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Map explains China crackdown on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang



The Uighurs, a largely-Muslim minority in Xinjiang, western China, are living in one of the most heavily policed ​​and oppressive states in the world. This map helps explain why.

People in Xinjiang are watched by tens of thousands of facial recognition cameras, and surveillance apps on their phones. An estimated 2 million of them are locked in internment camps where people are physically and psychologically abused.

The Chinese government has for years blamed the Uighurs for a terror, and they say the group is importing Islamic extremism in Central Asia.

But there's another reason why Beijing wants to clamp down on Uighurs in Xinjiang: The region is home to some of the most important elements of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese flagship trade project.

The BRI, which went into effect in 201

3, aims to link Beijing with some 70 countries around the world through railroads, gas pipelines, shipping lanes, and other infrastructure projects. It is considered President Xi Jinping's pet project, and a significant part of his political legacy.

The map above shows Xinjiang's position along various BRI infrastructure projects.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in September 2018. He has lofty goals for the Belt and Road Initiative.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

A trillion dollar reason to crack down on Xinjiang

It's divided between six land routes, collectively named the Silk Road Economic Belt, and one maritime route, the Maritime Silk Road. Xinjiang is home to many projects along the Silk Road Economic Belt, as the map indicates.

China is estimated to have invested between $ 1 trillion and $ 8 trillion into the project, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

Trade in goods between China and other countries along the BRI totaled $ 1.3 trillion in 2018 alone, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing China's Ministry of Commerce.

Read more: China's $ 1 trillion infrastructure project could encourage the spread of invasive bird and reptile species

Many infrastructure projects, such as the China-Kazakhstan logistics terminal built in 2014, are under the Belt and Road Initiative
VCG / VCG / Getty Images

Experts point out that China's growing emphasis on BRI projects coincides with Beijing's crackdown in Xinjiang.

China has accused the Uighurs of being terrorists and inciting violence throughout the country since at least the early 2000s, as many Uighur separatists left China for places such as Afghanistan and Syria to become fighters.

But its campaign of repression has only stepped up in the past two years, under the rule of Chen Quanguo, a Communist Party secretary who previously designed a program of intensive surveillance in Tibet.

Normal people in Xinjiang have found themselves disappeared or detained in internment camps for flimsy reasons, like setting their clocks to a different time zone or communicating with people in other countries, even their relatives.

Read more: This man's family vanished in China's most oppressed region. Last month, he saw his son for the first time in 2 years, in a Chinese propaganda video.

A woman and child wait outside the school entrance with surveillance cables and barbed wire in Peyzawat, Xinjiang, in August 2018. China has been severely cracking down on that region.
Ng Han Guan / AP

Rushan Abbas, a Uighur activist in Virginia, told Business Insider: "This has everything to do with the Xi Jinping's signature project, the Belt and Road Initiative, because the Uighur land is at the heart of the most significant point of Xi Jinping's signature project. "

Abbas is one of many Uighurs in the world now swept up in China's mission to silence the Uighurs. Her sister and aunt went missing in Xinjiang cities six days after Abbas criticized China's human rights record in Washington, DC. She believes her family's disappearance is a direct consequence of her activism.

Read more: Adrian Zenz, an academic expert on the affairs of the Muslim minority, are blocked online by their own family members who are terrified to even tell how bad their lives are

Chinese minority policy, told The New York Times earlier this year: "The role of Xinjiang has changed dramatically with the BRI," and that China's ambitions have turned Xinjiang into a "core region" of economic development.

Uighur activist Rushan Abbas (right) and her sister Gulshan Abbas (left), in Virginia in 2015. Gulshan Abbas vanished in Urumqi, Xinjiang, in September 2018.
Courtesy of Rushan Abbas

Dog-and -pony shows' to Xinjiang

Beijing has made extra efforts to ensure that countries involved in the BRI do not speak about Xinjiang.

Since last December, Chinese authorities have invited dozens of journalists and diplomats from at least 16 countries – many of which, like nearby Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan, are taking part in the BRI – highly controlled tours of Xinjiang's re -education camps

China has held up the tours as proof that they have nothing to hide in the region. It euphemistically calls the camps "free vocational training" that make life "colorful."

Bizarre photos from the press tour show ethnic Uighur men and women putting the dance and musical recitals in the classrooms, operating sewing machines, and learning the words to pro-Chinese songs from a textbook.

Foreign journalists were shown this bizarre dance performance in a classroom during a government-organized visit to Kashgar, Xinjiang, on January 4, 2019.
Ben Blanchard / Reuters

China is planning another trip later this month for diplomats from Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Egypt, Cambodia, Russia, Senegal, and Belarus, Reuters reported.

But the representatives of the United Nations and activists from groups like Human Rights Watch – who have campaigned unsuccessfully for access to the region – have not been invited.

Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, wrote last month: "Beijing has a long history of diplomatic dog-and-pony shows, and diplomats' visit is no substitute for a credible, independent assessment."

People are identified as residents at the Kashgar city vocational education training center sitting in a Chinese lesson. This photo was taken during a very government-organized visit to Kashgar on January 4, 2019.
Ben Blanchard / Reuters

But the show tours have worked for some of those countries.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the ambassador to the Pakistan Embassy in China, said in a state-run Global Times tabloid: "Our visit reinforced my perceptions about this region that it has a multicultural and multi-ethnic identity, that it is critical for the development of the western regions of China and that it is a major regional interconnection node under the Belt and Road Initiative. "

"Xinjiang is therefore ready to play a critical role in the development of the Belt and Road initiative."


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