The Chinese government has reacted furiously to the publication of more than 400 pages of sensitive Communist Party documents by the New York Times, which linked President Xi Jinping to the country’s mass detention centers in the far western region of Xinjiang.
The documents, which were published by the New York Times on Saturday, represent one of the largest ever data leaks from inside the Chinese government. Their disclosure provides a rare window into the secretive policy decisions around the continued mass incarceration of religious and ethnic minorities.
According to the US State Department up to 2 million mostly-Mulism Uyghurs as well as other minority groups have been detained without due process in detention camps, a system described by former detainees as designed to eradicate their language and cultural heritage.
The Chinese government initially denied the camps’ existence but now says they are voluntary vocational training centers, part of a region-wide program designed to curb Islamic extremism.
But the internal party documents published by the Times showed there was clear discussion about the mass detention of Muslim minorities, with one top official ordering his staff to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”
The documents also linked the campaign back to President Xi through previously unpublished speeches he made to local officials in 2014, calling for “absolutely no mercy” in a crackdown on “terrorism … and separatism.”
Xi made the speech just days after a terrorist attack in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in April 2014. The far western Chinese region has a long history of unrest and protests, including a 2009 police crackdown which spiraled into citywide violence in Urumqi.
According to the Times, the documents were leaked by a “member of the Chinese political establishment” who wanted to make sure Xi and other senior party official didn’t escape culpability for the policy.
Speaking at his daily press conference Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not deny the documents were real but did accuse Times’ reporters of willful misinterpretation.
“It (the Times) used clumsy patchwork and distortion to hype up the so-called ‘internal documents’ and smear China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts. What are they up to?” he said.
Geng said that the country’s de-radicalization efforts had been a major success.
“Xinjiang affairs are purely China’s domestic affairs. The issue Xinjiang faces is not about ethnicity, religion or human rights … Thanks to the preventive counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts, Xinjiang … hasn’t seen a single violent, terrorist incident over the past three years,” he said.
The Xinjiang regional government said the New York Times article was “entirely fabricated by domestic and foreign hostile forces” and “full of lies.”
“The western anti-China forces … don’t want to see the stability and harmonious development of Xinjiang, and have constantly fabricated fake news to attack and smear Xinjiang,” the statement said.
The leaked documents said that a number of party officials were purged for disagreeing with the campaign or attempting to release Uyghur detainees.
Beijing’s vast network of detention centers in Xinjiang have been widely criticized across the Western world, with 23 countries including the United States and Australia issuing a statement condemning them in late October.
But there has been even broader support for the Chinese government in other parts of the world, with 54 countries signing a counter statement praising the Xinjiang program.