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China’s hidden agenda: Muslim concentration camps

Written by Emily Jowett

Ecological Economics

Upwards of 1 million Muslims have been detained in western China [1].

An alarming 10% of the population within the Xinjiang region (XUAR) are currently detained in so called ‘re-education facilities’ [2]. Chinese officials claim justification in quashing religious extremism among Muslim populations, aiding national unity and economic development. However, western media alongside UN officials claim such facilities resemble ‘massive internment camps’ to destroy ethnic Uyghur (pronounced Wee-Gur) identity by labelling ordinary Muslim traditions as extremism [1]. So far, no investigation has been able to scale the barbed wire and concrete walls to see what horrors lie inside. Those who have recently escaped however, state that they were under constant surveillance, forced to watch communist propaganda and partake in patriotic singing, with any mistakes leading to the withholding of food [3].

When I first became aware of such camps, they appeared unexpected and unjustifiable, a similar response of shock is shared within global media. However, political and religious unrest alongside disproportionate hostility towards minorities in the region is historical. But what possibly justification could there be for such extreme ethnic assimilation measures?

It is considered that Uyghurs have occupied the region since the 9th century, practicing Islam and working in agriculture [4]. In 1995 legislation was established in the hope to give ethnic minorities legal control of their land, as they rightfully deserved. However, a Han majority (dominant ethnic group in China) government led to reduced Uyghur land rights and any sign of supporting ethnic diversity was crushed, fueling Uyghur resentment towards the Han Chinese [5].

Such unfair distribution of land and minority authority has roots in Chinese education systems, alongside favoring Han successes as they’re classed as the ‘True Chinese’ ethnicity. Due to the majority of Uyghurs living in rural areas with little disposable income, they had reduced access to education, and those which they could access, were costly. Although minority urban migration is growing, the historical discrimination has led to education being taught In Mandarin, with no Universities offering courses in Uyghur. Unequal distribution of educational resources has led to a staggering 82% of Uyghurs being illiterate, essentially forced into low income jobs, intergenerational levels of poverty and lack of influence within government [6].

Organized internal colonialism of well-educated Han was strategically implemented to increase Xinjiang's economic development in the 1960s. However, in doing so, this caused a lack of ethnic diversity in highly paid positions and increased unfair income distribution to the Uyghur population [6, 7].

It became increasingly easy to impose restrictive economic and social laws on minorities in the area. Gradually implementing a ban on anyone with long beards, head scarves and any clothes with Islamic symbols to travel on public transport [8]. All starting to sound scarily similar to ‘coloured areas’ on busses in the US in the 1940s [9].

Uyghur believe that the Han colonisation has accumulated wealth and a higher quality of life by exploiting their rights, a belief shared by many scholars [6]. Minority led uprisings over such issues has been seen growing since the 1980s, including shootings and attacks on the government. Violence arose from both Uyghur and Han sources, although Chinese scholars fail to acknowledge that the Han have started many of the violent and racially fueled outbreaks [5].

Retaliation has only reinforced the Chinese government's fears of social instability and the economic implications it may cause. The ‘Strike Hard’ campaign was heightened after the 9/11 terror attacks. Police randomly search Uyghur homes in the middle of the night, install surveillance cameras around mosques and increase arrests with unprecedented and unjustifiable violence [5]. China appears to be using the war on terror as a justification to disregard minority human rights by targeting nonviolent Uyghurs over the past few decades. The detainment of up to a million, forced political propaganda, burning of religious books, and the aim for economic superiority: this cannot be ignored.

The mass ‘re-education’ camps and arrests happening as we speak are fueled by China’s perceived high threat of internal terrorism. Increased pressure and exposure of the inhumane incarcerations are being shared by global media alongside the UN, in the hope detainees will be released [10]. Firstly, immediate intervention by the UN is required to stop the camps as soon as possible [11]. Secondly, addressing the cause of the deep-rooted unfair distribution of wealth by increasing public education spending in Xinjiang and increasing minority rights.

Global societal pressure with the aid of the UN intervention is necessary for a bottom up change within Chinese Government, before the entirety of Uyghur cultural identity is eradicated through ‘education’ [12].



[1] - Anon 2018. OHCHR | Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviews the report of China. [Online]. [Accessed 18 November 2018]. Available from:

[2] - Zenz, A. 2018. ‘Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude’: China’s political reeducation campaign in Xinjiang. Central Asian Survey.,pp.1-27.

[3] - Buckley, C. 2018. China Is Detaining Muslims in Vast Numbers. The Goal: ‘Transformation.’. [Online]. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[4] - Thum, R. 2014. The sacred routes of Uyghur history.

[5] - W.K, S. and Tworek, W. 2015. CHINA’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN IN XINJIANG AND HOW IT AFFECTS ETHNIC INSTABILITY [Online]. Monterey,California: Calhoun. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[6] - Howell, A. and Fan, C. 2011. Migration and Inequality in Xinjiang: A Survey of Han and Uyghur Migrants in Urumqi. Eurasian Geography and Economics. 52(1),pp.119-139.

[7] - Bhattacharya, A. 2003. Conceptualising Uyghur separatism in Chinese nationalism. Strategic Analysis. 27(3),pp.357-381.

[8] - Shepherd, C. and Blanchard, B. 2018. China sets rules on beards, veils to combat extremism in Xinjiang. U.K.. [Online]. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[9] - Cavendish, R. 2006. Alabama Bus Segregation Ended | History Today. [Online]. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[10] - Anon 2018. China's Muslim camp spending 'revealed'. BBC News. [Online]. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[11] - Anon 2018. Our successes. United Nations Peacekeeping. [Online]. [Accessed 19 November 2018]. Available from:

[12] - Gans, H. 2016. Reducing Economic Inequality: A Bottom-Up Approach. Challenge. 59(2),pp.148- 152.