The United States, among other nations, has accused China of keeping millions of members of the country's Uyghur, most of whom are Muslim, locked inside massive government internment camps, which China is using as "re-education centers."
CNN reports that U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver made the accusations official in a press conference late last week, accusing China's Communist rulers of forcibly arresting and detaining between 1 and 3 million Muslims in an effort to eradicate "Uyghur cultural and religious practices and instilling Communist Party propaganda," a practice that is known as "cultural genocide."
"The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps," Schriver told media last week, using the loaded term, "concentration camps," purposefully.
China says the camps are merely "vocational education training centers" and that the program, which locks up members of the Uyghur population identified through China's massive surveillance web, is a form of combatting terrorism.
"We urge the relevant US individual to respect the fact, abandon bias, exercise prudence in words and deeds, stop interfering in China's domestic affairs and earnestly contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between us," a Chinese government spokesperson said, in a somewhat menacing statement.
The United States State Department is ignoring China's declarations, and both the United Nations and Amnesty International are on the U.S.'s side — a rarity in the age of President Donald Trump.
The New York Times was among the first to report on the mass incarcerations in late 2018, after researchers began to notice that the Chinese government was showing footage of Muslim Uyghurs on state television "hunched over sewing machines" in a "factory." Chinese state media portrayed the scene as "political salvation": hundreds of Muslims "saved" from lives of freedom when they'd really been forced to renounce their beliefs for months in squalid conditions before being sent to work in factories as slaves.
The camps are off limits for reporters and heavily guarded, and while the Chinese government claims the camps are just "training centers," it appears no one who is taken to one is allowed to leave, and according to Agence France Presse, there are "thousands" of guards patrolling the sprawling compounds armed with Tasers and "spiked clubs," and "residents" of the centers are monitored day and night by infrared cameras and security surveillance.
The Chinese have been struggling, The New York Times says, to control the 12-million-plus Uyghur population which maintains its Muslim faith in spite of Chinese government rules outlawing the expression of any religion that isn't overseen by the state. The Uyghurs also speak little Chinese and don't often communicate — or listen to — Chinese authorities.
Chinese state surveillance keeps a close eye on these potential "threats" through an app called Face++, which the Intercept says is designed to collect all sorts of personal details about Chinese citizens in general and Uyghurs in particular, including "data detailing the religious activity, blood type, and even the amount of electricity used" in Uyghur homes. The app also provides Chinese authorities with photos necessary for electronic facial recognition (Hunter Biden, the son of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, is an investor in the app).
Once identified, Uyghurs are "selected" for the "free" education programs and moved into massive camps where they receive language instruction and vocational training, according to Chinese authorities. The only catch? They can't leave.
The United States is being uncharacteristically vocal about the program recently, even though the Trump White House is looking to ink a massive new trade deal with the Chinese government. But it seems that's because the situation directly impacts the American-China economic relationship: China is encouraging more clothing and goods manufacturers to relocate their factories to inside the camps and utilize the Uyghur slave labor, and the United States would prefer American companies aren't purchasing slave-made goods.