Canada’s Globe and Mail on Monday reported the Chinese government is staging Muslim prayer services and scenes of contented street life in Xinjiang province for the benefit of foreign visitors, when in truth the oppressed Uyghur population has been frightened out of worship and public assembly.
Globe and Mail correspondents talked to Xinjiang residents who said they have been offered money by local officials to participate in staged religious services that would be seen by foreign dignitaries, when in truth China has shut down many of their mosques and is forcibly attempting to eradicate Islam with massive concentration camps and intrusive monitoring of Xinjiang families. Chinese officials reportedly instruct those who agree to participate in these staged events to tell visitors they are not normally prohibited from praying or attending services at their mosques.
“To quell international anxieties about Xinjiang, one of China’s most important assets has been government loyalists who have defended the indoctrination centers and, according to multiple people interviewed by The Globe and Mail, have staged intricately managed scenes filled with pedestrians, street vendors and drivers played by people – police officers, teachers, retirees – who have been screened by the authorities and assigned roles,” the report said.
One Uyghur woman said the orchestrated events that play out when foreigners visit her home city are “like a movie.” She now lives in Europe but recalled watching a friend memorizing canned answers the government provided for questions from foreigners. Some of those prepared answers involved denying the existence of the re-education camps, which are large enough to be seen from orbit.
According to the Globe and Mail’s sources, some of the people pretending to be civilians in these theatrical performances are actually disguised police officers and government employees. Local police officials refused to answer questions about these practices when reporters contacted them, but the Globe and Mail cited reports from other media about Xinjiang police complaining they had been ordered to play-act as taxi drivers.
One of the disturbing reports referenced by the Globe and Mail was filed by Radio Free Asia (RFA) in December 2018. In that report, residents of Xinjiang cities reported officials instructing them to refer to the concentration camps as schools, praise the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, and “say only good things about the government” when speaking to outside visitors. Those who failed to comply were threatened with reprisals against “three generations of their family.”
Reprisals have also reportedly been carried out against the sources of foreign media reports like those of RFA and the Globe and Mail. Some of the police actions undertaken against these sources made it clear that the authorities were monitoring their phone calls and emails.
China’s ugly version of the Soviet “Potemkin village” was evidently convincing enough for the allies Beijing has been cultivating, particularly Muslim states that can be pressured or persuaded into expressing approval for China’s policies in Xinjiang as legitimate counter-terrorism action and sincere efforts to improve the lives of residents.
As the Globe and Mail noted, Beijing’s Muslim allies are not looking very hard to see past the facade. In one hilariously obvious bit of theater, a concentration camp for Muslims was partially remodeled to look more like a school at the beginning of this year, and a series of foreign delegations have been ushered into a single carefully-prepared classroom that always has the same “teachers” and “students.”