The estimated number of predominantly Muslim minorities forced into “concentration camps” by Chinese communist authorities may have more than tripled in less than a year to nearly three million, the Pentagon revealed over the weekend.
Comments from a top Pentagon official on Friday confirmed assertions by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) this year that Beijing “significantly intensified its campaign of the mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang)” in 2018.
Xinjiang, China’s largest province, is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the country, mainly from the Uighur (or Uyghur) ethnic minority group.
In December 2018, when a top DOS official estimated that Beijing was holding prisoner 800,000 Muslims, Reuters reported that Beijing had constructed up to 1,200 “Muslim Gulags” in Xinjiang, commonly known as a re-education or mind-transformation facilities.
On Friday, Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters:
“Our concerns are significant when it comes to the ongoing repression in China. The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps. Given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million, so a very significant portion of the population.”
Arguing that the facilities are vocational centers aimed at combating the “three evils” of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, Beijing has repeatedly denied assertions by the U.S. and the United Nations that it is holding prisoner many Muslim minorities.
At the “concentration camps,” the religious minorities undergo systemic torture, disappearances, executions, and arbitrary detentions in the name of communist indoctrination. Besides Uighurs, the imprisoned minorities include Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslims as well as some Christians.
Echoing the U.S. State Department and non-governmental assessments, the U.N. claimed in August 2018 that Beijing had sent a million Muslims to “counter-extremism centers.” That figure came after DOS reported in its annual religious freedom report issued in May 2018 that China was likely holding “hundreds of thousands” of Muslims in “re-education centers” by the end of 2017.
The religious freedom report on China’s activities in 2017 did not provide a specific figure. However, the State Department’s annual global human rights assessment found that by the end of 2018, Chinese communist “authorities were reported to have arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities.”
That means the Muslim “concentration camp” population in Xinjiang grew by between one and 2.2 million since the end of 2018.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), “Experts estimate that Xinjiang reeducation efforts started in 2014 and were drastically expanded in 2017.” Some news outlets like the Financial Times have suggested Beijing has extended the mass detention of Muslims to Chinese areas beyond Xinjiang.
This year, DOS reported:
“[Chinese] government officials claimed the camps were needed to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism. International media, human rights organizations, and former detainees reported security officials in the camps abused, tortured, and killed some detainees.”
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repudiated the crackdown on religious freedom in China, stressing that persecution of Muslims and Christians has reached “historic proportions.”
In releasing its annual report on global human rights issued in March, DOS compared China’s mass detention Muslims “to the horrors of Stalin’s Russia and Nazi Germany in the 1930s,” Breitbart News pointed out.
Turkey has been the only prominent Muslim nation to speak out against the Muslim “concentration camps” in China. Uighurs share cultural and linguistic similarities with other Turkic ethnic groups. Meanwhile, China’s all-weather ally Pakistan has defended Beijing’s crackdown of Muslims.
Al-Qaeda, which is linked to some Uighur jihadis, is attempting to exploit China’s mistreatment of its Muslim minorities.