Don't back Uighur abuse

Don't back Uighur abuse

Secret Chinese government documents leaked to The New York Times have provided chilling details about its "no mercy" approach to repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The revelation should serve as a reminder to Thai admirers of Chinese President Xi Jinping of the brutal and paranoid reality of his regime.

In a case that made global headlines, Thailand collaborated with China's ruthless campaign in 2015 when the military junta deported more than 100 Uighur refugees back to China. Bangkok sent the Muslims back in full knowledge they could be tortured, detained or even "disappeared", like many others in the region. In recent years, Bangkok has tightened political, economic and military ties with Beijing to a point where the Thai government and the military have voiced public support for the Chinese Communist Party's repression and propaganda, especially over the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a story based on the leaked Chinese documents, which confirm reports by international media and rights organisations that more than 1 million people have been detained in a network of camps and prisons in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities call the camps "vocational educational centres to prevent terrorism". The Chinese government uses these facilities to strip Muslim minorities of their identity and indoctrinate them as loyal supporters of the secular ruling Communist Party.

According to The New York Times, the files reveal Mr Xi's secret directives to party members in 2014 that religious extremists should be treated with "absolutely no mercy". His message that the violence was spilling from Xinjiang into other parts of China, and could taint the party's image of strength, also demonstrates his paranoid attitude towards extremism and separatism in the region. His directive laid the philosophical groundwork for the "re-education" policy and set in motion the hard-line measures.

Xinjiang's "re-education" is thought to have begun in 2014, before expanding in 2017. The documents confirm the coercive nature of the measures used against Muslims, as revealed by escapees who have fled camps over the past three years.

The authorities' policy is to round up anyone who displays "symptoms" of religious radicalism or anti-government views, reports the NYT. The documents outline cruel measures that have torn families apart and intimidated students, who have returned home during school holidays from other cities only to find their parents missing.

Thailand, meanwhile, has witnessed a number of similar campaigns against dissidents since the 2014 coup, although the number of victims and scale of brutality hardly compares to the crackdown in Xinjiang. Weapons used against Thai activists include arrests, military "attitude-adjustment". Most disturbing of all is the spate of unresolved murders.

While China's government has turned Xinjiang region into a "virtual prison" under tight surveillance, the Thai government maintains an iron grip of "special laws" on the Muslim-majority deep South. The order that all mobile phone users in the region must submit to facial-recognition identification speaks volume about its repressive and discriminatory approach.

The Thai government may not be minded to protest China's "re-education" campaign. But it has no excuse for cosying up to Beijing's policies, given that Thailand also has other allies which are rightly more sympathetic to the plight of oppressed people in Xinjiang.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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