China deploys driverless police cars for surveillance of Uyghurs

China has introduced a new method of surveillance in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: 20 driverless electric patrol vehicles, RFA reported.

China began testing its first domestically-manufactured, high-tech patrol car in Karamay (in Chinese, Kelemayi), an oil-rich city in the northern part of the region.

Zhao Wenchuan, the secretary for the city’s Chinese Communist Party Committee, has said Karamay was chosen as the production and testing base for the smart patrol vehicles because it is the leading digital city in the region.

The unmanned surveillance patrol vehicles are expected to be deployed throughout Xinjiang, according to Chinese media reports.

The cars, dubbed the ‘Little Patrol’, are manufactured by Zhongke Tianji (Xinjiang) Aerospace Information Co. Ltd., according to a March 30 report by the Karamay Daily.

Experts on China’s policies in Xinjiang expressed concern about the introduction of self-driving surveillance cars.

‘This is just the next step in setting up that perfect police state, ensuring that the police have total power,’ said Geoffrey Cain, a US journalist who wrote the book ‘The Perfect Police State: An Undercover Odyssey into China’s Terrifying Surveillance Dystopia of the Future’, RFA reported.

While China’s use of surveillance technology in the XUAR is nothing new, the use of the autonomous police vehicles are meant as another warning to local residents, he said.

‘The Chinese government likes to pretend that it is the master of technology, that it has all the best technology, but what it’s really doing is scaring the people,’ Cain told RFA. ‘It’s scaring the Uyghur people by making it look like the technology is sophisticated when the equipment is quite basic and elementary.’

‘It’s more like the perception or the idea that the (government) is always watching that makes people scared. It’s just that they don’t realise when or where they’re being watched,’ he said.

Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Chinese government’s use of driverless patrol vehicles in Karamay is a continuation of its efforts to enhance and expand the police surveillance system in the XUAR.

‘The deployment of these cars certainly is part of that intensive investment in policing, surveillance and repression in the region,’ she said, RFA reported.

‘The violation of the right to privacy has knock-on effects on almost every single right � the right to practice religion, the right to freely express yourself, the right to associate and assemble. Those are fundamental rights that Uyghurs and residents of Xinjiang are deprived of because these systems essentially create an all-seeing system that makes the exercising of these rights impossible,’ Wang said.

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