There is a crisis in Xinjiang. The details are murky. The Communist Party of China has little incentive to reveal the inner workings of the vast system of surveillance and terror it has built to control the 12 million Uighur and Kazakh citizens of China’s westernmost region. From the party’s perspective, the further away the global spotlight is from its activities the better.
But we now have a rough outline of what is happening to the people of the region. In response to growing tensions between Han Chinese and the Uighur population of Xinjiang itself, the recruitment of Uighurs to fight in the Syrian civil war, and several terrorist attacks orchestrated by Uighur separatists, the party launched what it called the Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism. Despite its name, the campaign’s targets are not limited to terrorists. No Uighur living in Xinjiang can escape the shadow of the party nor can members of other ethnic minorities, especially Kazakhs.
Some of the methods used to surveil and coerce the population of Xinjiang are straight from the dystopian imagination: The party has collected the DNA, iris scans, and voice samples of the province’s Uighur population, regularly scans the contents of their digital devices, uses digitally coded ID cards to track their movements, and trains CCTV cameras on their homes, streets, and marketplaces.