China Cables: De-radicalisation or More

China Cables: De-radicalisation or More
The so-called Chinese cables are said to give a key-hole view of the 're-education camps' in Xinjiang. Is this the panacea for radicalisation?

Confronting Radicalisation, the Chinese Way

Many countries with ethnic diversity have internal social and communal disharmony. With rampant poverty, scarcity of resources, and a teeming population, the fault lines are deepened. Furthermore, radicalisation is leading to unrest, turmoil and bloodletting. Large nations like China, India and Brazil are prone to such internal disruptions and are seeking a viable solution.

The recent ‘cable’ leaks related to the Chinese ‘re-education camps’ in its remote north-western Uighur region of Xinjiang have been the centre of media attention around the world, triggering a debate on the modus operandi adopted by the authoritarian Chinese regime.

Since Chairman Mao gained power in 1949, China has grappled with its internal fault lines.  These either dissipated or deepened, as it matured into a powerful and rich nation. With Tibet pacified, there are other regions within China with simmering discontent. In Xinjiang, the Uighurs are demanding a separate identity for themselves free of forced cultural homogeneity.  In 2009, riots broke out in Urumqi against state-incentivised economic and cultural discrimination that favoured the Han population over other ethnic minorities. Around 200 people were killed, and this altered the government's perception towards Uighurs, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic minority group. 

The Leaked ‘Cables’ and the Camps

The Chinese data leak contains the purported guidelines from the top security apparatus for  Uighur detention camps. They shed light on the workings of the camp, the living conditions, and the overall policing of the people within them. The U.S. State Department claims that more than two million Uighurs and other minorities could be held in these camps.

The official Chinese stand is that these are ‘re-education camps’ and not detainment camps and that there are no human rights violations being committed in them. However, these camps are part of a larger Chinese effort to combat terrorism. They are not aimed at a particular religious minority, nor does it infringe on religious liberty.

Ethnicity based Detention - How Fair?

Most ethnopolitical conflicts stem from grievance-based narratives that get politicised when an actual or perceived injustice happens. Religion-based indoctrination is a powerful tool to motivate the population to rise, and at times, take to the path of violence for seeking redressal. The state fights back mustering all components of its national power. However, violence or incarceration does not always lead to pacification or reconciliation--it can make the situation worse.

Similar parallels of confining large segments of the population categorised by ethnicity or religion or political inclination have existed throughout the course of history, be it the Soviet Gulags in the Siberian wastelands, the infamous Nazi concentration camps, or the more recent camps for Bosnians in erstwhile Yugoslavia. Liberal democracies too have incarcerated whole communities on ethnic or religious grounds - the U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII is one example. 

With the rising tide of radicalisation, affected countries are looking at measures to de-radicalise, especially the youth. India too has been toying with the idea of 'de-radicalisation camps.’

The leaked documents, which include the operations manuals or ‘cables' with detailed guidelines for managing the camps, if genuine, confirm the presence of these de-radicalisation camps and paint a graphic picture of their conditions. A nationwide, sophisticated system of surveillance based on modern data analytics is in use. Day to day activities of the population are being collated, and potential radicals are being pinpointed for further 're-education.’ The cables also direct how detainees should be graded for release or continued 're-education.' 

Apparently, these measures have succeeded from the perspective of law enforcement, as the number of violent incidents in Xinjiang province are reported to have come down.

But China has faced international condemnation as the Uighur diaspora has succeeded in highlighting human rights abuses in the camps. Major countries have remained silent due to issues relating to human rights abuses in their own backyards. Interestingly, most Muslim nations have not condemned the confinements, and rather, have prioritised economic and strategic ties over the violations. The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials and has threatened sanctions. The UNHRC has demanded information and access to the camps. 

China, on its part, has termed it as a smear campaign against its highly successful counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation efforts. 


  • The existence of a network of detention camps in Xinjiang province for the Uighur community has been in the news for some time now. These leaked documents, to an extent, corroborate their existence and give an insight into the de-radicalisation process. This becomes an important tool for the international community to put pressure on China, in providing more information and access to camps.

  • Management of de-radicalisation goes beyond mere law and order and needs to be dealt with tact, maturity and empathy, yet with firmness and resolve. While many countries are considering de-radicalisation programmes of their own, the Chinese model has some important lessons for them.

  • While the Chinese model may not be entirely the one to emulate, there are certain aspects that merit a closer look, especially the use of high technology like data analytics and AI to pinpoint affected individuals and the manner of establishing successful 'de-radicalisation' post 're-education.' The authenticity of these 'cables,' whether they are genuine or planted, has not been established with certainty.

Image Courtesy: ICIJ