Monitoring Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region


Kashgar night market. Photograph by Evgeni Zotov

From Spiegel Online:

In a bid to see calm return to the region, Beijing brought in hardliner Chen Quanguo, party boss in Tibet, and put him in charge in Xinjiang. Within two years, he implemented the same policy he enacted in Tibet and installed police stations across the region. These bunker-like, barricaded and heavily guarded buildings now litter every crossroads of the major cities.

Chen also introduced a block leader system not unlike the old German “Blockwarts,” with members of the local Communist Party committee given powers to inspect family homes and interrogate them about their lives: Who lives here? Who visited? What did you talk about? Even the controllers are getting controlled: Many apartments have bar code labels on the inside of the front door which the official must scan to prove that he or she carried out the visit.

To optimize social control, neighbors are now also instructed to turn each other in. “They came to me at the start of the year,” says a businessman from Urumqi. “They said: You and your neighbor are now responsible for each other. If either of you does anything unusual, the other will be held responsible.” The businessman says he loves his country. “But I refuse to spy on my neighbor.”

The surveillance infrastructure in Kashgar is state of the art, but the Chinese government is already working on the next level of control. It wants to introduce a “social credit system” that rates the “trustworthiness” of each citizen, to reward loyalty and punish bad behavior. While the rollout of this system in the densely populated east has been sluggish and spotty, the Uighurs are evidently already subjected to a similar point-based system. This system primarily involves details that could be interesting to the police.

Every family begins with 100 points, one person affected by the system tells us. But anyone with contacts or relatives abroad, especially in Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt or Malaysia, is punished by losing points. A person with fewer than 60 points is in danger. One wrong word, a prayer or one telephone call too many and they could be sent to “school” in no time.

“A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever Seen”, Bernhard Zand, Spiegel Online