Officials who resisted carrying out the campaign of mass detention were purged by Chen Quanguo, the hardline party boss installed to oversee the program in 2016. One local official who was worried about the impact of the crackdown was jailed after he released thousands of detainees.
According to the Times, the rare leak from inside the Chinese political elite was the result of an insider’s desire to “prevent party leaders, including Mr Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions” of as many as a million Muslims.
Responding to the report, Senator Payne said it followed a “deeply disturbing” video released in September that appeared to show hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men being transported in Xinjiang.
“I have previously raised Australia’s strong concerns about reports of mass detentions of Uighurs in Xinjiang. These disturbing reports today reinforce Australia’s view and we reiterate those concerns,” she said.
“We have consistently called for China to cease the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other groups. We have raised these concerns – and we will continue to raise them both bilaterally and in relevant international meetings.”
China escalated efforts to curb Muslim culture in Xinjiang following outbreaks of unrest and a string of terror attacks, peaking in 2014. The government has since banned certain religious practices and rolled out a vast network of indoctrination camps and advanced surveillance.
A key revelation is that Xi provided the impetus for the mass detention, seeing a need to harden the government’s approach beyond the policies of his predecessor, Hu Jintao. While Hu had targeted Uighur unrest, he had also emphasised the importance of economic empowerment. In calling for a “people’s war” in the Xinjiang, Xi argued that “ethnic separatism and terrorist violence have still been on the rise”.
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the revelations contained in the leaks were “deeply disturbing” and called on China to respect human rights and end arbitrary detention.
“It is a deeply disturbing report because of what it says in relation to arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement. We would urge China to respond to this report transparently and swiftly,” she said, predicting there would be a global backlash.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale branded the revelations “horrifying” and said Australia needed to play an active diplomatic role in putting maximum pressure on China.
“This horrifying leak removes any chance for doubt that China is conducting cultural genocide against the Uighur people. More than a million people in Xinjiang have been rounded up and deprived of freedom and basic human rights.
“The fact this has been leaked from the notoriously secretive Chinese Communist Party shows that there is internal angst about the intensifying cruelty to Uighur people and political dissidents.”
Nurmuhammad Majid, a Uighur community leader based in Adelaide, said the leaked documents revealed the “wild, inhuman and long-term” repression of Uighurs, with a systematic and well-resourced effort to wipe out minority culture and religion.
“This leaked government document could be a final signal to humanity before their voice is totally silenced. Uighurs need help, an immediate action to save them,” he said.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the documents were consistent with previous reports about Xinjiang but added important details and insights, including that Xi laid the groundwork.
“The documents fly in the face of the Chinese government’s propaganda that Xinjiang’s political education camps are merely voluntary vocational training schools. They also betray the ruthlessness of the Xinjiang crackdown,” she said.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.