In apparently the first ever instance of material with “top secret” statements made by a Chinese head of state getting leaked into the public domain — new documents called ‘Xinjiang Papers’ have surfaced, showing Chinese President Xi Jinpings links with the crackdown on Uyghur Muslims.
The documents released by Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, say that the files contain highly sensitive and pertinent material in relation to Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. Nearly all the material is classified as confidential.
One document containing three speeches by Chinese President (more accurately: General Secretary) Xi Jinping is classified as “top secret”, which “can cause particularly serious damage to the security and interests of the country”.
For comparison, the classification level specified on the main cable (or telegram) of the China Cables was “secret” (the second-highest classification level).
Overall, this appears to be the first-ever instance that materials with “top secret” statements made by a Chinese head of state have leaked into the public domain – a fact that was not mentioned in the original New York Times report.
The present analysis, however, shows that the linkages between statements and mandates made by Xi and other central government figures and policies that were implemented after 2016 are far more extensive, detailed and significant than previously understood.
In addition, the original New York Times report did not mention several documents issued by the central government that are part of the leak, and which contain crucial additional evidence for such linkages.
First, the documents state that in 2014, Xi Jinping had himself authorised the Xinjiang government to draft a local legal regulation to address the issues of religious extremism and violent resistance.
The resulting ‘De-Extremification Regulation’ came into effect in April 2017 and is intimately linked with the re-education campaign.
However, its report did not mention that Xi Jinping himself had issued an arguably very similar demand when he mandated in 2014 that “those who should be seized should be seized, and those who should be sentenced should be sentenced”.
The new papers found that Xi’s statements that religious extremism is like a “powerful psychedelic drug” and that acts of terror will “multiply like cancer cells” if extremist thought is not eradicated are quoted verbatim (and attributed to Xi) in a widely-cited March 2017 government document that likens re-education to free medical treatment for “sick thinking”.
At the very time when Xi demanded that people’s “immunity” against extremist ideology must be increased, Uyghur regions were actively carrying out early forms of re-education and reported that these re-education efforts were “increasing the immunity of ‘susceptible’ groups of people”.
In two separate speeches, Xi called religious extremism “poison”. He argued that Xinjiang was stricken with a “heart sickness” that could only be cured by “heart medicine” in order to “support the correct, and remove the evil”.
A 2017 work report on re-education in a Uyghur region quoted the latter expression verbatim when stating that re-education must “support the correct, and remove the evil”.
Second, Zenz said the materials show that the transfer of nearly three million rural surplus labourers into full-time employment through a “vigorous” development of labour-intensive industries was designed to prevent Uyghurs from “having nothing to do” and therefore being “easily exploited by evildoers”.
Similarly, Xi Jinping suggested that unemployed persons are liable to “provoke trouble”, and that employment in companies promotes ethnic mixing and helps workers “resist religious extremism”.
He argues that such employment will lead ethnic workers to “imperceptibly study Chinese culture” (i.e. without them realising it).
The stated reasons for Xinjiang’s labour transfers are therefore more political than economic: While the promotion of employment through labour transfers into labour-intensive industries was not expected to make a greater contribution to the economy or government revenue than other industries, it was considered a “matter of vital importance” to “Xinjiang’s long-term peace and stability”.
Third, the documents show that plans to optimise the ethnic population composition, which are connected to Xinjiang’s campaign of suppressing births, can be linked to statements and demands made by the central government.
In a top-secret speech, Xi argued that “population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability”.
This statement was later quoted verbatim by a senior Xinjiang official in July 2020, who then argued that southern Xinjiang’s Han population’s share was “too low”.
Other classified documents lament “severe imbalances in the distribution of the ethnic population” and a “severely monoethnic” population structure (an overconcentration of Uyghurs) in southern Xinjiang.
They mandate that by 2022, 300,000 settlers (mostly Han from eastern China) are to be moved to regions in southern Xinjiang administered by the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps (XPCC), also known as ‘Bingtuan’, a paramilitary colonial settler entity, with the explicitly stated aim of increasing Han population’s share in the region.
Zenz said Xi himself had ordered the abolishment of preferential birth control policies for ethnic groups in southern Xinjiang that had previously allowed them to have more children than the Han.
His demand that birth control policies in this Uyghur heartland were to be made “equal for all ethnic groups” is a euphemism that since 2017, undergirded policies drastically reduced birth rates of ethnic groups.
Fourth, Zenz said the classified materials show that numerous other policies designed to assimilate and control the region’s ethnic groups, including a Chinese (Mandarin) language focused education in centralised boarding schools, more intensive forms of predictive policing through the analysis of big data, or sending Han officials to live with Uyghur families, can be directly linked to the statements or explicit demands made by Xi Jinping.
For example, Xi demanded that rural children should be put into boarding schools so that they could “study in school, live in school, grow up in school”.
His observation that “some religious people interfere with matters of the secular life” was soon after formalised as the mandate that “religion is strictly forbidden to interfere with secular lifestyles”.
By 2017, this policy then undergirded the internment of persons in re-education camps who had offered customary prayers at funerals or participated in customary religious wedding ceremonies.
In short, Xi’s remarks and requirements provided the basis for criminalising most of the customary religious practices that were part of ethnic populations’ daily lives.
The files also show the motivation behind these unprecedented measures. In a top-secret speech, Xi argued that the Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign policy project, requires a stable domestic security environment.
He asserted that the entire country’s national security and the achievement of China’s major goals in the 21st century are in jeopardy if the situation in southern Xinjiang is not be brought under control.
Xi demanded that the region engages in an all-out battle to “prevent Xinjiang’s violent terrorist activities from spreading to the rest of China”.
He noted that since violent acts have already spread to other regions of China, “therefore we propose that Xinjiang is currently in a painful period of interventionary treatment”.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)