Xinjiang province, located in far western China, is one of the most restricted and talked-about areas in the world. Various international media outlets have reported in horrific detail about the vast Uyghur re-education camps in the province along with firsthand accounts on the oppressive Chinese surveillance system and forced sterilization.
According to the Chinese government, this narrative is both false and hypocritical. In Xinjiang, Uyghurs, a Muslim Turkic minority ethnic group, are the majority demographic over the Chinese. Over the years, this dynamic has resulted in a simmering ethnic tension. For the Chinese government, Xinjiang is a counterterrorism operation. The government’s primary adversary is the Turkistan Islamic Party (formerly East Turkestan Islamic Movement). The group’s main goal is the establishment of an independent state including parts of Central Asia and Xinjiang. In the words of China’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, China’s “radicalization centers” are not dissimilar to its peers in the West. The ambassador stated: “Countries like the U.S., the U.K., and France have established deradicalization centers or correction centers. China’s measures are not entirely different from theirs.”
It’s this counterterrorism stance that headlines China’s military media content about Xinjiang. Uyghurs are part of the “Five Poisons” of Chinese national security, the others being the Tibetan independence movement, Taiwan independence, pro-Democracy activists, and the Falun Gong religion.
Tensions in Xinjiang have existed for decades between Uyghurs and the Chinese. These simmering conflicts exploded in the 2009 riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which left an estimated 197 dead, and the 2014 Kunming Station attack in Southern China where Uyghur separatists stabbed and killed 31 people.