In the year 1956, bestselling American science fiction author, Philip K. Dick penned a disturbing dystopia titled “The Minority Report.” The plot has at its nub a perverse system having the capability to ‘predict’ an ensuing crime. Three mutants or ‘precogs’ are plugged into a gigantic machine. Having the capability and foresight to ‘predict’ all crimes before they even happen, these precogs feed information about future crimes to a specialised police department, imaginatively named ‘Precrime.’ Armed with such information, Precrime officers are invested with the requisite powers to arrest and detail all ‘potential’ perpetrators before they can even engage in any mischief. Even the most prescient and pessimistic of human beings would have failed in predicting that this dystopian novel would manifest itself in the most insidious of fashion, in the hands of a totalitarian regime. Using an incredibly sophisticated surveillance system, the People’s Republic of China has succeeded even beyond the wildest of imaginations, to incarcerate, intimidate and detain close to 1.8 million people belonging to the Uyghur minority.
Geoffrey Cain, in his spine chilling work of investigative journalism, illustrates how the People’s Republic of China, in tandem with both domestic and international technology behemoths, has, under Premier Xi Jinping, developed an extremely complicated military-industrial complex where mandatory boarding schools are established to ‘cure’ ‘aberrant’ Uighurs, Kazhaks, and even some rebellious Han Chinese of their ideological diseases. The main objective here being to ‘purge’ the deviants of the ‘triple axis of evil’, namely, terrorism, separatism and extremism. These are arguably the biggest concentration camps since the conclusion of World War II.
Cain’s book is based on first hand testimonies gleaned from Uighur refugees who were meticulously interviewed multiple number of times and over a prolonged period of time, media reports, the Uyghur victim database at shahit.biz, the speeches in state media of Chinese leaders, human rights reports issued by Human Rights Watch, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the US Congress and US State Department, as well as the work of a small group of researchers analyzing satellite imagery, computer data, and Chinese corporate reports.
Cain informs his readers about an integrated, state of the art, cutting edge system, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). Agglomerating assiduously and coercively obtained biometric data with a wealth of other personal information, the IJOP, monitors, shadows and ultimately identifies behaviour that is considered – according to lax, arbitrary and draconian standards – deviant or non-compliant. IJOP is thus a ‘Frankensteinian’ reincarnation of Philip K. Dick’s “precogs.” To add exquisite irony to anguish, the invasive technology platform instituted by Beijing is believe it or not, actually branded “Skynet,” or Tianwang. Skynet, for the uninitiated is a fictional artificial neural network-based artificial general intelligence system that doubles up as the hostile element in the Hollywood franchise, ‘Terminator.’ So much for third party optics!
The oppressed Uighurs dub this ‘panopticon’ kind of surveillance, “The Situation”. An almost genteel and innovative euphemism for repression, “The Situation” is a flawless and unmatched example of a brazen and sustained intrusion of privacy aided and abetted by a constantly embellished technology whose might is too convoluted to fathom even. Consider the following example which puts even the ante diluvian term “Orwellian” to utter shame: “If you’re a woman, you might wake up every morning next to a stranger appointed by the government to replace your partner whom the police “disappeared” to a camp. Every morning before work, this minder will teach your family the state virtues of loyalty, ideological purity, and harmonious relations with the Communist Party. He’ll check on your progress by asking you questions, ensuring you haven’t been “infected” with what the government calls the “viruses of the mind” and the “three evils”: terrorism, separatism, and extremism.”
Uighur women are also required to take a government-mandated birth control pill every noon. The government may also at its own whim and fancy command any woman identified by it to appear at a local clinic before undergoing a process of mandatory sterilization. The irrational and non-linear logic behind this medieval practice being lower birth rates would necessarily lead to higher prosperity.
The entire surveillance mechanism is a well oiled machine lubricated by the sustained contributions of high end technology companies that are beholden to both the diktats and largesse of the Communist Party. Face recognition software and voice recognition software comprise the touchstone behind the success, or failure of any expansive and intrusive surveillance system. Beijing had both the components covered in the form of two high flying companies. Hikvision, a camera manufacturing giant in every sense, took care of the facial recognition software. Hikvision in fact is the world’s biggest manufacturer of surveillance cameras and the entity liberally exports its surveillance devices to likeminded regimes. iFlyTek, supplied ‘twenty five voiceprint systems in the province of Kashgar to capture the unique signatures of a person’s voice in order to help identify and track people’. The ‘Skynet’ loop as Cain informs his readers was closed with the participation of Artificial Intelligence pioneers such as SenseTime and Megvii along with the telecommunications monolith, Huawei.
Based on the information provided by Skynet, the Uighurs are ranked on parameters of ‘trust’. An ‘untrustworthy’ rating can even deprive the unfortunate individual of basic rights such as fuel for his vehicle or groceries for his household. The list of qualifying criteria for being labeled untrustworthy ranges from the absurd to the atrocious. Growing a beard, praying in a mosque five times a day, a sudden abstinence from the habits of drinking and smoking are all considered barometers of a cocooning attribute of extremism. “Starting in 2016, the government, as part of a project euphemistically called the Mosque Rectification Program, would demolish many mosques and damage others. It removed the mosques’ Islamic features, such as minarets, and justified its actions under the claim of structurally unsafe construction. One investigation found that the government destroyed as many as five thousand mosques in Kashgar over a three-month period.”
Forcibly installing surveillance cameras inside the homes of the Uighurs, the State apparatchiks engage in round the clock monitoring of the minority populace. An overseas academic degree gives rise to added suspicion and by natural corollary, exacerbated monitoring and tracking. Under a peculiar system known as ‘baojia’, households in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are organized into groups of ten homes. The residents of every home are responsible for monitoring each other, keeping track of visitors who came and went etc. A chief is appointed for the designated household units her daily responsibilities include decently knocking on every door each evening and politely enquiring as to whether any family had noticed anything unusual about their neighbors’ activities.
Geoffrey Cain has led a quite interesting and downright dangerous life. In August 2017, the American journalist was theatrically accused of spying by the news media that happened to be aligned with the Cambodian People’s Party. The key protagonist in Cain’s book on the Uighurs is “Maysem.” The name itself is a pseudonym for a young Uyghur woman based in Turkey and whom Cain interviewed fourteen times from October 2018 to February 2021. Maysem felt the full might and brunt of Skynet fall upon her as because of her Turkish educational affiliation, she was banished to a reeducation camp. “Love President Xi Jinping.” “You will go inside,” the guard told her. They shut the doors behind her and Maysem found herself standing alone at the beginning of a long cement hallway. Cameras were pointed at her every few dozen yards. “The walls were covered in paintings with propaganda slogans,” Maysem said. “On one side of the wall, a painting showed Muslim women wearing veils, who seemed sad and repressed. And on the other side of the wall, they had women in high heels and modern clothing, enjoying the city life. On one side, they showed crying children being taught by a Muslim Uyghur teacher. On the other side, they showed happy children being taught by a Han Chinese teacher.”
According to famed anthropologist Adrian Zenz who also happens to be a leading researcher on Xinjiang, by the end of 2017, close to 10% of the entire Uighur population was detained in such concentration camps. From being made to stand under a blistering sun for hours, to being made to occupy claustrophobic enclosures where the lights keep blazing in perpetuity, the inmates are brainwashed into embracing the ideology of the Communist Party. Forced to write seven pages of Chinese hagiography every day, the inmates are also made to chant eulogies of Premier Xi Jinping and indulge in eviscerating self-criticism.
Those who are not shackled to the confines of the concentration camps are put to work in sprawling factories acting as manufacturing hubs for rich global conglomerates. Under a program christened “Xinjiang Aid”, Uighur detainees are transported to labour camps across China. As Cain elucidates, “the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) identified eighty-three companies that benefited from Uyghur workers transferred through labor programs. They included Amazon, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger.” Xinjiang also supplies 20 percent of the world’s cotton. Cain alleges that in the year 2018, three regions forcefully transferred at least 570,000 people to engage in some demanding grueling cotton picking by hand. Post this incident going public, in December 2020, the United States banned cotton imports from the bingtuan, accusing it of “slave labor.”
China, under its gargantuan Belt and Road Initiative is also getting many countries “locked” into accepting its dastardly philosophy towards the Uighurs. One of the primary beneficiaries thus far of the BRI ‘largesse’ has been Pakistan. China has pumped in a whopping sum of $46 billion into the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a sprawling crisscross of mega industrial projects intended to rapidly upgrade Pakistan’s required infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones. It does not take a genius to thus decipher where the Pakistani loyalties lie. In a recent television interview the seasoned Australian journalist Jonathan Swan exposed the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for the show-horse pony that he was rather than the voracious chest-thumping condemner of Islamophobia as the politician himself has been self-gloating all along. Upon being asked about the plight of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Khan made a capital mockery of himself by first confessing that China was one of Pakistan’s greatest friends, before feebly trying to argue that he was only concerned with atrocities and injustices occurring within his own nation and its borders (meaning Kashmir) and when laughably reminded that Xinjiang was in fact near his own border, finally falling flat on his face by meekly mumbling that all discussions between China and Pakistan on such issues would be held only behind ‘closed doors’.
As Bruno Macaes, writes in his compelling book “Belt and Road, A Chinese World Order”, “In December 2017, Sri Lanka formally handed control of Hambantota port to China in exchange for writing down the country’s debt. Under a $1.1 billion deal, Chinese firms now hold a 70 percent stake in the port and a 99 year lease agreement to operate it.” China itself has acknowledged this fact. “In April 2018, Li Ruogu, the former president of the Export-Import Bank of China, argued publicly that most of the countries along the routes of the BRI did not have the money to pay for the projects for which they were involved…..the countries’ average liability and debt rates had reached 35 and 126 percent respectively, far above the globally recognized warning lines.”
Cain also interviews other Uighur intellectual refugees such as the linguist and writer, Abduweli Ayup, Kazakh activist Serikzhan Bilashand defected Uighur spy Yusuf Amet who was forced to work for the Chinese Government. Each and every story is heart rending and gut wrenching and represents an urgent clamour for the world to sit up and take notice. But it is highly likely that even such a fundamental request would fall on deaf years as a rampaging authoritarian state goes about entangling a multitude of countries in its vice like grip of debt diplomacy in the same manner a spider goes about trapping helpless and hapless flies into a dexterously and intricately spun web.