Before attacking China's policy on Xinjiang, U.S. government and western media should at least get their facts straight. Instead of alleged "oppression", China has poured 15 billion yuan (around 2.14 billion U.S. dollars) in investment every year to the region in support of its economic growth and people's livelihood, according to the press conference by China's State Council Information Office, on Xinjiang's stability and development.
Street view of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northwest China. (Photo: VCG)
The stability in Xinjiang does not come easy. From 1990 to 2016, the region was under the shadow of terrorism and extremism and the cost was high. According to the official, thousands of terrorist attacks was conducted which has inflicted enormous damages to people's lives. No government would stand to allow more tragedies to happen.
There's no denying that while the vocational training centers has been widely criticized, this preventing measure, together with other policies have made Xinjiang a much safer place now. There has been no violent terrorist attack for three consecutive years. This is the fact that U.S. congress ignored when it wants to put sanctions on China on account of its Xinjiang policy.
This is while there are no "rampant abuses" against the more than one million Muslims and certainly no "detention camps" to torture and mistreat them in the world's second largest economy. Muslim men and women attend these educational programs as part of nationwide efforts to combat terrorism, extremism and separatism. The rationale is clear.
The price of terrorism
Under international and regional human rights law, China has a right and a duty to protect its citizens from terrorism and extremism. China's general duty as a United Nations member state is to protect its citizens against terror attacks and obstruction of the enjoyment of basic human rights.
The vocational training centers help China to prevent terrorism-related costs, like destruction of infrastructure and business, flight of skilled workers and diversion of funds to counter terrorism. They prevent foreign-backed extremists groups to grow in the country.
Since their defeat, ISIL and Al-Qaeda have shifted to regionalized operations, trying to produce new generations of fighters. Sadly, their individual members have carried out clandestine operations in China. Comprehensive re-education classes are the best approach to prevent Uygur Muslims from joining the terror enterprises.
Uygur children are also at risk of radicalization, which is clearly shown in the documentary on Xinjiang produced by CGTN where a six-year-old boy was taught how to use a gun. Educating them in schools is a necessary step to prevent terrorist organizations from recruiting them. Ignoring them does not consider the possible effects in the future and is far too great of a risk.
Re-engagement is indispensable
Under international and regional human rights law, China has a right and a duty to integrate its Muslim communities by giving them lessons in law and culture, business and vocational skills. The major military and economic power should never let them feel like second-class citizens.
China's vocational training centers are very similar to Europe's repatriation and reintegration programs intended to help former ISIL fighters that have returned from Syria. There is no secrecy here. The European ISIL fighters have committed violent crimes against humanity but were allowed to attend re-engagement programs instead of going to jail.
The same re-engagement programs exist in China and include those who have served a prison term. They can leave the re-education centers and get back into normal life after passing exams.
So, unlike what Washington's new ploy would like to suggest, the re-engagement programs are not there to wipe out the Uygur culture or force them to renounce their religion. Under the Chinese Constitution, Uygur are free to practice their religion, and it's a lie to claim otherwise. The programs have widely been successful in deterring them from joining the extremist outfits.
China can display its values
Giving China the credit it deserves, the country has a right and a duty to counter separatism as well. The re-education centers can help the nation to display and promote its values to this end, as no other approach seems feasible. Their closure is reckless and risks creating many problems.
For those not familiar with the risks, on July 5, 2009, nearly 200 were killed in rioting in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang. In 2014, separatists killed 31 in Kunming and 43 in Urumqi. This is to say it is less risky to reintegrate the separatists than to abandon them. Reintegrating them into society is clearly a victory, and any other approach would be costly in blood and treasure.
No doubt the re-education centers have significantly reduced the terrorist threat in China. While the challenge is still considerable and misinterpretations exist, Uygur Muslims must not be allowed to become tomorrow's fanatics by failing to re-educate and reintegrate them.
Just as importantly, Uygur should be under no illusion that there is no "right" to create an independent state in China. Per the United Nations Charter, they are under their government's jurisdiction and should help their country to eliminate and combat terrorism, extremism and separatism.
Xinjiang's continued economic development also relies on a stable environment. It's position at the core are of Silk Road Economic Belt means that it has the great potential to boost its development. Instead of slandering and blackening China's Xinjiang policy, perhaps western countries should be more modest in learning how China is combating terrorism to guard their citizens.