A police officer checks the identity card of a man in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER
A police officer checks the identity card of a man in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

Beijing — Vocational training is being used "to the greatest extent" in China’s far-western Xinjiang region to ensure militant activities are "eliminated before they occur", according to a senior Communist Party official.

The state media interview with Shohrat Zakir, the number two party official and most senior ethnic Uighur in Xinjiang, is China’s most detailed defence yet of its policies in the region, which is home to a large Muslim population. Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have prompted the US to consider sanctions against officials and firms linked to alleged human rights abuses.

After initially issuing blanket denials, Chinese officials have in recent weeks said they are not enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education across a network of secret camps. Rather, some citizens guilty of minor offences have been sent to vocational centres to provide job opportunities.

The measures have helped to prevent violent militant attacks in Xinjiang for the past 21 months, Zakir said told the Xinhua news agency.

Trainees sign "education agreements" to receive "concentrated training" and undergo "live-in study". They receive Chinese language lessons and lectures on the constitution and laws, he said. Skills training included food processing, assembling electronic products, hairdressing, clothes making and e-commerce.

"Through vocational training, most trainees have been able to reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism. They have also been able to better tell right from wrong and resist the infiltration of extremist thought," Zakir said.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and UN rights experts over what they say are mass detentions and strict surveillance of minority Muslim
groups in Xinjiang.

Rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to psychological and physical abuse. They said detainees do not receive any vocational training.

In response, Beijing has mounted a sophisticated counterattack to criticism of its policies, courting foreign media and running opinion pieces abroad. On Tuesday night, state broadcaster CCTV aired a 20-minute current affairs programme purportedly showing footage inside vocational training facilities in the southern oasis city of Hotan.

Clothed in bright school-like uniforms, dozens of students were shown learning Chinese and law. "If I hadn’t been learning here I can’t bear to imagine the consequences. I may have continued to follow those
religious extremists onto a path of crime," one young female
student said. Reuters