China’s Global Times on Monday sang the praises of the Xinjiang border guards, a force augmented by what Western media would describe as “militia” or “vigilantes” and tasked with making sure Muslims do not escape from the surveillance-state province where they have been quarantined.
The Chinese state newspaper’s applause for the Aksu Prefecture border patrol, which includes “farmers and herdsmen” deployed as “civilian border guards,” makes for a remarkable contrast with the way left-wing media in the United States attack border security as a crime against humanity.
It is all the more remarkable because there is little pretense this border militia has any mission beyond making sure Uighur Muslims from China cannot flee into neighboring Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan:
Organizing local herdsmen and farmers to act as border guards is one strategy to stop any illegal cross-border incidents as these local people are familiar with the environment in the area, officials from the department on border security in Aksu said.
Tuohuti Tilaixi, 54, from the Kirgiz ethnic group in Yamansu village of Wushi county is a third generation border guard in his family.
Every day, he walks more than 30 kilometers along China’s border with Kyrgyzstan to make sure no suspicious person has been there. He usually takes a nan bread and water for lunch. In winter, when the snow is too heavy to walk, Tuohuti patrols on horseback.
“My father taught me what I should pay attention to during patrol – to observe suspicious footprints on the ground, especially in winter, and to talk to strangers and listen to their accents,” Tuohuti said.
The article went on to describe the Tilaixi family’s multi-generational commitment to volunteer policing of the Kyrgyzstan border, an activity pursued by both Tuohuti Tilaixi’s father and grandfather.
Tuohuti vowed to keep patrolling the border until he dies and boasted his son and daughter-in-law have already “taken on the family tradition and now work as the fourth generation of border guards in the family.”
“I was born and grew up in the borderlands. It is my responsibility to safeguard it. As long as I stick to my duties, the area will be safe, and so will the country,” Tuohuti told the Global Times.
All of this militia activity is fully sanctioned and supported by the Chinese government, which pays the “border guards” a stipend and provides them with housing and supplies so they do not have to camp in caves, as Tuohuti said his grandfather did. Citizen guards work with Chinese police, many of whom are former soldiers who were stationed on the Xinjiang border.
According to officials who spoke to the Global Times, the border militia has helped capture “several suspected terrorists” in the mountainous Kyrgyzstan border region. The officials said they still consider their departments short-handed and stretched thin, even with citizen volunteers augmenting their manpower. They cited the danger of trained terrorist operatives returning to China after serving the Islamic State in Syria as a cause for concern.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reportedly discussed China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims when he visited Beijing last week to meet with President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The U.N. did not disclose exactly what Guterres said to the Chinese leaders or how they responded to his criticism. Guterres did not denounce the Chinese in public during his trip, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a public statement that “we firmly oppose any interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights issues.”
The Foreign Ministry restated China’s claim that the massive re-education camps where up to a million Uighurs are incarcerated are merely “vocational training centers” and all “preventive anti-terrorism and anti-extremism measures taken by China in Xinjiang are carried out in accordance with the law.”