Leaked documents detail China’s abuse of Muslims in Xinjiang

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Our word of the day is leaked documents (泄漏文件 xièlòu wénjiàn). 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Photo credit: The China Project illustration

1. Xi Jinping on Xinjiang in leaked documents: ‘Absolutely no mercy’

Over the weekend, the New York Times published one of the most significant document leaks from the Chinese government in decades. The 400-plus pages of private speeches from high-level officials, internal memos, and records of investigations and disciplinary action all concern the government’s “People’s war on terrorism” in Xinjiang and the extralegal mass detention atrocity that it has led to

Here are some key takeaways from the documents, whose validity was not denied by the Chinese government:

  • Four private speeches by Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, showed him in 2014 demanding that comrades “show absolutely no mercy” in dealing with those infected with “extremist religious thought.” Xi also “urged the party to emulate aspects of America’s ‘war on terror’ after the September 11 attacks.”

  • Chén Quánguó 陈全国, the former Party leader in Tibet, was transferred to oversee Xinjiang in 2016, and used Xi’s speeches as justification for what he described as a “smashing, obliterating offensive” against religious extremism. 

  • “Round up everyone who should be rounded up,” Chen ordered in February 2017, leading to the arbitrary detention of over a million ethnic minorities who showed even normal signs of Muslim piety. 

  • One official resisted the order, and was punished. Wáng Yǒngzhì 王勇智, who managed Yarkand County in southern Xinjiang, quietly released more than 7,000 detainees. He was swiftly stripped of power, and reports accusing him of being irredeemably corrupt — along with a likely coerced signed confession — were distributed to officials across the region. 

The NYT says that the source of the documents was “a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity and expressed hope that their disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions.” 

One of the documents, which the NYT translated and published in full, was essentially a script that officials were told to follow when interacting with children whose parents had been detained in camps. These were some of the messages to be communicated:

  • “Treasure this chance for free education that the Party and the government has provided to thoroughly eradicate erroneous thinking, and also learn Chinese and job skills,” officials were told to tell students returning to Xinjiang from other parts of China. 

  • They have not committed a crime, but they cannot leave. You cannot visit them, either, as they have an “infectious virus” in their thinking and need something like a “detox for drug addicts.” 

  • If you complain, it will make things worse. “Family members, including you, must abide by the state’s laws and rules, and not believe or spread rumors. Only then can you add points for your family member.” 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not deny the authenticity of the documents (as mentioned above), but accused the New York Times of “taking out of context and hyping” the papers. Xinjiang has “seen dramatic changes: Peace, prosperity and tourism are back,” the editor of a major state-controlled newspaper said on Twitter.

Further reading

History will judge the vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang, and the criteria for that judgment will not be based on the preferences of Westerners, but the attitudes of the masses living in Xinjiang: Editor-in-Chief Hú Xījìn 胡锡进. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. Hong Kong Polytechnic University under siege 

Last week, university campuses in Hong Kong became battlegrounds as police broke a previous unwritten rule treating them as safe havens. The Chinese University of Hong Kong and other colleges canceled classes for the rest of the semester, as protesters engaged in clashes with police that looked like medieval sieges. 

The siege continues at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, with police surrounding the campus and trying to arrest protesters and prevent them from escaping. They did, however, let high-school-aged participants go, per the Associated Press

Before dawn on Tuesday [November 19], police allowed a group of minors to leave the campus after their high school principals secured a promise that they could go home safely. Police took down the teenagers’ details and they could still face prosecution later, local broadcaster RTHK reported.

The teens, some wearing masks to protect against tear gas, were seen hugging their principal as they left the cordoned-off university campus.

Also on Monday, “protests raged across other parts of the city, fueled by palpable public anger over the police blockade of and the desire to help the students stuck inside,” reports the Associated Press. 

Also from Hong Kong: 

Hong Kong’s next scheduled elections may be postponed: “The SAR government says the events of the past weekend have ‘reduced the chance’ of the authorities being able to hold the district council elections as planned this Sunday,” according to RTHK

On Saturday, People’s Liberation Army troops “volunteered” to clean up streets in Hong Kong after protests. It was a PR stunt that went wrong, as observers noticed the soldiers wearing basketball jerseys that identified them as members of an elite counter-terrorism unit which usually operates in Xinjiang and Tibet

The propaganda stunt “in very clear ways, the action underscores the deep divide that separates political cultures and consciousness in China and Hong Kong,” writes David Bandurski of the China Media Project in an analysis of why Beijing style messaging does not work in an environment where journalists can ask real questions. 

“Several Asian airlines have reduced flights to Hong Kong over the coming weeks, an aviation scheduling publication showed,” reports Reuters via Taipei Times.  

3. A third case of bubonic plague

China has reported a third case of bubonic plague, reports Reuters. Rumors are running wild on social media, partly because of the government’s habitual lack of transparency. 

Bubonic plague is the disease that caused the “Black Death” of the 14th century and killed about 50 million people, or 60 percent of Europe’s entire population, and so it has a fearsome reputation. 

The virus is highly contagious, but according to Foreign Policy, antibiotics have largely removed the threat of a plague pandemic. However, “lowering the risks…requires transparency on the part of public health authorities,” and that still seems to be in short supply in Beijing. 

Some of the rumors flying around that I have seen are very similar to stories shared by text message during the 2003 SARS crisis: that people will be forced into quarantine, that the infection is already out of control in Beijing. You might not be able to believe Beijing, but the online rumor mill is even less reliable. 

4. 90-day reprieve for Huawei, still no phase one deal 

The negotiators are making friendly noises, but even a “phase one” deal seems far away. After a phone call on Friday, this is all that Xinhua had to say:

Chinese Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chief of the Chinese side of the China-U.S. comprehensive economic dialogue, held a phone conversation at the request of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday morning.

During their talks, the two sides had constructive discussions on each other’s core concerns in the “phase one” deal, and agreed to maintain close communication.

The American side was not much more communicative. Reuters reports, “White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday the two countries were getting close to an agreement about ending their 16-month trade war, but he gave no further details on the timing of a possible deal.”

“The mood in Beijing about a trade deal is pessimistic due to President Donald Trump’s reluctance to roll back tariffs, which China believed the U.S. had agreed to,” a government source told CNBC’s Eunice Yoon

Other news of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 501:

Huawei gets a reprieve. The South China Morning Post reports:

The Trump administration on Monday issued a new 90-day extension permitting US companies to keep selling certain products to China’s Huawei Technologies, as US regulators continue to devise rules on how to manage national security threats posed by foreign companies.

The extension “will allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday.

“The department will continue to rigorously monitor sensitive technology exports to ensure that our innovations are not harnessed by those who would threaten our national security,” Ross said.

“How Trump’s trade war went from method to madness” is the title of a Bloomberg piece (porous paywall) that describes “the president’s shift from a grand bargain with China to a small deal.”

Trump is dispensing more madness today. From his Twitter feed

Our great Farmers will recieve [sic] another major round of “cash,” compliments of China Tariffs, prior to Thanksgiving. The smaller farms and farmers will be big beneficiaries. In the meantime, and as you may have noticed, China is starting to buy big again. Japan deal DONE. Enjoy!

“A Senate panel has scheduled a hearing Tuesday to examine ways to keep U.S.-funded research from being shared with China,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall):

National security officials say universities are at the leading edge of a plan by Beijing to illicitly gain scientific expertise and leapfrog the technology gap with the West, but prosecutors face challenges proving wrongdoing in court, as new allegations in a criminal case in Kansas underscore.

“China on Monday called on the United States to stop flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and to avoid adding ‘new uncertainties’ over Taiwan,” according to Al Jazeera

The remarks by Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, recounted by a Chinese spokesman, came just two weeks after a top White House official denounced Chinese “intimidation” in the crucial waterway.

It also came a day after Esper publicly accused Beijing of “increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives” in the region.

5. TikTok chief says he would turn down request from Xi Jinping 

In an interview in New York, Alex Zhu (朱骏 Zhū Jùn), head of TikTok, “denied, in unambiguous terms, several key accusations” about the short-video service owned by Chinese internet powerhouse ByteDance. From the New York Times (porous paywall): 

In an interview — his first since taking the reins at TikTok this year — Mr. ZhuNo, TikTok does not censor videos that displease China, he said. And no, it does not share user data with China, or even with its Beijing-based parent company. All data on TikTok users worldwide is stored in Virginia, he said, with a backup server in Singapore.

But China is a murky place for companies. Even if TikTok’s policies are clear on paper, what if Chinese authorities decided they didn’t like them and pressured ByteDance? What if China’s top leader, Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, personally asked Mr. Zhu to take down a video or hand over user data?

“I would turn him down,” Mr. Zhu said, after barely a moment’s thought.

Zhu might regret that promise: It’s simply not credible for a Chinese company that wants to survive in the People’s Republic to refuse a direct order from Xi, who must be obeyed. As one “former employee in TikTok’s Los Angeles office” told the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “We’re a Chinese company,” this person said. “We answer to China.”

Why is TikTok eager to talk to the press right now? 

ByteDance’s investors, including Sequoia Capital and SoftBank Group Corp. , view growth in the U.S. as key to achieving their goal of an initial public offering late next year, people familiar with the matter said…

ByteDance’s investors are eager to pitch it as the parent of the first social-media company to get big in China and the West, according to a former executive. “Without the U.S., it’s not global,” this person said.

6. China is still the largest source of international students at U.S. colleges

Despite visa issues, Trumpian rhetoric, and Sinophobia, “China remained the largest source of international students in the United States in 2018/19” for the tenth consecutive year, according to the Institute of International Education.

  • There were “369,548 Chinese students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs, a 1.7 percent increase from 2017/18.” 

  • “But a closer look suggests that the flow of Chinese students is ebbing and not immune to politics or economics,” says the South China Morning Post:

The rate of newly arriving Chinese undergraduates was essentially flat and the number of non-degree students declined by 5.4 per cent during the 2018-19 academic year, according to IIE data, while the number of Chinese graduate students grew by 2 percent.

  • Taiwan is sending more students: Focus Taiwan points out that there were “23,369 Taiwanese tertiary school students in the U.S. during the 2018/19, a rise of 4.1 percent from a year earlier.” 

7. Columbia University cancels China event in fear of protests? 

A speaking event titled “Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: the human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party and how they affect the world,” which was scheduled for November 14 at Columbia University in New York, was canceled. The reason, according to the organizers

Columbia University authorities told organizers to cancel the event, citing concerns for security, because a Chinese student group threatened to stage a protest outside the venue on campus.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


At an open court hearing in Beijing Intellectual Property Court on Thursday, JD sought to overturn a previous finding that five trademarks used in its annual November 11 marketing campaigns violated the intellectual property of the market leader. Alibaba attended as a third party.

Alibaba took JD.com to the former Trademark Review and Adjudication Board in July 2017 over those five trademarks, which JD registered in 2013 and 2014.  

After a string of high-profile bankruptcies led to warnings about the imminent death of China’s bike-sharing sector, companies are continuing to raise prices in a bid to find profitability.

Mobike, the industry leader owned by food-delivery and city-service company Meituan Dianping, has quietly raised its overall riding fees in certain cities like Zhengzhou, where the basic price per ride is now 1.5 yuan ($0.21), up from 1 yuan previously.

Chinese consumers are rediscovering their appetite for iPhones.

Apple Inc. shipped 10 million iPhones in China during September and October, based on Bloomberg’s calculations from government data on overall and Android device shipments. 

The promise of Kuniao, or Coolbird, seems tempting enough: Chinese users can download the browser onto their Windows computers or smartphones and, using the VPN capabilities built into the program, directly delve into Facebook and Twitter — services banned for years by Chinese authorities who keep a tight grip over what information Chinese citizens can receive. 

The catch?

Kuniao users must register their phone numbers, and their browsing history will be tracked, according to a version of the user agreement posted online. Users must also abide by a peculiar set of terms and conditions that seemed to echo government-speak: They must respect “The Seven Bottom Lines” — including the law, the socialist system and the national interest. And they must adhere to “The Nine Do Nots”: Do not oppose the Chinese constitution, or harm national security, or disclose state secrets, or subvert national sovereignty — the list goes on.

Crypto giants Binance Holdings Ltd. and Tron have been banned on China’s largest micro-blogging service amid what appears to be fresh steps to crack down on digital currency trading.

The official accounts of exchange operator Binance and blockchain platform Tron were suspended by Twitter-like Weibo last week. At the same time watchdogs in Shanghai issued notices calling for a cleanup of companies involved in cryptocurrency trading, while one in Beijing warned against illegal exchange operations.


Ghana is going ahead with a controversial $2 billion deal where China will build roads and bridges in exchange for bauxite ore mined in part of West Africa’s Upper Guinean Rainforest.

Beijing has released a first tranche of funds worth $649 million under the Sinohydro deal, Ghanaian Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia said on Monday.

The agreement also included a 300 million yuan ($42.7 million) grant and debt forgiveness worth $35.7 million to help with Ghana’s infrastructure development, he said.

East China’s Jiangxi Province decided to release its pandas to the wild, making it the second province to do so after Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, reported Science and Technology Daily on Thursday.

According to China’s Fourth Giant Panda Survey, China has approximately 33 isolated small populations of pandas. These fragmented habitats are adverse to efficient communication between different populations. Releasing pandas into the wild is believed to be the most important and rapid way to solve the problem.


Sweden’s prime minister has rejected threats from China that Sweden will “suffer the consequences” for awarding a freedom of speech prize to the detained Chinese-born Swedish publisher Guì Mǐnhǎi 桂敏海.

Gui was one of the five Hong Kong-based publishers and booksellers who disappeared in 2015 having printed books critical of the Chinese government…Earlier this month, Swedish PEN announced that it would be giving Gui the Tucholsky prize, named after the German writer Kurt Tucholsky who fled Nazi Germany for Sweden…In response, the Chinese embassy in Stockholm said that the decision to award the prize to Gui was “not only a sheer farce, but also a mockery of genuine freedom of speech and a slap in the face of Swedish PEN itself”, born out of an “ulterior political agenda and consistent biases and hostility against China.” … “As is known to all, Gui Minhai is a criminal who has committed serious offences in both China and Sweden. He is a lie-fabricator and rumour-spreader,” said the embassy, calling on Swedish PEN to cancel the prize… 

Despite this, the prize ceremony went ahead on Friday, with an empty chair on the stage to mark Gui’s absence. Presenting, Sweden’s culture and democracy minister Amanda Lind said that those in power should never attack free artistic expression.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven rebuffed China’s claims. “We are not going to give in to this type of threat,” he told a TV interviewer. “Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period.”

The former US intelligence employee turned whistleblower against US surveillance, however, said that censorship of the simplified Chinese version of his recently released book, Permanent Record, violated the publishing agreement for its sale in China. In a Twitter thread [posted November 12], Snowden, who currently lives in exile in Moscow, said he was allowed to see some of the censored passages. He posted some of the excised parts along with the English originals, and invited readers to submit their own examples and help translate them in a bid to “compile a correct and unabridged version” of the book in Chinese.

The media director of the largest newspaper in Vanuatu has been denied re-entry to the Pacific island nation, a move he claims is retaliation for reporting on the deportation of a number of criminal suspects with dual Chinese-Vanuatu nationality in July.

Dan McGarry, who runs the Vanuatu Daily Post, was prevented from boarding a flight from Brisbane to Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila on Saturday, less than a fortnight after the Vanuatu government declined to renew his work permit. Authorities insisted this was done in line with government policy to encourage the hiring of locals.

McGarry is a Canadian passport holder and is allowed 30 days visa-free entry to Vanuatu. His partner, a Vanuatu citizen, returned on her own to the country to care for their children.

Speakers from two controversial Chinese tech firms — including one blacklisted in the United States for its work monitoring the Uyghur ethnic group in China — will no longer be speaking at a conference sponsored by a club at the University of British Columbia.

The UBC China Forum, set to be held November 16 and 17 in Vancouver, promotes business links between Canada and China, and is organized by the BizChina Club from UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

The event previously listed Jimmy Zhou [周辰 Zhōu Chén], executive director of SenseTime,  and Lina Chen [陈丽娜 Chén Lìnà], the chief editor of Sina Weibo, as speakers, but their names have since been removed from the conference website.

Jamaica has announced it will stop borrowing from China as it tries to balance its relationship with Washington and Beijing.

This April it signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious trade and infrastructure project, and China invested more than US$2 billion in Jamaica from 2005 to 2018, according to the China-Latin America Finance Database.

But following his visit to China early this month, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that while cooperation in infrastructure would continue “in keeping with its firm commitment to reduce debt rapidly, [the government] would not negotiate any new loan programmes with our Chinese partners”…

[T]he impact of [Chinese] investment in the island nation has also provoked a growing domestic backlash and the government’s decision to avoid further borrowing from Beijing — an unusual move for a Belt and Road signatory — may owe as much to domestic concerns as it does to the need to alleviate Washington’s disquiet.

The Chinese embassy in Australia has said two lawmakers must “repent and redress their mistakes” after they were denied entry to China because of their outspoken criticism of Beijing.Andrew Hastie and James Paterson were due to visit China next month, on a study tour organized by an Australian think tank, but said they had been barred because of their “frankness about the Chinese Communist Party.”

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) has named as her running mate for 2020 elections a former premier who angered Beijing so badly last year with his support for the island’s formal independence that a major Chinese paper called for his arrest…

William Lai (賴淸德 Lài Qīngdé), premier until January when he stepped down to take responsibility for a crushing defeat in regional elections last November for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, will be Tsai’s vice-president candidate, she told a news conference in Taipei on Sunday (Nov 17). 

Sri Lanka’s freshly elected president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will take a “low key” approach in restoring the cosy ties the country enjoyed with China during the 2005-2015 presidency of his brother, analysts said, as the new leader stressed on Monday that he would adopt a strictly neutral foreign policy.

Paul Staniland, a prominent scholar of Sri Lankan politics, said Gotabaya was more likely to “spread his bets by reaching out to a variety of powerful states in the region and beyond.”

Expectations before Saturday’s elections had been that he would not only sweep the polls against his main rival, Sajith Premadasa, but that he would also swiftly revert back to the overtly pro-Beijing foreign policy of his brother Mahinda.

 In his inaugural speech, the president said he would not allow the island nation to be pulled into a proxy contest among the world’s major powers.



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