skills. He sometimes gives us a little hint, maybe, indirectly. He guides us in certain ways. I don’t want to overstate this. But, for me, personally, God is quite real.

I think this is how life works. And so we can make a difference in a human rights cause like this.

It’s important that research is not just something abstract that’s on a shelf, in a book that is in a library, and maybe somebody will pull it out in two years, and maybe quote from it. Research can have an impact and make a difference for humanity.


Japan Should Conduct Legal Investigations on Uyghur Genocide

—Thank you. After the release of the Xinjiang Police Files, I believe that western democracies, including Japan, have not taken any concrete action. How do you see this? And how do you think it should be changed?

Dr. Zenz: A number of western countries issued fairly strong statements after the Xinjiang Police Files and that’s a good first step because that’s the one thing that’s been missing. You got to speak out. You got to make a strong statement about something. That’s the very first thing. And that should have happened much earlier. But at least that’s a good first step.

The question is, so now what? The United States has taken certain steps, the European Union still needs to take a lot more steps.
Japan needs to take a number of steps, I’d say, but also there are developments in Japan that just have some diplomatic consequences that countries including Japan push at the United Nations. I know that has limits, but at least the Japanese can open an investigation also into forced labor, into crimes against humanity.

Japan has an obligation to open a formal legal investigation on whether genocide might be occurring in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Xi Jinping Makes Direct Order to Repress the Uyghurs
Copyright © IRH Press Co.Ltd. All Right Reserved.