By Zhou Pingjian
Xinjiang is one of the five ethnic autonomous regions in China which covers an area of about one sixth of the entire country with a population of 25 million.
On July 21, The State Council Information Office of China published a white paper on historical matters concerning Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China. From historic, religious, ethnic and cultural perspectives, the white paper clearly explains that Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory as well as its ethnic groups and cultures. Similar to Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with over 250 ethnic groups, China is also a united multi-ethnic nation founded jointly by the people of all its ethnic groups as well as different religious beliefs.
For some time, some politicians and media in the western countries continuously attacked China’s policy in Xinjiang, falsely claiming that a large number of “concentration camps” violating human rights have been established there. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Three month ago, I spent a whole week in Xinjiang and travelled across the region. That was my fourth trip to Xinjiang. I had face-to-face communication with teachers, the trainees and their families in some training centers. I also visited classrooms, dormitories, canteens and sports fields. Everywhere I went, I was impressed by the brightness, cleanness as well as happiness and cheerful voices from the trainees. The level of the national common language and legal awareness of all trainees have been greatly enhanced. The trainees who have practiced sewing, hairdressing and e-commerce are very skilled, and they enjoy it. They become more and more confidence in their future and their families are also gratified.
Many foreign friends who have visited the training centers said that what they saw were diligent students and happy campus, and the so-called accusation of “concentration camps” fell apart. From June 18 to 21, diplomats and representatives based in Geneva from 14 countries and an organization visited Xinjiang and interacted extensively with local residents, farmers, teachers and students in various places across the region. Among them, Nigerian Ambassador Audu Ayinla Kadiri said what he saw was entirely different from some negative media reports on the vocational education and training centers. On July 12, Ambassadors of 37 countries including Nigeria and many members from Organization of Islamic Cooperation sent a joint letter to the President of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to show their support for China on its “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights”. We highly appreciate the support from our Nigerian friends.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The past seven decades have witnessed a great transformation in China and historic progress never seen before in the country’s human rights development. China has grown into the second largest economy in the world, with its GDP surpassing 13.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2018. It now boasts the world’s largest middle income population and has contributed to over 30% of global growth for many years in a row. Over the past 40 years, China has lifted over 740 million people out of poverty and met the basic needs of nearly 1.4 billion people. And by 2020, we will achieve comprehensive poverty eradication with no one left behind. It is fair to say that China has made a new great achievement in the history of the development and in the history of poverty reduction of the world. This is the largest human rights project, the best human rights story, and also the most important contribution of China to the cause of human rights of the world.
As for what is really happening in Xinjiang, I would like to share the true story from four aspects with Nigerian friends:
Firstly, Xinjiang is enjoying prominent economic development. Over the past 70 years, especially since 1978, Xinjiang has witnessed sustained and steady high-quality economic development, with its GDP for 2018 exceeding nearly 200 billion U.S. dollars. People’s living standard has greatly improved, with urban and rural residents’ per capita disposable income reaching respectively over 4,800 and 1,700 U.S. dollars. Public-interest projects regarding employment, education, medical services and social security have been moved forward. From 2014 to 2018, a total of 2.3 million people in Xinjiang were lifted out of poverty, with the poverty headcount ratio dropping from 19.4 percent to 6.1 percent. From 2019 to 2020, 817,100 people will shake off poverty. By 2020, all rural residents living below the current poverty line will be lifted out of poverty, absolute poverty will be eradicated as Xinjiang keeps pace with the rest of China in finishing building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
Secondly, Xinjiang is still facing severe challenges of anti-terrorism. Despite the progress Xinjiang has made in various undertakings, Xinjiang is also confronted with challenges. Since the 1990s, the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism inside and outside China have orchestrated and executed thousands of violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. The Exhibition on Major Incidents of Violent Terrorist Attacks in Xinjiang, which I viewed with great shock in late April this year, presents a large number of pictures and video footage about the appallingly cruel acts against humanity committed by violent terrorists. At the same time, the spread of religious extremist thoughts had stoked the terrorist rampage. The government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has taken a series of measures according to law to crack down on violent terrorist crimes on the one hand and actively explored preventive anti-terrorism and deradicalization measures on the other, including setting up vocational education and training centers. These efforts have been effective and won the sincere support of the people.
Thirdly, Xinjiang’s training centers are not “camps” but “campus”. There is no difference between a training center and a boarding school. The vocational education and training program is preventive counter-terrorism in nature and a precautionary step to prevent a disease or treat it in its early stages, as we do in traditional Chinese medicine. It aims to educate and rehabilitate to the greatest extent possible the individuals who have been influenced by extremist ideologies and committed minor offenses, so that they will not be victimized by and fall prey to terrorism and extremism. Courses on the national common language, legal knowledge and vocational skills help the trainees deradicalize themselves. The trainees can go home regularly, ask for a leave when needed, make phone or video calls to their family, and their family can come to the training centers to visit them. Upon completion of the courses, the trainees will be recommended for employment or self-employment by the school and the government. The training centers provide free accommodations and safeguard all basic rights of the trainees in accordance with the law to meet their needs in study, life and entertainment. I must point out that the vocational education and training program is a special measure adopted by Xinjiang at a special time. We will continue to improve the work of the training centers. As the counter-terrorism situation improves, the training program will be gradually downsized, leading to its completion.
Fourthly, Xinjiang is a place with freedom and safety. Xinjiang has taken a host of measures to protect citizens’ freedom of religious belief and safeguard their cultural rights and the right of all ethnic groups to use their own ethnic languages. There are 24,800 mosques, churches, Buddhist temples, Taoist temples and other religious venues, 29,300 clerical staff, and 10 religious schools such as the Xinjiang Islamic Institute. For every 530 muslims in Xinjiang, there is a mosques. Fine traditional cultures of ethnic minorities are protected and developed. The Uygur Muqam art and Kirgiz epic Manas have been listed as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Ethnic minority languages are widely used in judicature, administration, education, press and publication, radio and television, the internet and social public affairs. The rights of women, children, the aged and people with disabilities are fully respected and protected by law. The stability dividend has continued to benefit Xinjiang. No case of violent terrorism has occurred for over 30 months in a row. A total of 150 million tourists visited Xinjiang last year, and this year the figure is expected to reach 200 million. Is it fair to label a place that receives nearly 200 million visitors a year as unsafe and not free?
When it comes to human rights, no one can claim perfection. So making progress is all important. We will continue to advance human rights development in China in an all-round way to meet people’s needs and aspiration for a better life, and join hands with other countries to promote and protect human rights around the world, with a view to advancing the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Only a shoe’s wearer knows if it fits. The best-qualified to speak on Xinjiang are the Xinjiang people of all ethnic groups. We sincerely welcome Nigerian friends to make field visits to Xinjiang, and see for yourselves a beautiful, true and hospitable Xinjiang, a good place in north-western China.
(Dr. Zhou Pingjian is Ambassdor of China to Nigiera)