New details about the inner workings of mass detention camps in western China have been laid bare in a leak of classified Communist Party documents published on Sunday.
The China Cables, which were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a global network of investigative journalists based in Washington, include documents marked “secret” that serve as an operations manual for the internment of more than 1m Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.
The leaked cache, which was verified by independent experts and shared with more than a dozen media organisations, also includes details about the Chinese government’s use of artificial intelligence in policing practices, where computer algorithms are used in an effort to predict crime by trawling individuals’ personal data.
In addition to using facial recognition, gait recognition, eye tracking and crowd analysis technologies, the Chinese government has recently begun deploying “emotion recognition” systems, which use video footage to analyse what local officials describe as one’s “mental state”. Chinese police are also reportedly installing intrusive data-harvesting software on ordinary citizens’ smartphones.
The Chinese government has insisted its mass detention camps are “education and training centres” to prevent terrorism. China’s State Council said earlier this year that it had arrested almost 13,000 “terrorists” as part of its effort.
But the documents reportedly instruct camp personnel on how to maintain secrecy and prevent escapes at the facilities, and set out methods of forced indoctrination. They include a points system designed to modify behaviour by meting out punishments and rewards. Inmates can be detained indefinitely but must serve at least a year, in which they earn credits for such things as “ideological transformation” and “compliance with discipline.”
China’s treatment of the Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups has sparked international condemnation, but the US government has been especially critical, as trade tensions continue to escalate between the two countries.
Last month, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said China had pursued a “highly repressive” campaign against the Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups, and the Trump administration would impose visa restrictions on Chinese government officials connected to their mass detention. Mr Pompeo has also urged countries to reject Chinese government requests to repatriate people from Xinjiang.
Earlier this month, the World Bank announced it was scaling back a $50bn project to fund vocational training in Xinjiang, after an internal review of the project. The World Bank said that while its probe “did not substantiate” allegations that the project supported schools involved in the arbitrary detention of Muslims, it would scrap the plans.