President Xi Jinping has vowed to carry on what he called China's "totally correct" strategy in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, drawing sharp criticism from a Uyghur group and from experts who point to the growing international outcry at Chinese policies that some say amount to genocide.
Xi told the two-day Xinjiang Central Work Forum that ended on Saturday that China's XUAR strategy was "totally correct and must carry on for a long time," according reports issued by state media.
"The whole party must treat the implementation of the Xinjiang strategy as a political task, and work hard to implement it completely and accurately to ensure that the Xinjiang work always maintains in the correct political direction," Xi said.
"We must also continue the direction of Sinicizing Islam to achieve the healthy development of religion," Xi said.
Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of camps since April 2017.
Beginning in October 2018, China started acknowledging the existence of the camps after long denying it, but described them as voluntary "vocational centers" set up to combat radical Islamic terrorism.
RFA's Uyghur Service has found that detainees are mostly held against their will and forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
As international criticism mounted, China began asserting that the program was winding down and its trainees had graduated and found jobs.
But leaked documents, satellite imagery and reports from the XUAR not only contradicted Beijing's claims but also revealed a program of forced labor using current and former camp inmates.
Xi's speech asserted that the policies had brought stability and economic growth in the XUAR and he said Beijing should boast about it.
"It is necessary to tell the story of Xinjiang in a multi-level, all-round, and three-dimensional manner, and confidently propagate the excellent social stability of Xinjiang," Xi was quoted as saying.
'Deliberate, systematic, and ruthless'
Experts said the remarks indicate that Xi is deeply committed to and has played a central role in the harsh crackdown in Xinjiang that has drawn U.S. sanctions on top Communist Party officials in the XUAR as well as on businesses suspected of making goods with forced labor in the region.
"These statements may sound like the Chinese leaders are tone deaf or arrogant," said Nury Turkel, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
"In reality, Xi's statements show that China's genocidal policies have been deliberate, systematic, and ruthless with the ultimate goal to stamp out the Uyghur culture and identity. The scale and scope of the oppression on the world's watch cry out for global condemnation and governmental actions," he said.
The USCIRF, an independent U.S. federal government body, has urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to formally designate China's atrocities in the XUAR as genocide.
German researcher Adrian Zenz, whose work has revealed key aspects of the internment camp system, said the weekend speech "shows that Xi has supported these atrocious policies from the beginning, which is consistent with his statements from 2014, leaked in the Xinjiang Papers published by the New York Times."
In reports on a 403-page trove of documents obtained by the newspaper, Xi called for an "all-out 'struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism' using the 'organs of dictatorship,'" in internal speeches following an attack by Uyghur militants that killed more than 30 people at a train station in 2014.
The Times said that the leak came from an official who requested anonymity and expressed hope that their disclosure would hold party leaders, including Xi, accountable for policies in the region.
"Unfortunately, international pressure has not caused the regime in Beijing to change course. That is not only due to Xi's determination, but also because this pressure has been woefully inadequate," said Zenz, a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Washington D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Speaking from Germany, World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa said Xi had made it "crystal clear" that the Chinese government "will never abandon but rather continue the current policy of genocide against the Uyghur people."
"The Chinese leader claiming its genocidal policy as 'totally correct' at a time when the US sanctioned Xinjiang political leaders, entities and companies complicit in committing these crimes, the UN expressed its concerns and the EU condemning the atrocities show how evil its intention toward the Uyghurs is," Isa told RFA.
"If the international organizations and nations choose to remain silent over this genocide instead of taking action to prevent this genocide, then I can say they are complicit in this genocide for allowing China to commit it," he added.
With reporting and translation by Alim Seytoff for RFA's Uyghur Service.
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