China Commentary Counterterrorism News Radicalization re-education camps Uyghur Violent extremism Xinjiang

Understanding China’s Community-Focused Counter-Terrorism Tactics

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Final yr, the Chinese language propaganda equipment claimed that the northwestern province of Xinjiang needed to be saved from turning into “China’s Syria or China’s Libya.” After a succession of violent assaults — in Urumqi in 2009, in Beijing in 2013, and in Kunming and Urumqi in 2014 — the Chinese language party-state turned to excessive measures to stabilize and management Xinjiang. The “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism,” launched in 2014, started the securitization of the area. The stabilizing effort went one step additional by the top of 2016 with the appointment of Chen Quanguo, beforehand the Chinese language Communist Celebration secretary of Tibet, because the get together head of Xinjiang. Constructing on measures carried out in Tibet, Chen reworked the Uyghurs’ homeland right into a police state. In early 2017, the recruitment of police forces elevated exponentially, according to efforts to determine near 7,500 “convenience police stations” throughout the area to stabilize Xinjiang with a “grid-like” safety equipment. These securitization efforts additionally draw on technological improvement: a surveillance community utilizing facial recognition, the gathering of residents’ biometric knowledge, GPS monitoring of personal automobiles, and spy ware in Uyghurs’ smartphones.

However the social gathering’s marketing campaign in Xinjiang goes farther than a deepening of safety measures. Its most novel facet is that it incorporates profound “counter-extremism” efforts aiming at altering the guts and minds of the native inhabitants. The Individuals’s Republic of China Anti-Terror Regulation of 2016 defines extremism as “the ideological basis of terrorism” or, extra broadly, “inciting hatred, discrimination, or agitating violence through distorting religious doctrines or other means.” Whereas the time period has been a part of Chinese language safety coverage in Xinjiang for a very long time — the party-state refers to separatism, terrorism, and extremism because the “three evil forces” — extremism is now turning into more and more predominant within the official discourse, rather more than separatism particularly. However what precisely does this new emphasis suggest? Does it mirror a paradigm change or just previous wine in new bottles?

Drawing on interviews with Chinese language sources, central and native official paperwork, and professional analyses, this text argues that the Chinese language Communist Social gathering’s give attention to extremism as the primary menace in Xinjiang goals to legitimize mobilizing the inhabitants for an enormous social transformation of the area. The aim is to justify what the party-state describes as a preventive strategy to terrorism, targeted on blunting the affect of spiritual extremism over giant segments of the Uyghur inhabitants. The institution of re-education camps everywhere in the area is the obvious embodiment of this coverage. As well as, the federal government’s emphasis on extremism connects its coverage towards Xinjiang with what different nations have undertaken within the identify of the worldwide warfare on terror. This highlights Chinese language authorities’ willingness to legitimize their coverage, each internally and overseas, and to supply their very own various discourse on the difficulty.

Counter-Extremism in Xinjiang: Concentrating on the Group, Not the Particular person

Chinese language specialists distinguish two totally different methods to cope with extremism: “de-extremification” (qujiduanhua,去极端化) and “counter-extremism” (fanjiduanhua, 反极端化). The previous is concentrated on people whereas the latter focuses on teams, however in each instances, the purpose is to vary minds and behaviors . Whereas the primary time period, “de-extremification,” is probably the most used, it’s the group-focused strategy which prevails. As an area Xinjiang official reportedly put it: “You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one — you need to spray chemicals to kill them all.”

“Counter-extremism” has progressively turn out to be a watchword for Chinese language authorities efforts to rework Xinjiang. It was first talked about in 2012 by the province’s native authorities. The time period has since develop into an essential a part of Xinjiang authorities work studies, beginning in 2014. This course of resulted within the 2017 drafting of the “Xinjiang Autonomous Region Regulations on de-extremification,” the nation’s first authorized textual content on the subject. Illustrating the brand new significance accorded to extremism among the many “three evil forces,” a current interview given by the chairman of the Xinjiang Autonomous Area mentions extremism 25 occasions, whereas separatism is simply talked about as soon as.

Chinese language specialists I’ve interviewed recommend that the party-state has turned towards counter-extremism as a result of it has tried all conventional anti-terrorism measures, notably the gradual intensification of the safety equipment within the area, with out eradicating the issue. One other justification is that assault perpetrators are typically younger (the typical age of the 2014 Urumqi assault perpetrators was 26) and seen as malleable. Therefore, past the terrorists’ “flesh,” the brand new marketing campaign focuses on their “souls.”

The give attention to extremism broadens the scope of state intervention past the direct prevention of terrorism. It justifies going past focused anti-terrorist measures to give attention to the transformation of the native society: The state should intervene within the tradition, customs, and ideas of the native inhabitants. Chinese language authorities have revealed lists of unlawful extremist actions: In line with the 2017 Xinjiang laws, it’s, for example, forbidden to make use of one’s “appearance, clothing and personal adornment, symbols, and other markings to disseminate religious fanaticism, disseminate religious extremist ideologies, or coerce others to wear extremist clothing or religious extremist symbols. The state has also listed “unusual behaviors” which are thought-about indicators of extremism and need to be monitored. It consists of storing giant quantities of meals, quitting smoking or consuming, and never crying at funerals.

This community-based strategy to extremism led to the widespread software of “transformation through education” to Uyghurs. Studies usually point out that enormous numbers of Uyghurs and different Muslim minorities have been positioned in re-education amenities in Xinjiang since 2014. A current modification to the Xinjiang de-extremification laws aimed toward making these practices authorized, however their legality stays contested.

Mobilizing the inhabitants

Chinese language specialists emphasize that with a view to work, “counter-extremism” requires the huge mobilization of the inhabitants. This mobilization is a part of the “people’s war on terrorism” launched in 2014. In parallel to army efforts, this includes a “war against extremism” which takes place in schooling, on the Web, in cultural sectors, and so on. The mobilization goals at increasing the favored consciousness of terrorist and extremist dangers, educating individuals learn how to acknowledge extremism, and uniting social forces towards the “three evil forces.” This technique was included within the Anti-Terror Regulation of 2016, which referred to as for establishing joint coordination mechanisms to mobilize grassroots organizations, stipulated that residents have the obligation to help the authorities within the battle towards terrorism, and inspired the institution of volunteer teams and civilian intelligence gathering teams in native communities.

In Xinjiang, greater than one million Chinese language civilians have been mobilized to help the police and the army with the “counter-extremism” marketing campaign. Work groups of officers have been despatched to communities to evaluate the native state of affairs and determine extremists. Additionally, as a part of the “becoming family” program, mentioned in a current Human Rights Watch report and talked about by a number of specialists and observers, public-sector staff from the Han Chinese language ethnic majority are despatched to remain recurrently with Uyghur households to watch and indoctrinate the native inhabitants. Following an analogous logic, the “linking couples” coverage asks Han public-sector staff to determine Uyghur colleagues and stay for a time period of their residence, based on my interviews with party-state officers. The aim of those packages is to switch present ties and connections inside communities.

Extremism as a worldwide difficulty

Past home mobilization, the terminology of extremism can also be used to legitimize the state’s efforts in Xinjiang on the worldwide stage. As a response to the worldwide backlash towards its coverage in Xinjiang, China attracts parallels between its “counter-extremism” marketing campaign and what it sees as comparable efforts within the western world. On the similar time, China stresses the comparative effectivity of its radical insurance policies, as they give attention to the group as an entire relatively than focused people.

China’s efforts to safe worldwide legitimacy for its Xinjiang coverage have advanced. First, it denied the existence of camps within the area. Responding to a press request on the difficulty in Might 2018, the Ministry of Overseas Affairs stated it “had not heard” of such a state of affairs. A number of months later, the official propaganda equipment began to publish articles on the institution of what’s formally referred to as “transformation through education” or “counter-extremism education” amenities to curb extremism in Xinjiang . Because the chairman of the Xinjiang Autonomous Area put it in an interview revealed in English:

Xinjiang has offered [trainees] with free vocational coaching via vocational schooling establishments to enhance their means in commanding the nation’s widespread language, buying authorized information and vocational expertise, amongst others. In that method, Xinjiang can higher guard towards the infiltration of terrorism and extremism.

The Chinese language authorities has additionally drawn parallels with deradicalization practices within the Western context. In response to the Ministry of Overseas Affairs: “The relevant practices in China are no different from those in the UK, France and the US. They are all the active efforts we have made to prevent terrorism and eliminate extremism with the view to nipping the evil in the bud.” However these efforts to attract parallels to Western efforts belie very totally different realities: Quite than focused insurance policies specializing in radicalized people, that are extra widespread in america and Europe, the Chinese language party-state promotes a community-focused technique aiming on the social transformation of Xinjiang. In truth, the party-state acknowledges this distinction by capitalizing on the inefficiency of Western deradicalization packages. The coverage carried out in Xinjiang is introduced as extra environment friendly, because it targets the group somewhat than people.


Chinese language authorities use the ideas of extremism and “counter-extremism” as an try and legitimize their coverage in Xinjiang within the eyes of each the home inhabitants and the worldwide group. The aim is to justify an enormous mobilization of the inhabitants and a long-term securitization technique in Xinjiang: Opposite to separatism, which is by definition restricted geographically, extremism is an issue for the entire nation and may be discovered anyplace. Thus, fairly than a marketing campaign restricted in time or area, the extra expansive counter-extremism marketing campaign has develop into the brand new regular in Xinjiang and appears to be right here to remain. This technique can also be increasing past Xinjiang, as native governments from provinces with giant Muslim populations have signed cooperation agreements with Xinjiang on extremism.

General, the evolution in terminology highlighted right here is essential, because it helps to underscore the shift from pure securitization to a preventive strategy. The development echoes the writings of Hu Lianhe, one of many initiators of the brand new “counter-extremism” marketing campaign, who argues that the “standardizing of human behaviour” is a prerequisite of stability. Thus, fairly than an exception, Xinjiang may be seen as a laboratory for the Chinese language party-state’s social engineering insurance policies.


Jérôme Doyon is a Departmental Lecturer on the Faculty of International and Space Research, College of Oxford. His analysis focuses on Chinese language home politics, particularly the Celebration-State equipment, elite politics, political youth organizations, and the administration of ethno-religious minorities. He’s additionally an Affiliate Coverage Fellow on the European Council on Overseas Relations (ECFR).

Picture: David Stanley

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