VOC Research Links Xinjiang’s Mass Internment “Innovation” to Top Chinese Officials

Washington, DC — New research from a leading China expert shows in greater detail than before how Xinjiang’s mass internment campaign was masterminded and directed by the central Chinese government and Xi Jinping.

According to analysis of internal Chinese documents by Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), intense pressure to “round up all who should be rounded up” led authorities in Xinjiang to detain far more Uyghurs than planned, an over-enforcement resulting from political paranoia, similar to zero-covid mandates.

The evidence shows how—as part of the brutal “strike hard” campaign ordered by Beijing in 2014—senior officials ordered local cadres to “innovate” to “remove religious extremism,” leading to the campaign of mass internment in re-education camps.

For the first time, the paper analyzes a new secret speech by Chen Quanguo, Beijing’s former Xinjiang Party Secretary who oversaw the mass internments, contained in the hacked Xinjiang Police Files. Dated from late 2016 and specifically designed to communicate “Xi Jinping’s Overall Work Goals for Southern Xinjiang” to party cadres, Chen’s speech leaves no doubt that the coming crackdown was at Beijing’s behest, and repeats Xi’s exhortation to “show no mercy.”

The paper also reveals new firsthand testimony from a camp survivor, who was directly told by a camp interrogator in 2018 that each detainees’ fate was being decided by officials in China’s central government. Police told the same witness that “[camps] like this one” are “everywhere.” Then in 2019, over 66% of its detainees were shifted to prisons.

“This report synthesizes existing evidence on Beijing’s mass internments into a new conceptual framing, arguing that Xinjiang’s reeducation campaign developed an ‘innovative repression’ through policy experimentation, a mechanism pioneered by Mao Zedong,” said VOC’s Dr. Adrian Zenz. “The new evidence and witness testimony show more clearly than we new before how the most important decision-making on the atrocities in Xinjiang happens in Beijing.”

In 2017 Xi Jinping had ordered a major increase in prison capacity, according to a secret speech contained in the Xinjiang Police Files. However, by 2018, Zhao Kezhi, China’s minister of public security, noted that the “success” of the “de-extremification” campaigns had led to “a great number of excess detentions [relative to capacity],” indicating that the internment camps were overcrowded.

“This groundbreaking research proves what we have long feared,” remarked VOC President Ambassador Andrew Bremberg. “China’s actions are not the accidental overreach of low-level bureaucrats. These crimes are the direct result of a systematic and ruthless campaign to erase the Uyghur culture, language, and people. It is beyond time for leaders of the free world to hold these Chinese Communist Party officials to account for genocide.” 

The new paper, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Contemporary China, draws on Chinese sources including state media reports, a rare new eyewitness account, and the hacked Xinjiang Police Files that VOC partially released in 2022 with a media consortium of 14 leading outlets including the BBC, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País.


For press inquiries contact Lily McHale at lily.mchale@victimsofcommunism.org or (202) 629-9500 ext. 415