March 19, 2021

China’s Second-Generation Ethnic Policy – From Mass Surveillance to Forced Sterilization and Genocide

Uighur protesters holding photographs of relatives they say they have not heard from in years, pose for the media near the Chinese Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, in February 2021. The posters read: "Where is my family; China, free my family."
Uighur protesters holding photographs of relatives they say they have not heard from in years, pose for the media near the Chinese Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, in February 2021. The posters read: "Where is my family; China, free my family."

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees the issue of ethnic minorities (民族 问题) as an existential threat to the integrity of the country that, according to Xi Jinping, like the Taiwan issue, cannot be postponed indefinitely.

The ethnic policy pursued before Xi was largely a relic of an approach based on the cultural autonomy practised by USSR, which is considered one of the reasons for the latter’s collapse. The second-generation ethnic policy (第二 代 民族 政策) aims to strengthen national identity at the expense of ethnic identity, based on the melting pot principle, by reducing the special rights granted to minorities (university admission, family planning, language learning) and strengthening national identity by emphasising the four identities (四个认同): fatherland (祖国), the Chinese nation (中华民族), Chinese culture (中华 文化) and the path of socialism (社会主义 道路).

The previous approach based on economic integration in addressing minorities has not been successful, as inequalities between minorities and immigrant Han Chinese have increased, leading to unrest in Lhasa (2008), Ürümqi (2009) and Inner Mongolia (2011). The CCP has blown the issue of “separatism” out of proportion and is trying to eliminate it through its second-generation ethnic policy.

To avoid unrest against the new policy, a police state was proactively introduced in the autonomous areas, based on grid-style social management (社会 网格 化 管理). Administrative units across the country are divided into regional responsibilities, which are monitored using modern technology and by conducting searches.

Chen Quanguo, who became the party secretary for Tibet in 2011, upgraded the social control system with convenience police stations (便民警务站), which numbered 700 in Tibet at the end of Chen’s term in 2016. More than 12,000 people were recruited for internal security, most of them Tibetans, according to job advertisements. This was a fourfold increase over the previous period.1

In his next post as party secretary for Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo used the methods that had proved successful in Tibet, enhancing them with the introduction of the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP, 一体化联合作战平台), which uses algorithms to determine whether a suspect should be re-educated as a precaution, based on data collected from street cameras, Wi-Fi sniffers and security gateways. According to the IJOP, encrypted communication applications on phones (e.g. WhatsApp), increased power consumption or frequent use of the back door of the home, and avoidance of communication with neighbours, which are not in themselves illegal activities in China, are enough to be suspected and detained for re-education.2

According to the leaked Karakax and Aksu lists, the re-education of Turkic-speaking minorities in Xinjiang began in April 2017 and was carried out extrajudicially based on the presumption of guilt rather than innocence. The reasons for internment included wearing a beard or a veil in the past, applying for a passport but not travelling abroad, and having relatives abroad. Mass surveillance and conviction without a court judgment is contrary to both China’s own constitution and international human rights law.3

According to ASPI, several hundred thousand individuals from the Turkic-speaking minorities are being detained in extrajudicial internment in more than 380 re-education camps established in Xinjiang since 2017. The re-education facilities have varying security levels and include manufacturing buildings, suggesting forced labour in addition to ideological and language training.4

In the name of fighting poverty, which also means alienation from traditional lifestyles and culture, minorities in China have in the past been relocated by taking away their ancestral land and establishing mines, farms or plantations. As a new development between 2017 and 2019, more than 80,000 Uighurs have been sent to forced labour in factories in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, benefiting 82 Western companies through the supply chain.5

According to the Karakax List, the most common reason for internment was violation of family-planning policies; women are forced to be sterilised under a national programme to prevent further violations, which is direct evidence that China is committing genocide with the tacit approval of the rest of the world.6

The European powers are persuading themselves that global challenges must be addressed in cooperation with the CCP, which to date has repeatedly proved itself an irresponsible partner by remaining silent about the coronavirus outbreak, building artificial islands in the South China Sea, stifling the autonomy of Hong Kong and so on.

However, when concluding an investment agreement with China, EU leaders believed Beijing’s promises, some of which had already been made when joining the WTO. China’s vague promises concerning forced labour are being seen as a great victory, while their actual effect is on the conscience of their believers rather than on the situation of the victims, as the protective masks that spectators at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 will wear are most likely still produced by forced labour.


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.








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