In a positive turn of events, the United States Department of the Treasury announced today, July 9, that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned a few government officials and one government entity for their role in the ongoing violations of human rights committed against the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Perhaps the most notorious individual who fell under these sanctions is the Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo. Chen’s reputation precedes him; prior to his station in Xinjiang, he was the Communist Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, where he employed stricter and more sophisticated surveillance mechanisms to monitor the activities of religious minorities in the region. Immediately following Chen’s transfer to Xinjiang, he launched a plan to construct thousands of detention camps (referred to by officials as ‘vocational training centers’) which became the destination for Xinjiang’s religious minorities: ethnic Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgz Muslims. All under the guise of preventing terrorism and sectarianism, under Chen’s supervision, officials have illegally detained millions of minorities in these camps, where they are subjected to physical and mental torture, forced labor and indoctrination, sexual violence and sterilization, and myriad more egregious violations of human rights and human dignity. Chen collaborated closely with Zhu Hailun– also sanctioned under GloMag- who acts as the Deputy Secretary of Xinjiang’s People’s Congress and who “established the policies and procedures for managing these detention camps” such as “not allowing ‘escapes’ and ‘abnormal deaths’.”
The other three sanctions were placed on the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, as well as one former leader and the current leader of the XPSB, Huo Liujun and Wang Mingshan. The largest and most comprehensive and egregious surveillance plan, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, was employed by the XPSB to monitor all daily activities of the region’s minorities. According to China Cables and SOS International’s Dr. James Mulvenon,
“‘The Chinese have bought into a model of policing where they believe that through the collection of large-scale data run through artificial intelligence and machine learning that they can, in fact, predict ahead of time where possible incidents might take place, as well as identify possible populations that have the propensity to engage in anti-state anti-regime action. And then they are preemptively going after those people using that data.'”
The atrocities committed against the Uyghurs in China are well documented, and has been by media outlets such as Radio Free Asia since 2017. And the escalation of persecution, which has been recorded in expert Adrian Zenz’ reports on forced sterilization in the detention camps, holds disturbing implications for China’s other religious minorities and ordinary citizens. Mass surveillance and prolonged arbitrary detention in Xinjiang have the potential of being exported to the entirety of the Chinese mainland as a tool to punish activists and faith believers.
While these designations under the Global Magnitsky Act exhibit a step in the right direction to hold China accountable to international and domestic standards of human rights, we must not use this progress as a prompt for celebration, but rather a motivation for further pressure to be placed on the Chinese Communist Party.