When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in April 2014, it was against a background of intense anti-government violence in the remote, western province. On the last day of the visit, two Uighur militants carried out a suicide bombing at a train station in Urumqi, the regional capital, killing one and injuring almost 80 others.
Unknown to the wider public, in China or elsewhere, until recent days, was the fact that, in the weeks after that visit, Xi gave a series of secret speeches to Communist Party apparatchiks in which he set out the shape of the systematic programme of repression Beijing would soon unleash in Xinjiang. "We must be as harsh as them," Xi said in one speech, "and show absolutely no mercy." He called on the party to use the "organs of dictatorship" to eradicate radical Islam.
The rest of the world has shown itself incapable of speaking up on the crisis, largely for fear of Chinese economic retaliation
Beijing had long sought to suppress separatist sentiment in Xinjiang, the far-western province that is home to a number of Turkic Muslim minorities, including the Uighurs. But the unprecedented crackdown that began in 2014 has resulted in as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others being forced into internment camps and prisons, where they are detained indefinitely and denied access to their families.
Xi’s private speeches emerged in an astonishing cache of 400 pages of internal records obtained by the New York Times. It is one of the most significant leaks from inside China’s ruling party in decades. The documents include chilling administrative guides on how to carry out the crackdown and even how to handle questions from citizens whose family members have been swept up in the dragnetand locked up in what the state pretends are job-training centres.
The exposé should stir the world into action. Shamefully, despite mounting evidence in recent years of the brutal campaign being waged by Beijing in Xinjiang, the rest of the world has shown itself incapable of speaking up on the crisis, largely for fear of Chinese economic retaliation. The longer that silence continues, the worse it will get for the people of Xinjiang.