Beijing’s Smiley-Face Gulags Hide the Grim Truth

Thirty years ago last month, paratroopers and tanks rolled out in Beijing to bloodily crush China’s burgeoning democracy movement. For three decades afterwards, too many Western elites have systematically deluded themselves that the Chinese Communists have somehow benevolently “reformed”.

However comforting a lie might be, a lie it remains. Much as it tries to hide its true face, occasionally the mask of smiley-face communism slips and Beijing’s true authoritarian brutality shows for all who are willing to see.

Adorned with bright smiles and clothed in colorful garb, Uighur Muslims held in political reeducation camps flash across the screen as they sing and dance triumphantly to the words that President Xi Jinping wrote just for them.

These sights, captured by the BBC, are what the Chinese government wants journalists and the outside world to see.

No amount of colorful displays of political allegiance, however, can hide the reality: Not one of these people is in a political reeducation facility of their own accord…[One man says] “A policeman at my village told me to get enrolled in the school and transform my thoughts.”

A million people or more have been interned in Xinjiang province. Although Beijing has shrouded its brutal campaign there in secrecy, satellite imagery shows that religious buildings have been bulldozed and vast concentration camps erected to detain whole populations.

In addition to “thought transformation,” people in these facilities must undergo Mandarin lessons, self-criticism sessions, forced labor, and even torture. Occasionally, there are deaths.

So-called “vocational training” is a core component of most inmates’ curriculum. One Chinese official in the report explained that inmates spend between two to four months learning how to do simple tasks like making a bed.

These are all straight out of the Maoist playbook. Isolating people and forcing them to repeatedly perform mundane tasks while subjecting them to a regime of propaganda is also textbook brainwashing. From its very beginnings, the Chinese communists perfected such techniques as “self-criticism”: forcing people to write down every “bad thought”, so that their victims spent the rest of their lives knowing that the communists had a ready-made confession to hand, should they be hauled up on spurious sedition charges.

But Beijing is also harnessing the latest technologies in ways that Mao could have only dreamed of. Uighurs are forced to submit to “health checks” where their blood is sampled and their faces scanned, to build up a sophisticated spying database.

Satellite images showed that prior to the BBC’s visit, watchtowers and barbed wire were removed from the premises and barren outdoor spaces were transformed into sports facilities…The existence of these facilities and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people arbitrarily detained within their walls, is now irrefutable. Which raises the question: How will the world respond?

Far too much of the world has been content to turn a blind eye to these modern-day gulags. The elites are happy to take Beijing’s money. Too many on the left are happy to buy any lie the communists sell. Too many on the right are happy to see a Muslim community cop a kicking. Much of the media is content to simply stay safely silent, although, to their credit, the Guardian has been pursuing this industrial-scale human rights abuse.

To paraphrase Noam Chomsky’s famous apophthegm on free speech, if you don’t defend the freedom of people you disagree with, you aren’t defending freedom at all. China’s brutal suppression of Uighur Muslims is a stain on global freedom. If we let them come for the Uighurs, who is next?

The report notes that this is not merely an isolated human rights crisis, but a crisis with national security implications. China’s rapid internment of potentially millions of Uighur Muslims is made possible by a draconian use of surveillance technology – the kind that China is already exporting across the globe to countries in Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

The U.S. and the international community should unite around several key solutions, including levying sanctions against those responsible for China’s police state in Xinjiang and Tibet, and preventing the export of Chinese surveillance technology to our countries.


President Trump has shown that it is possible to bring the tyrants of Beijing and even Pyongang to the table with the mere threat of a trade war. There is no need for action against China to plunge the world into war. In this case, money can speak more than guns, and it should.